Un-Grateful Dead

gratefuldeadAs may be evident by the fact that my oldest child is named after one of their songs, I have always been a huge Grateful Dead fan. For as long as I can remember, fans have been able to freely tape Dead shows and many, many concert recordings have been freely and legally available on the net. In particular, Archive.Org has been a great place to find live Dead shows.

Now comes news that Jerry Garcia’s widow and perhaps another living band member have required that the live recordings of Dead concerts be removed from Archive.Org. Audience recordings will be available in streaming format (meaning you can listen but not download). The generally better quality soundboard recordings will not be available (except presumably at the offical Dead site where downloads of live shows are for sale).

John Perry Barlow, one of the coolest people on the planet and the co-writer of many great Dead songs, had this to say about this recent turn of events:

You have no idea how sad I am about this. I fought it hammer and tong, but the drummers had inoperable bricks in their head about it.

What’s worse is that they now want to remove all Dead music from the Web. They might as easily put a teaspoon of food coloring in a swimming pool and then tell the pool owner to get it back to them.

It’s like finding out that your brother is a child molester. And then, worse, having everyone then assume that you’re a child molester too. I’ve been called a hypocrite in three languages already.

How magnificently counter-productive of them. It’s as if the goose who laid the golden egg had decided to commit suicide so that he could get more golden eggs.

This is just the beginning of the backlash, I promise you.

This is worse than the RIAA suing their customers.

Rolling Stone reports that there is a movement afoot to boycott the Dead (i.e., not buy any CDs or tickets to concerts by the surviving members). Boycott and Grateful Dead are two notions that should never have crossed paths.

Taking the other side of the argument, David Gan, host of The Grateful Dead Hour, says that the marketing arm of the Dead organization is not making enough money to support itself and that taping shows was never intended to result in the high-speed, mass distribution of recordings that until now was possible via the internet.

My take? On one hand, it is almost unbelievable that an organization as forward thinking as the Dead is taking such a huge step backwards. On the other hand, with no further ability to create new product, the Dead has a vested, though doomed to failure, interest in trying to control the product that’s out there. I think I come down on the Dead’s side with respect to the soundboard recordings, but not with respect to the audience recordings.

I suspect that the problem is that Jerry’s widow and perhaps others within the organization are getting some different, and in my opinion, shortsighted, advice from someone. There may be a little money to be made by trying to recall these recordings from the internet. The public (read fan) relations cost, however, will be greater than any money that might be made. And of course those recordings are on the hard drives of thousands of people and will continue to be available somewhere- even if not at Archive.Org.

My prediction? Someone will give the decision-makers some better advice and a compromise will be reached. The Dead is not Sony. Let’s give peace a chance.

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