The major record labels are enlisting an elite force in their battle against digital downloading: the artists. The Recording Industry Association of America, the trade group that represents the labels, has produced TV ads in which top artists including Britney Spears, Nelly, Mary J. Blige, Missy Elliott, Eve, DMX and Dirty Vegas ask their fans to stop downloading music for free. The ads begin running in late September on MTV, BET and VH1.
"Once people see these spots, they're going to think twice about buying pirated music," says Benjamin Chavis Muhammad, president of the Hip-hop Summit Action Network, which has joined the campaign. Of course, pleas from millionaires asking fans to spend eighteen dollars for CDs available online for free could fall on deaf ears.
Spears says she was happy to join the campaign. "When people go on their computer and take your song," she says, "it's the same thing as going into a freakin' store and taking your CD."
In his ad, DMX also equates downloading music to theft: "Some eighteen-year-old kid comes along with a computer and an idea and tries to take from me? Straight up and down, it's stealing."
David Benjamin, who heads Universal's anti-piracy division, helped coordinate the project, and Jeb Brien, a TV veteran (Sessions on West 54th Street) produced the spots. They approached artists at magazine photo shoots and at other scheduled appearances. One artist who refused was Dashboard Confessional's Chris Carrabba. "I don't care how anybody gets my record," he says. "If they can't afford it, they can get it for free. That's probably an unpopular way to look at it if you work for a label, but I don't work for a label."