Long have I wondered as to the true identity of the mysterious MP3 blog British bulldog the Web Sheriff. I knew that “he” was British. I knew “he” was often quite funny in his takedown posts. I knew that “he” was employed by a number of the big indies to ferret out leaks in the blog world. And that was about it?. Was this dapper industry constable one person, like Shakespeare, or multiple people, like Shakespeare? I kind of imagined “him” like John Cleese’s sheriff from Silverado: charming at first, but you still don’t want to shoot anybody on his watch like Kevin Kline did.
In the wake of the Animal Collective/Grizzly Bear dustup, the Village Voice an profiled of the Web Sheriff. That inadvertent leak of new AC material was so breathlessly covered by the indie-rock media that one would think said misunderstanding’s implications will reverberate long after we’ve all started worm farms, but at least this profile answers a lot of my questions. Web Sheriff has a team of 20 piracy-hunting deputies who work under head sheriff John Giacobbi in two UK offices (US precinct on the way!). The profile states that “Wild” John (as he is known by me as of right now) also edits content and builds Web sites when he isn’t crafting politely worded takedown requests. And then there’s this nugget:
[T]he concept came about “through my long-standing representation of the Village People and the increasing amount of online issues that started to arise.”
Which would seem to dovetail with their legal action against the Pirate Bay.
The profile features the requisite story from a put-upon blogger, but what interested me most, and left the most questions unanswered, were the comments from Matador scion Gerard Cosloy, who states that his label has used Web Sheriff only three times, which strikes me as a tad low. The Voice surmises that Cat Power, Mogwai, and Yo La Tengo were the artists represented, but I found this New Pornographers Web Sheriff request right away. And then there’s this headscratcher:
As to targeting MP3 blogs specifically, “It’s a little hard for us to get a third party like Web Sheriff to fully grasp the nuances of what’s the difference” between one-track cheerleaders and, say, torrent sites simply offering the full album, “so we tend to make hard-and-fast rules for everyone.”
Wait a second. It’s hard to get Web Sheriff to grasp these “nuances”? Isn’t that their freaking job? And aren’t you the client? I know that if I was paying a third party like Web Sheriff to rustle up the Snidely Whiplashes of the MP3 blog world, I would make damn sure that they would do it the way I wanted. Cosloy is saying that Web Sheriff, which spends all day long combing the web for evildoers, can’t possibly understand the difference between an enthusiastic kid on LiveJournal and a Russian torrent site? I’m pretty sure that I could make these distinctions fairly easily because I am a rational human being with a modicum of experience who can read for content. Sheesh, what are you paying these guys?
No, really! What are you paying them? The article makes no mention of cost. Pretty big indies are the ones who hire Web Sheriff, and one assumes the cost can’t be super-cheap. What’s the return on investment (ROI) here? Sure, ROI discussions can be rather ephemeral in an industry so complex. And it’s often hard to evaluate the systemic impact of individual actors and actions. (What’s a mention in Rolling Stone worth? A negative Pitchfork review? A leak at Berkeley Place?) Because it’s hard to tell in raw numbers, much of it must be measured with instinct. Statements like this from “Wild” John, however, don’t cut the mustard:
“We don’t have a statistic or anything like that, but I can say quite categorically, yes, it has made a significant difference,” he says of his company’s efforts.
Does it really? In a world where albums are traded via IM, torrents, and sites like zShare and YouSendIt, can the Web Sheriff really make a difference—or is the company just putting BandAids™ on a gushing wound? If I were Cosloy, I’d hire someone who could give me better assurances than that, perhaps ones that were numerically based. Maybe it’s time for a new Sheriff in town. (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)
Meet the Web Sheriff [Village Voice]