Web Sheriff fights music piracy with social media

In today’s digital age, one U.K.-based company that works with music artists and record companies relies on social media for an “inclusive approach” to fighting piracy of intellectual property.

When Web Sheriff Ltd. is brought in to purge leaked pre-release music from fan sites and other locations on the internet, Web 2.0 communication channels are exactly where negotiations happen with site owners.


“Instead of saying take it down or we’ll sue your ass, we go to them and say don’t post it but we’ll give two (music) tracks early. That promotes the album and gets buzz going,” said Web Sheriff president John Giacobbi.

Giving something back for a fan’s agreement to remove pirated content is key. By granting fan sites a few quality tracks before the record is actually released creates buzz among fans for the upcoming record, said Giacobbi. And, the fan site owner gets to share quality content from the artist itself.

But convincing fans is not always that easy. Giacobbi recalls a recent circumstance where fans refused to remove illegal content from their sites. Web Sheriff resorted to starting a dialogue on a fan page that, by the close of the discussion, resulted in an 18-page message thread between fans and Web Sheriff. 

“But we managed to bring them around because by the end of it, they saw that we weren’t the enemy,” said Giacobbi. “We’re on the same team working for the artist.”

Similarly, Canadian musician Bryan Adams successfully battled illegal videos posted on YouTube using Web Sheriff’s help. Giacobbi said that in the days prior to Adams creating a dedicated online music channel, illegal posts of his videos ran rampant on the Web. Again, negotiations with fans on their own digital turf convinced them to remove the posts.

“It’s about working with them rather than working against them. It makes such a difference,” said Giacobbi, who believes that social media platforms are an important component in dealing with not just piracy but also in changing perceptions.

Sameer Patel, enterprise 2.0 analyst with Constellation Research Inc., agrees that social media is an effective platform for negotiating and educating en masse. “I do think there is some value in this whole crowd source thing,” said Patel.


But while Patel understands how this approach to battling intellectual property piracy might work in the consumer world, he thinks there’s limited applicability in the enterprise world where the procurement process is more complex.

For instance, if Microsoft Corp. wanted to purge all pirated copies of Microsoft Office, it would have to dole out a juicy enough offer to make people give up the illegal software.

“I have trouble believing that Microsoft would give them something that is worth $300 for free,” said Patel.

That said, a revised version of Web Sheriff’s approach may still work in the less-collective business world, said Patel.

Follow Kathleen Lau on Twitter: @KathleenLau

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