Steal This Record


Written by Jack Sharp
05 Monday 05th December 2011

It is not uncommon for artists to disagree with their labels, of course; Nine Inch Nails founder Trent Reznor has previously urged his fans to boycott a new release of the group’s 1989 album Pretty Hate Machine, and back in May, country singer Tim McGraw’s label disputes led to him being sued by his label of twenty years, Curb Records.

McGraw filed a counter suit against Curb and in November, and was granted permission to record his music for another label. Hours after the ruling, Curb Records released the second single from McGraw’s upcoming album.

As these examples suggest, artists don’t always have a say when it comes to their releasing their music. Recorded music released through a record label works similarly to the way a photograph is legally the property of a photographer and not the person who appears in the photograph. This means that a recording of an artist’s music, which is often paid for by the record label, is rightfully the label’s property.

With this in mind, some record labels choose to take advantage of this, re-releasing old albums and releasing gratuitous box sets and greatest hits compilations. Even big acts aren’t exempt from this. Morrissey has previously urged people not to buy his releases and a re-released special edition of Radiohead’s Kid A was released by their former label without the band’s consent.

But the labels can’t always get away with this. The band Talk Talk famously opposed the release of History Revisited: The Remixes, a remix album of their material that they had nothing to do with. Consequently, they sued their former record label EMI for using their material without their permission. The band’s frontman Mark Hollis had sent a letter to the label a letter requesting that the compilation album be stopped, but EMI did not respond.

Claiming that the material had been falsely attributed to them, the band also complained that they were owed money from unpaid royalties. They eventually won the case in 1992 and all remaining copies of the album were withdrawn and destroyed.

These types of albums are often released after an artist has parted ways with a label, but label disagreements with currently signed artists can result in releases like the aforementioned Elvis Costello box set.

Tim Jonze of The Guardian, recently wrote an article that seems to imply that Costello’s move to speak out about the price of his soon to be released box set is somehow damaging to his career, describing his move as “self-destructive”. In reality, however, Costello appears to just be looking out for his fans that frankly shouldn’t be spending £212.99 on any box set release, irrespective of who it’s by.

Costello isn’t criticising his own music but simply stating that such ridiculous amounts of money could be more productively spent. The real concern here is that even an artist of Costello’s high stature, clearly has little or no control over the pricing of his music.

After intiially encouraging fans to illegally download the box set, Costello did back track somewhat. A second blog entry titled "Let's Get This Perfectly Clear" seemed less in favour of piracy, possibly due to pressure from his record company. Perhaps it's best to just skip it all together.

If label and artist disputes are something you're intrigued by, be sure to check out this article on the subject of major and independent labels, written by legenday music producer Steve Albini.

Don't Panic attempt to credit photographers and content owners wherever possible, however due to the sheer size and nature of the internet this is sometimes impractical or impossible. If you see any images on our site which you believe belong to yourself or another and we have incorrectly used it please let us know at and we will respond asap.