Radiohead Responds To Extortionate Hacker By Releasing Hacked Recordings For Charity

from the nicely-done dept

Radiohead has always taken a more thoughtful, less kneejerk approach to how it handles the kinds of situations that many others in the recording industry tend to respond to by freaking out. Back in 2007, in the midst of the worldwide freakout over piracy, Radiohead released a surprise album, telling fans they could pay what they wanted to download it (while also selling a more expensive “box set”, giving its biggest fans a good reason to pay extra. The band has also been supportive of file sharing and even leaked some of its own tracks via BitTorrent.

So perhaps this following story shouldn’t be seen as too much of a surprise (though, I imagine it was a surprise to whoever hacked Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke). As noted in that parenthetical, someone apparently hacked Yorke, and somehow got access to a set of 18 minidiscs of somewhat random/eclectic material that Yorke had recorded in the 1996/97 timeframe, when the band was working on its seminal Ok Computer album. The hackers apparently then asked Yorke/Radiohead for $150,000 not to release the material. The band chose not to give in to the hackers, who then did leak the material. However, soon after the material was leaked, the band announced (via Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood’s Instagram) that the band was now officially “releasing” that material on Bandcamp for £18 (or more) and donating any funds raised to Extinction Rebellion (a climate change advocacy group).

View this post on Instagram

radiohead.bandcamp.com rebellion.earth

A post shared by Radiohead (@radiohead) on

Greenwood’s writeup — titled “Walter Sobchak vs Bunny’s toe, as an amusing nod towards the extortion attempt in The Big Lebowski — is worth reading:

Subject: Walter Sobchak vs Bunny’s toe

We got hacked last week – someone stole Thom’s minidisk archive from around the time of OK Computer, and reportedly demanded $150,000 on threat of releasing it.

So instead of complaining – much – or ignoring it, we’re releasing all 18 hours on Bandcamp in aid of Extinction Rebellion. Just for the next 18 days. So for £18 you can find out if we should have paid that ransom.

Never intended for public consumption (though some clips did reach the cassette in the OK Computer reissue) it’s only tangentially interesting. And very, very long. Not a phone download. Rainy out, isn’t it though?

And yes, the file is quite large — approaching 2GB — and the band itself says it’s not that interesting. But, of course, fans are interested, because that’s what fandom is about. In fact, it’s quite interesting to see that a bunch of fans have put together a crowdsourced Google Doc creating a track listing and annotation of what’s in the files (though, they also have to explain that they weren’t the ones who hacked Yorke’s stuff in the first place). The notes themselves are kind of interesting:

As with all such things, this could easily have turned into the band just complaining about a situation that basically everyone agrees is unfair and unpleasant. However, Radiohead, of all bands, appears to have been quick to turn what is undoubtedly a crappy situation into a positive one that both supports a charity they like and builds tremendous goodwill with fans (while making the hackers look awful).

There’s a key point in all of this that is worth noting, and it’s one that we’ve tried to make for years about piracy: we’re not arguing that piracy is somehow a good thing. However, we have argued that piracy happens. The question is how you respond to it, and whether or not you can turn it into a positive situation. Too many in the music industry have taken piracy and turned a bad situation into something worse — pissing off fans, annoying people, and doing damage to their own brand. Radiohead has long realized it’s better to do the exact opposite. That’s not cheering on the hacking (or piracy), but noting that when a bad thing happens, you might as well figure out how to make the best of it.

Radiohead has done that. I wish many others in that industry would do the same.

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Comments on “Radiohead Responds To Extortionate Hacker By Releasing Hacked Recordings For Charity”

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43 Comments
Anonymoussays:

Re: Re: Hacked?

Either they were locked up somewhere and someone hacked a system to break in and steal them, or Thom had them mounted on his computer and the data was read off that way. I haven’t seen anything anywhere that goes into details on which it was.

Of course, the other possibility is that Thom accidentally threw them out or something and someone went dumpster diving, and the "hacked" bit is just the spin of either the band or the person who took the discs. Considering this is Radiohead we’re talking about, I don’t think this is what happened.

PaulTsays:

Re: Re:

So, you don’t give Metallica any credit for having completely reversed their opinion since Napster, to the point of them making recordings of all their live shows available on their own website for free?

Things won’t change if you continue to punish people after they’ve atoned for their sins.

