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Welcome to the black market: Profiting off stolen music in plain sight

You would have to imagine that the first rule of a website that leaks music in exchange for money is not to talk about it…

No one’s told us that specifically, but one would assume that a community that trades in mostly illegal assets doesn’t want a heap of mainstream attention. That seems to have been the reason that one user, going by the handle ‘Excalibur’, closed down his thread on one such site for the alleged sale of an unheard album by My Chemical Romance, posting that it was the most replied to thread ever for leaks outside of hip hop. It poses the question – after all this time, how are we still seeing stolen music get traded right in the public eye?

The album that Excalibur was purporting to sell for up to USD$15,000 was The Paper Kingdom, an unreleased gem that’s become a thing of fan lore after being scrapped by My Chemical Romance almost a decade ago.

“The record that didn’t get made was extremely dark,” frontman Gerard Way shared about the project in 2014. The storyline of the album was going to centre on “a support group of parents who are dealing with the loss of their children, so they make up this story about the children all being missing in the woods and fighting this witch.” Made up of twelve tracks according to what a prospective buyer shared on Discord, Excalibur leaked snippets of three songs from the album that loosely align with the storyline: ‘Dark Cloud’, ‘Witch’ and ‘Wake Up!’. The snippets were taken down from YouTube for copyright.

News of the illegally obtained album’s impending sale split My Chemical Romance fans harshly into two camps – those who didn’t engage with the leak out of respect for their idols, and those who did.

Perhaps the strangest among the audience of onlookers were those who thought that the leaks might be part of an elaborate scheme by the band to unveil new material, introducing a character of Excalibur in the theatrical style that My Chemical Romance are known and loved for.

Rather than being sold, the tracks were abruptly vaulted, with the original poster leaving behind a trail of quickly deleted messages, taunting those still interested by lingering on the forums to exalt in his successful pursuit to profit off of someone else’s work. With cryptocurrency as the means behind the trade, it’s unlikely it could ever be traced.

Some disappointed fans did try to pool their money together to meet Excalibur’s asking price, but the coordinators of the site were unsupportive of orchestrating a group buy, based on the attention that the leak was receiving turning it into a logistical nightmare for funds collection. “Would prefer to do gb [group buy from the forum] but would be super federal,” Excalibur shared in a since-deleted comment. “Coordinators weren’t down and I respect that.”

The person who appears to have purchased it is known only as Aang (with a profile picture of the Last Airbender himself), who last confirmed that he was a fan trying to come to an agreement with the seller (“he’s young so I think that’s the issue here,” he shared on the private Discord set up by fans looking to group buy). If it was Aang that purchased the album, he also shared that he would “keep it all private” but would be open to releasing a single song, with a history of leaking other unreleased music over time from artists like Drake and Pop Smoke.

In the meantime, Excalibur continues to make his bones selling music from within and external to the alternative scene, leaking sessions from Hayley Williams’ Petals for Armor and snippets from Travis Scott, 070 Shake and more. His nerve hasn’t been dampened with My Chemical Romance cuts either, offering sessions from the recording of their first single since their reunion, ‘Foundations of Decay’. There seems to be a market for those who are willing to experience the ethical dilemma of partaking in the theft of music from the artists that they love, and no way out for creators caught up in the cycle.

It would be nice to see a music community using forums to discuss what they’re passionate about if it wasn’t for the severe injustice of making money off of what you have no right to sell (and a bizarre segment of the site that seems to be made up of ex-4Chan warriors). For now, music leaks continue to be a problem that appears to have no solution. Although a slight to fans, there is no inherent issue with the private sale of music (notoriously, Wu-Tang Clan sold secret album Once Upon A Time in Shaolin for what was believed to be over $5million USD back in 2015). The factors that aggravate the circumstances are how the music was obtained – in this case, illegally – and who is profiting off of it. It’s hard enough for artists to survive in an environment as volatile as ours, where names as big as Taylor Swift have to fight to own their music, streaming revenue for most artists is negligible and touring as a primary source of income for musicians has been constantly disrupted. The concept that art can be illegally bought and sold right in front of our eyes adds insult to injury, no matter who the artist is or how large their audience.

“[G]ood job team, another important piece of music history lost forever”, one forum member commented. But instead of mourning music that was never intended for the public domain anyway, the final post before the forum closed is probably more pertinent. If you are sad that you didn’t get to hear what was never meant to be heard, “Smoke some weed and cope.”

BLUNT does not condone the access of stolen music. Support the artists that you love by streaming legally, purchasing merch and heading out to a show.