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Fan’s Digital R.E.M. Archive Nixed by Universal Music

R.E.M. / Photo by Anton Corbijn

Yesterday was a disappointing day for audiophiles, especially those familiar with the work of one particular team of online archivists. Known until now as Analog Loyalist, Drew Crumbaugh, one of three engineer bloggers behind the immaculate restorations of the Smiths’ Rough Trade singles discography and Joy Division/New Order’s Factory Records releases, has been preemptively thwarted in his efforts to do the same with R.E.M.’s I.R.S. Records catalog by Universal Music Group, Rolling Stone reports. It’s a rather tricky story filled with Blogspots galore, so follow carefully.

In October, Crumbaugh, who has also worked on the official 2007 Rhino reissues of Joy Division’s Closer and Still, posted a restored version of R.E.M.’s 1981 Cassette Set demo tape to his personal blog, the Power of Independent Trucking. Six months later, in March, under the pseudonym, he and fellow archivist and DJ Jeb Edwards created the site REMcycle, which would serve the same purpose that the Joy Division/New Order and Smiths archive sites did (Crumbaugh had linked up with Edwards and fellow engineer Bruce Barlett for work on the Joy Division singles, then tackled the Smiths project with Edwards): to restore and post “all the I.R.S.-era [R.E.M.] singles in all territories where unique singles were released.”

Yesterday, however, in a new blog post on REMcycle, Crumabugh announced that he is now “very hesitant to move forward” with the project, because he had received a Digital Millenium Copyright Act notice from the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (basically the international iteration of the RIAA), of which Universal is a member, demanding he take down his Cassette Set demo tape restoration. While I.R.S.’s catalog is currently owned by Universal (I.R.S. was owned by EMI until Universal bought its catalog in November 2011), the tape in question, Edwards claims, was pre-I.R.S. material.

“Tell me, what role does the IFPI (of which Universal is obviously a member) have to do with *unreleased* [sic] material recorded when the band had no record contract?” he wrote in the post. “These were demos *freely* given away by the band. On low-fi C45 cassettes. And the IFPI thinks it’s their business how?”

Though he admitted that one track on the tape, “White Tornado,” saw a later I.R.S. release as a B-side, he probably won’t go ahead with REMcycle “because I don’t want to see my efforts as a writer/archivist/engineer wasted.”

Edwards told SPIN that this is the first takedown notice the trio have received in the three years they’ve been restoring singles; before Warner Bros. Records could yank their work on the New Order and Joy Division tracks, the former’s current manager “deliberately stepped in” to allow them to continue posting them. Though they anticipated that Morrissey would surely object to their Smiths work, they’ve heard nothing.

“We wanted to show that, hey, there’s a market for this,” Edwards said, adding that the team’s versions of the Smiths’ “Reel Around the Fountain” has been downloaded over 3,600 times and that Joy Division’s “Ceremony” had racked up more than 6,200.

Universal has had to pay extra-special attention to the digital existence of its catalog over the past few months; the label group was in a bit of hot water itself with its artists over copyrights, specifically regarding digital royalties, around the same time it acquired the I.R.S. catalog Loyalist had planned to restore.