Dubbed Artists Against Piracy, the group kicked off its efforts with full-page ads in USA Today, The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and other national newspapers today.
Listing support from such artists such as Aimee Mann, Alanis Morissette, Christina Aguilera, Blink-182, Sarah McLachlan and Garth Brooks, the ads appeal to fans to help protect a musician's ability to choose how a song appears online. About 70 artists are currently part of the coalition.
"If a song means a lot to you, imagine what it means to us," the ads read. "We believe that when our music is available online our rights should be respected."
The group's leader is Noah Stone, a musician and an executive at GMEmusic.com, an Internet-based record label. His company is associated with Gold Mountain Entertainment, a prominent Los Angeles entertainment management company.
Artists Against Piracy hopes to boost the profile of musicians on a battlefield that has largely been dominated by major record labels and technology companies.
"We want to educate fans and remind them of the value of music," Stone said. "But we also want to give artists a powerful voice in the debate over technology and music."
The full-page ads are the first salvo in a public education campaign that Stone plans to extend to television commercials, as well as Internet, radio and additional print ads.
That kind of ambition takes money, though. Stone is still solidifying his funding sources but said he has already attracted the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), the Walt Disney Co., the national music retailers' association, and even a half-dozen technology companies.
An increasingly bitter fight
The group's links to the record industry have worried some in the independent music community, who are skeptical of the major labels' commitment to musicians' welfare.
"I have a problem with that connection," said Jenny Toomey, executive director of the Washington D.C.-based Coalition for the Future of Music, a recently formed group that lobbies on behalf of independent music labels and musicians.
Nevertheless, she added, Stone's group is performing a valuable service.
"I'm glad they're going to have money to do some really basic education on the fact that artists need to get compensated," Toomey said.
Rapper Chuck D, a longtime supporter of independent artists' MP3 distribution, has weighed in as Napster's most vociferous backer in the music community. But Limp Bizkit, The Offspring and Hole's Courtney Love also have lent some rhetorical support to the beleaguered technology start-up.
Stone hopes to solidify the now-fragmented musicians' voice behind a single position, supporting artists' right to choose how their work appears online.
"I don't think we can ignore the Napster model," he said. "We can't say to fans, 'We're going to take it away from you.' But we have to make it work for us."
That means raising fan awareness that downloading a song without paying is taking money away from artists, he said. But just as important, it means raising the musicians' profile in the debate, so that artists can ultimately have a seat at any bargaining table that might see Napster and the record labels settle their differences.
A leading voice against Napster
Stone said the artists and labels are "in lockstep" on the issue of piracy but noted that there are significant differences on other issues not covered by his group.
With blue-chip backing and a lengthening list of big-name artists on board, Artists Against Piracy is likely to establish itself as a leading voice for the anti-Napster movement among musicians.
Despite Stone's hopes of creating a unified message, a growing list of artists--many of them stemming from the independent music ranks--are saying they see Napster and other file-sharing tools as a good thing, not a threat.
"What's interesting about art is when it's distributed," said John Vanderslice, a musician and studio owner who has taken a lead role in proselytizing for MP3 use among San Francisco's independent music scene.
Vanderslice, who has just released his latest album online in MP3 form to support his CD, says independent bands can potentially see their audiences expand dramatically online. Napster and other tools can help a band gain fans in places where record stores might not have stocked CDs in the past, he asserts.
"The problem you had was how to get a CD, which you've just pressed, to Chapel Hill where you're going to be playing in a month," Vanderslice said. "You had to convince a distributor to put it on a truck and drive it all the way across the country to Hogwash, North Carolina, or wherever. I love the idea that I don't have to think about it like that anymore."