A Punknews.org reader let us know that controversial nationalist and white power group Skrewdriver had made an appearance on Apple's iTunes digital download service. While the album in question, Hail the New Dawn has been available in some form for years, this is certainly the highest profile retailer to ever stock the album.
After a little research, we discovered the source of the album was independent retailer CD Baby who allow unsigned artists to sell their records through retail and through popular download services.
Rather than speculate about how the album came to appear on both CD Baby and iTunes, we opted to go to the source and spoke with CD Baby President, Derek Sivers. Sivers graciously offered his side of the story.
First, a little background; CD Baby is the project of Derek Sivers, a independent musician who had been searching for a way to sell his own music without going through a label. CD Baby was the result, and exclusively sells music directly from artists; the site is clear that music does not go through distributors, but directly from musicians.
For every dollar we make selling some obviously racist/nazi/whatever album, we contribute TWO dollars to anti-racist organizations like UNCF and others.
The site eventually became the largest seller of independent albums on the web. The site features more than 130,000 self-released titles and also provides a way for independent artists to distribute their music through iTunes and Yahoo Music. To date, the site has paid out more than $30 million dollars to independent, unsigned artists.
The discovery of a Skrewdriver record in the site's catalogue - which eventually was pushed up to iTunes - is controversial. The white power group, which formed in 1977 began as a fairly conventional punk rock band, but frontman Ian Stuart Donalson reformed the group after a split with a new set of musicians and began openly supporting nationalist and white power organizations as well as releasing records through notably nazi-sympathizing German label Rock-o-rama.
When I spoke to Derek, I asked him pretty point blank: "Why had CD Baby decided to stock music from Skrewdriver, both notoriously far-right/nazi affiliated groups."
His answer was actually quite measured and he explained:
The day I started CD Baby I made a firm decision to never censor anything.
At first, that meant quality. No matter what I personally think of an album, I'll sell it if the artist wants us to sell it, because hey - who am I to judge? Maybe someone somewhere likes it.
So - the day the first racist CD showed up here, we had to make a tough decision on whether to start censoring now, or not.
Two things let to our decision not to censor:
This album came to our attention because of the album cover. If it weren't for the album cover, we never would have noticed. (We can't sit and listen to every lyric of every song.) Does that mean, then, that everyone with an offense piece of artwork on their cover gets banned, but everyone with pretty rainbows on the cover does not, no matter what the lyrics inside may say?
After September 11th, we got about 250 albums full of flag-waving dedications to the tragedy, blah blah blah. Many of those, if you listen close, are actually taking their sorrow into some kind of vengeance against all Muslims, etc. So we sit and listen to those and ban the ones we find offensive? Or only the ones people complain about?
As you can see it's FAR too slippery of a slope to go anywhere near it. Start with one album, and we'll have to commit ourselves to a lifetime of deciding, on every album that comes in, if it's offensive or hateful and if we should allow it. We get 200-300 new albums a DAY now, so there's just no way we can judge them all.
Plus, I don't want to let complainers rule our actions. What if we started getting complaints about Pagan albums? Complaints about Liberal politics albums? Do we remove anything that lots of people complain about? Obviously not.
So what we decided to do is this:
For every dollar we make selling some obviously racist/nazi/whatever album, we contribute TWO dollars to anti-racist organizations like UNCF and others. (The guys in the warehouse pick the organizations as they see fit.)