MP3.com late last year unveiled a cash rewards program dubbed Payback for Playback, known by artists as P4P or PFP. The program began without controversy, as the company distributed $200,000 per month to compensate artists for the traffic and sales they generated.
From the beginning, MP3.com published the incomes of its top-grossing artists under the program. But people are complaining about a change of policy to reveal detailed information about every artist's P4P income, from top-grossing acts raking in thousands of P4P dollars to bands collecting a P4P goose egg.
"Why, for heaven's sake, why do you make the incomes of artists publicly available?" the petition asks MP3.com CEO Michael Robertson and other company executives. "Hey, it looks great on pages of artists who made more than $14,000 PFP, but on the page of artists who are still frantically working on their newest album, like us, it looks incredibly embarrassing!!!
"This is no good publicity for MP3.com, neither is it good publicity for the artists, who will look like what they are: the poorest people on Earth," the petition continues.
In his "Michael's minute" column, MP3.com's Robertson defended the P4P postings on the grounds of openness.
"Putting out into the open how much an artist is earning removes the veil of secrecy," he wrote. "It's no mystery how much movie stars, pro athletes or TV personalities make; it shouldn't be a classified number what musicians bring home."
Robertson also noted that the postings would let MP3.com visitors monitor the popularity and profitability of various artists.
"It might even provide wonderful insights into the trends of music listeners and help identify promising talent," he wrote.
Representatives for MP3.com were not immediately available for comment.
In his column, Robertson also upped the stakes in the P4P arena, announcing that MP3.com would give away $1 million in both May and June.
The MP3 artists' complaints come as the company faces serious legal problems, as it has unabashedly pushed the envelope to develop new ways of squeezing profits from digital music distribution.
Last month, a federal judge found that MP3.com is liable for copyright infringement on its My.MP3.com service, which allows music buyers to access their CDs from an Internet database created and controlled by MP3.com. The ruling means that the company could be on the hook for millions of dollars in damages, which could put it out of business.
MP3.com has argued that the service is not only legal, but a boon for the recording industry because it helps drive CD sales. The company says it requires My.MP3.com members to provide proof of purchase before allowing access to any music on the service.