Anonymoussays:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

They have a lot more to atone for. They started a whole movement against file sharing that has caused some pretty severe damage over the years and is arguably the basis for the whole RIAA/MPAA crusade we’re still suffering. Releasing some free content now is far too little, far too late.

Fuck Metallica.

PaulTsays:

Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

Again, I appreciate that, but if people were fooled by the RIAA’s claims as they were, then not only came round to reality but went 100% the opposite direction can’t get forgiveness then who can?

Tell them to fuck off all you want, but the band were handy pawns at the times, at least blame the real people behind it.

Porthole To Another Galaxysays:

"Charity" is not after the fact when makes no difference.

To start, charging 18 pounds is not "charity".

Not having Masnick’s prejudice, I see them as just rather cynically trying to recoup loss and/or get fans to pay for favorable publicity.

"Making the best of" is not a "business model" that can sustain an industry.

You pirates should also note that even Masnick regards this forced "sharing" as a loss!

The only real charity here is GAVE Masnick a safe topic. He can’t re-write any Torrent Freak piece of late because all bad news for pirates; "social media" is under scrutiny (at least said so: it’ll come to nothing, though); and his FREE contributors have probably had enough of his free-loading, even though they’re corporate "supported" propaganda hacks too.

TFGsays:

Re: Re: "Charity" is not after the fact when makes no difference.

For those confused, PTAG has either made a critical reading error, or is deliberately misrepresenting what has occurred.

Radiohead is charging 18 pounds for the download, but those proceeds do not go to Radiohead. They go to the charity Extinction Rebellion.

This is pretty clearly laid out in the article, so I’m going to go with "Deliberate misrepresentation."

Rockysays:

Re: Re: Re: Re: "Charity" is not after the fact when makes no difference

For those confused, PTAG has either made a critical reading error, or is deliberately misrepresenting what has occurred.

No no no! For him it’s business as usual, going off half-cocked while triggered by some of the words he picked out instead of reading the whole post. Now, for anyone else that’s a reasonable person it would have been a critical reading error.

Stephen T. Stonesays:

Re:

charging 18 pounds is not "charity"

Giving the proceeds of each ?18 sale to charity, however, is.

I see them as just rather cynically trying to recoup loss and/or get fans to pay for favorable publicity.

Radiohead could have released the entire recording for free and gotten similar publicity. Also, what loss? The material was still in Radiohead?s possession. It was never meant to be sold or distributed, even at cost. They didn?t pay the ransom demand. What did they lose?

"Making the best of" is not a "business model" that can sustain an industry.

No industry produces perfect products or exists in a perfect economy. To that end, ?making the best of? is a business model that sustains every industry.

You pirates should also note that even Masnick regards this forced "sharing" as a loss!

He called it a ?crappy situation? ?that basically everyone agrees is unfair and unpleasant?. He said nothing about it being a ?loss?.

He can’t re-write any Torrent Freak piece of late because all bad news for pirates; "social media" is under scrutiny (at least said so: it’ll come to nothing, though); and his FREE contributors have probably had enough of his free-loading, even though they’re corporate "supported" propaganda hacks too.

?and even then, he?s still producing more content and being more successful than you.

PaulTsays:

Re: Re: "Charity" is not after the fact when makes no difference.

"To start, charging 18 pounds is not "charity"."

Unless 100% of it goes to charity, in which case it’s the very definition. If you wiped the spittle off your screen, you might have been able to read the rest of the article.

""Making the best of" is not a "business model" that can sustain an industry."

No, it’s not. Why do you think the thing described in the article is a business model?

It might be part of one, for sure, but then such things are almost as old as the recording industry itself. Are you saying that the recording industry is not sustainable?

Anonymoussays:

I think the record companys have moved on from going to court against pirate,s and doing very stupid things like sueing teens for downloading music.
Their choice is to get money from streaming and support extreme laws like article 13 to get more money from youtube.
Maybe they uploaded the music to an online backup and forgot about it .
Maybe more musicians will be more careful,
the best backup is to put the music on hardrives ,
make a few copys on different drives .
theres no need to store A 2gig file online,
of music that is 11 years old .
Hackers can use various tricks to acess someone,s phone and get
the password to online backups .

