Meet the Web Sheriff

Fighting music piracy via ominous blog comments and pre-written apologies

"The majority of the artists on our label have expressed concern over the manner in which file-sharing impacts sales, as several are quite concerned about material leaking early," Cosloy continues. "Everyone understands how positive buzz/chatter in blogland is useful. Conversely, a crap review or a ton of negative message-board comments about a low bitrate [MP3] of a song that might not even make the final mastered version strikes many artists as a terrible way to bury an album." As to targeting MP3 blogs specifically, "It's a little hard for us to get a third party like Web Sheriff to fully grasp the nuances of what's the difference" between one-track cheerleaders and, say, torrent sites simply offering the full album, "so we tend to make hard-and-fast rules for everyone."

John Giacobbi is swift-spoken on a call from his London office: "We don't have a statistic or anything like that, but I can say quite categorically, yes, it has made a significant difference," he says of his company's efforts. He also touts the Web Sheriff's other pursuits, including aiding an artist when "a picture of his house and coordinates to the home" were posted on a fansite. His company's day-to-day routine consists of "watching" blogs, peer-to-peer networks, and torrent sites, all while listening to free music—surprisingly, his offices receive promos weeks or months in advance, just like the press. ("Well, we have to know what we're looking for.") The "Outlaws Gallery" featured on WebSheriff.com explains that other offenders include sites that "superimpose the heads of female stars onto hardcore images," plus a Moby fansite with a "Stalking Moby" section, here referred to as "disturbing."

As for Grizzly Bear's pre-written apology, "We're not at liberty to discuss details of specific cases in this instance," Giacobbi says. (Both Animal Collective and Grizzly Bear declined comment.) "But we can say that it's common practice for the wording of an apology to either be provided by or pre-approved by the injured party."

Droste's entry on his band's blog now reads, in part: "If I've offended anyone in the Animal Collective family with my excited post, I apologize. It was meant to generate even more excitement for what will surely be a great album, and yes the Web Sheriff is just doing his job." He further notes that he found "Mr. Sheriff's" letter "funny."

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