Nielsen’s Soundscan Crackdown: The Numbers Are In, And They’re Not Good

By: Brian Raftery / January 29, 2007

2nielsenshock-thumb.jpgLast week, we reported that Nielsen Soundscan–the company responsible for tracking record sales–had sent cease-and-desist letters to two websites, claiming that the sites had illegally published Soundscan data. We thought this was a little strange, because 1) several publications and news outlets that don’t have Soundscan access regularly report Soundscan numbers: and 2) even though we’re not lawyers, we were always fairly certain that you can’t copyright a fact.

As it turns out, legal-watchdog site Chillingeffects.org obtained a copy of one of the C&D letters, which includes actual Soundscan numbers. After the click-through, a document that will depress you in a variety of ways.

Here’s an excerpt from the letter, which was sent January 16th to absolutepunk.net:

Sent via: email

Re: ABSOLUTEPUNK.NET – Notice to Cease and Desist

I am the attorney for Nielsen SoundScan (“SoundScan”), and it has recently come to our attention that your company, ABSOLUTEPUNK.NET, is publishing Nielsen SoundScan’s valuable proprietary data (“Data”) without any authorization or license from SoundScan. Specifically, your web site, www.absolutepunk.net , published the following Data on your web site on January 11, 2007, without permission:

Soundscan Results: January 11th, 2007

Posted on 01-11-07 by Jason Tate

Here are the selective SoundScan numbers for last week (and total sold).

Dreamgirls – Soundtrack : 66,355 (451,993)

Akon – Konvicted: 63,699 (1,221,730)

Daughtry – Daughtry: 55,916 (1,176,949)

Various – Now 23: 48,094 (1,844,522)

Beatles – Love : 44,427 (1,141,062)

Nickelback – All The Right Reason: 38,841 (4,684,196)

Fray – How To Save A Life: 36,426 (1,723,282)

My Chemical Romance – Black Parade: 32,809 (797,160)

Jay-Z – Kingdom Come: 31,904 (1,238,703)

Mayer, John – Continuum: 28,591 (1,218,312)

U2 – U218 Singles: 24,829 (525,520)

30 Seconds To Mars – Beautiful Lie: 22,588 (700,813)

Incubus – Light Grenades: 21,095 (418,981)

Switchfoot – Oh! Gravity : 20,853 (64,027)

Red Hot Chili Peppers – Stadium Arcadium: 20,620 (1,749,574)

Game – Doctor’s Advocate: 20,132 (771,806)

All-American Rejects – Move Along: 19,912 (1,734,310)

Snow Patrol – Eyes Open : 19,855 (825,896)

Killers – Sam’s Town: 18,743 (953,276)

Keep in mind that the amount in parenthesis is the total amount sold. The letter includes five whole weeks of sales data, and then ends with:

Nielsen SoundScan’s Data is the valuable, exclusive, proprietary, copyrighted property of SoundScan and your organization’s blatant disregard of SoundScan’s ownership in and to the Data is a serious infringement of SoundScan’s intellectual property rights under Federal and State copyright laws, and can result in your organization paying statutory damages in excess of $150,000 per infringement.

Notice is hereby given that Nielsen SoundScan views this copyright infringement with the utmost seriousness and, unless you immediately cease and desist from using SoundScan’s Data, and confirm that you have, and will continue to desist from this and any other infringement of SoundScan’s rights in the future, SoundScan shall pursue all of its legal and equitable remedies against you.

Again: We are not lawyers, but mere music geeks who believe that Soundscan figures are an imperfect way to measure the state of the record industry (which, if these numbers are accurate has gone from bad to worse to ledge-jumpingly horrible). But it seems as though this questionable copyright crackdown is meant to take advantage of smaller outlets that lack extensive legal resources, hoping that no one will put up a fight. Maybe Nielsen realizes that the same record labels that pay so much for their sales info are ailing, and so the company is doing whatever it can to cover up the industry’s sad state of affairs. But no matter how many C&D letters they send out, and how many games of legal Whack-A-Mole they play, they can’t hide the fact that the new Switchfoot has sold a mere 64,027 copies.

SoundScan-ing for posted data [Chillingeffects.org]