Anonymoussays:

definitely NOT A CHARITY -- XR is an eco-terrorist group

These are not the kind of people who feed the poor or house the homeless or anything that a normal charity might do. Nothing like that. Extinction Rebellion believes that blocking highways and bridges, vandalizing property, and other so-called "direct action" Alinsky-style tactics are going to annoy and intimidate the public so much that they’ll start accepting the group’s far-left political extremism, as if most of the thousands of people they victimize will develop Stockholm syndrome.

https://www.acsh.org/news/2019/04/15/april-15-extinction-rebellion-broke-windows-save-earth-13957

But perhaps a bigger question here is whether Mike made a careless error or if he really believes that violence is a charitable act.

Rockysays:

Re: Re: definitely NOT A CHARITY -- XR is an eco-terrorist group

Here’s what Mike actually wrote:

However, Radiohead, of all bands, appears to have been quick to turn what is undoubtedly a crappy situation into a positive one that both supports a charity they like and builds tremendous goodwill with fans (while making the hackers look awful).

Please point out where Mike said, implied or even hinted at that he thinks violence is a charitable act (even if you misconstrue his words in the extreme) in the above statement.

Or, perhaps you should direct your ire at Radiohead if you don’t like Extinction Rebellion, but we all know that’s something you will never do since you love to blame the messenger no matter what.

Btw, violence is always directed at people with the intent to injure, hurt or kill. Smashing windows etc aren’t acts of violence, it’s called vandalism. The act of vandalism can be violent but it’s never violence.

Rockysays:

Re: Re: Re: Re: Whatcha wanna bet?

Yeah..well.. RIAA is on vacation so MPAA will have to step in instead. Just imagine the trouble Radiohead will be in when MPAA apply Hollywood Accounting? to the perceived license-losses plus Radioheads willfull distribution of copyrighted material. That’s some sweet money the collection agencies lost and it has to be recouped somehow.

PaulTsays:

Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Whatcha wanna bet?

"MPAA apply Hollywood Accounting"

Unrelated, but the writer of the first Men In Black movie was tweeting yesterday about how the studio are telling him that the film still hasn’t made enough money to pay him any royalties. You know, that $90 million movie that made nearly $600 million worldwide, toy lines, cartoon shows with a 3rd sequel just being released. It’s just not successful enough to pay the guy who wrote the original screenplay a penny more!

That One Guysays:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re: Re: Re: Re: Whatcha wanna bet?

Of course, as I’m sure there are more than one unpaid copy of Men In Black on torrent sites that was/is more than enough to utterly wipe out $510 million plus in sales, such that the studio is only barely hanging on there, and with the studio being only inches away from bankruptcy it would be unrealistic to expect them to pay the original screenwriter any royalties.

Garysays:

Re: Re: Whatcha wanna bet?

In two weeks, Google will receive a demand to delist radiohead.bandcamp.com from the MPAA on the grounds that it’s distributing copyrighted material.

That is actually a very good point. Radiohead may not own the tracks they posted. Some or all of it undoubtedly is owned by their label.

Thadsays:

Re: Re: Re: Re: Whatcha wanna bet?

A glance through the Wikipedia entry for OK Computer indicates that, while label EMI did retain the copyrights to OK Computer and the rest of Radiohead’s catalogue prior to 2007, those copyrights were bought by independent label XL Recordings in 2016. Neither XL Recordings nor its parent, Beggars Group, appear on the list of RIAA members.

Without looking at the specifics of the contract, it’s unclear whether XL’s copyright ownership includes unreleased tracks recorded during the production of OK Computer. Yorke and the rest of the band certainly seem to be operating under the assumption that they, Radiohead, own the unreleased tracks, not XL.

Radiohead’s been publishing through XL since 2007 (and Yorke’s been publishing through them as a solo act since ’06); as far as I know the band and the label are on friendly terms.

PaulTsays:

Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Whatcha wanna bet?

Yeah, I don’t know much about the internals but now you mention it XL are generally one of the better appearing labels. I hope Radiohead won’t have to put up with crap for this, since at the end of the day the album’s now out there for free either way, they’re just trying to spin it into a charity fundraiser rather than call lawyers in.

That One Guysays:

Short AND long-term wins

However, Radiohead, of all bands, appears to have been quick to turn what is undoubtedly a crappy situation into a positive one that both supports a charity they like and builds tremendous goodwill with fans (while making the hackers look awful).

Not only have they turned a crappy situation into free PR, but how they handled it makes it clear that there’s no point in any future assholes trying to pull the same stunt in the future, since they’re likely to just refuse to pay the extortion demand then too.

They not only came out looking good and made the hackers look like chumps, but by refusing to pay the extortion they drastically reduced the odds of being hacked in the future as well.

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