Most mainstream music is available on commercial services, for streaming or download, on the same date in dozens of countries around the world. Among other things, the coordinated Friday release scheme was designed to reduce piracy.
While for the vast majority of legitimate consumers this is sufficient to level the playing field, there is a smaller but significant subsection of music fans who not only prefer to have content more quickly, but also at zero cost.
This was one of the functions of the ‘RipRequests’ Discord server and corresponding community on Reddit. People keen to get the latest releases a few hours, days, or even weeks ahead of schedule were sometimes able to obtain them from dedicated bots. But while this has operated well for some time, the thirst for Adele’s new album appears to have been a step too far for the record labels.
Adele’s ’30’ Brings the Heat
’30’ is the fourth studio album by English singer-songwriter Adele. In line with the current releasing schedule, it appeared on official sites on Friday 19 November 2021 courtesy of Melted Stone and Columbia Records. However, at least one day before (and most likely two) at least one copy was being shared within piracy communities.
One of those communities appears to have included RipRequests and while this type of activity is nothing new for these types of platforms, this time the RIAA (of which Columbia and also Adele are listed as members) quickly waded into the action.
As the image above shows, in an announcement posted to Reddit the team revealed that the RipRequests Discord server had been taken down by the RIAA. The post is now inaccessible since the team, apparently of its own free will, has temporarily locked the sub-Reddit.
Discord Server Was Removed “By Force”
In most cases, copyright complaints filed by the RIAA against online services such as Reddit and indeed Discord are actioned under the DMCA’s notice and takedown provisions. A notice is sent and when received, such platforms have to remove the content to avoid liability.
When an account holder runs into trouble on Discord, the company’s repeat infringer policy can come into play. No specific parameters are published by Discord (such as two or three ‘strikes’) and indeed, the company reserves the right to take action immediately, even if there is no repeat infringement. Whether that was part of the reason for Discord banning the channel is unclear but other things could be at play here.
A copy of a copyright complaint / cease-and-desist notice shared with TorrentFreak (as far as we know sent by the RIAA as early as November 17) warns that distributing copyrighted tracks in advance of their commercial release is illegal.
“We have learned that, without the authority of the relevant copyright owners, you have engaged in the unauthorized reproduction, distribution and/or streaming of sound recordings that have not yet been commercially released, the rights to which are owned by one of more of our members,” it reads.
“More specifically, it has come to our attention that you are responsible for leaking sound recordings from the upcoming Adele album ’30’ set for commercial release on November 19, 2021. Such activity is illegal, and these actions must stop at once.”
The Complaint Cites Criminal Law
The message is framed as a “cease-and-desist” but has an interesting element. Most types of copyright infringements have civil penalties attached but in this case, the RIAA also cites criminal law in its takedown notice.
“Such pre-release piracy is prohibited by law. In particular, the willful authorized distribution of a work being prepared for commercial distribution by making it available on a computer network accessible to members of the public, is prohibited by 17 U.S.C. § 506(a)(1)(C),” it reads.
The relevant section of law can be found here and is clear that if the infringer knew (or should have known) that the work was intended for commercial distribution, then liability follows. Depending on circumstances, punishments are increasingly severe, from a maximum of three years imprisonment up to an exceptional ten years.
The cease-and-desist notice also references 17 U.S.C. § 106, which entitles copyright owners to damages of up to $150,000 per work and attorneys’ fees.
Update Nov 24: The team behind RipRequests has made a post to Reddit which addresses a couple of points in the above report. We’ll tackle them in turn.
1. “The Discord was not taken down by the RIAA. It was taken down by Discord. Just with incredibly poor timing. Other servers got taken down too.”
Discord has control over channels so is always ultimately responsible for taking channels down. However, the statement that the channel was taken down by the RIAA was provided by the team itself and is visible in the screenshot embedded above. The information came from RipRequests.
2. RipRequests wish to clarify that the Adele release wasn’t available from one of their bots.
In the relevant paragraph we did say that early releases were “sometimes” available from bots but in this case, RipRequests reports that its digital rip came from a Walmart CD and was then made available through the channel.
3. We reported that the Adele CD was available from the channel at least a day before its release.
RipRequests clarifies that it was posted about 10 hours before the first legal release and that “time zones exist”. What time zone they are referring to isn’t clear but the difference between an Australia release time and a US release time is fairly significant, perhaps 19 hours. Even 10 hours means that criminal liability exists under US law, however.