By now you’re probably aware of the Thanksgiving raid that saw a bunch of sites shuttered off the Web. Many of those sites had “trouble” etched on their backs, but OnSmash somehow got caught in the wrong mix.
The raid was somewhat similar to the RIAA-led mixtape raid of 2007. But this one will have far more reaching implications for various reasons. First, the Internet is the last bastion of hope for unknown talent and independent acts. The shutdown presents a marketing bind for record labels and artists seeking exposure. More importantly, the law that allowed those raids to proceed could end up hurting more than just hip-hop sites in the future.
The feds are employing bullying tactics that seem to have very little legal grounding, overreaching by seizing Web property without notifying the owners. They know most bloggers won’t challenge their claim. It’s too expensive and they’ll probably lose anyway. Some will simply adjust to less controversial content.
But how else will this new copyright law be used in the future? Is it a stretch to suggest that the government could easily take down sites that disagree with its policy under the pretext of copyright infringement on the site? Are we heading down a slippery slope that will eventually lead to invasive Web censorship?
Let’s get one thing clear: I’m not advocating copyright infringement here. I fully understand that artists lose a lot when their music leak against their will. They lose money. They also lose creative control. It’s a real issue that needs to be tackled with a sensible approach. Taking down legitimate sites that help disseminate new music, sometimes in concert with the artists and their managers, is not the solution.
Most music sites will immediately comply with requests to pull down copyrighted material when asked. OnSmash founder Kevin Hofman says he always complied. Why, then, did the feds take down the site without warning? Were there artists behind the takedown? We’ll never know all the answers but one thing you can’t deny is the importance of OnSmash in the hip-hop community.
Just how influential is OnSmash? World Star Hip-Hop adapted its original blueprint–site layout, creative direction, etc–directly from the pioneering hip-hop video site. As far as I know, OnSmash is considered a legitimate marketing outlet in industry circles. Major companies like Interscope and Def Jam often include them in their sell sheets.
Hof and co have worked hard to document hip-hop culture and give aspiring rappers a platform for the last four or five years, only to see the copyright police deliver a punch to their gut. As they try to rebuild everything from scratch, make it a point to show them your support in tangible ways. Tweeting “Free OnSmash” and “support OnSmash” is a nice gesture, but it means nothing at the end of the day. Sure, there are dozens of other hip-hop sites out there that will help fans fill the void. But no one’s immune from music industry injustice. I’m calling on artists, DJs, readers, labels to extend real, genuine support to OnSmash.