Pearl Jam's Ten Club: Are They Eddie Vedder's Copyright Police?

Categories: WTF
Christopher Victorio/OC Weekly
We don't condone the violation of copyright law. But if you try to upload a video on YouTube featuring a live Pearl Jam or Eddie Vedder performance, chances are your account will be blocked due to a copyright claim filed by a third party. 

At least that's what happened when I attempted to upload some grainy footage I shot with a point and shoot camera of the solo show Eddie played at the Long Beach Terrace Theater in July. 
Not more than three days after I uploaded the clip, I logged into my Youtube account  to find a large screen informing me that a complaint had been lodged--by the Ten Club. If I wanted further access my account I would first have to endure the humiliation of watching a pedantic short film on copyright law featuring the Happy Tree Friends followed by a short online quiz demonstrating what I had learned.
For those not in the know, the Ten Club has been Pearl Jam's fan club almost since the band's inception. For a scant $20, US fans are granted entrance to the hallowed group which affords access to primo PJ concert tickets, an annual holiday 45 rpm single and silk screen concert posters. It's a good deal. But since when do fan clubs file copyright claims? Isn't this a task reserved for the actual creators of the music or their high-powered attorneys? We attempted to get in touch with Ten Club's president through Vandenberg Communications to find out, but they declined to return our calls and emails so we turned to other experts in the field of music, communication and law and found that they were just as baffled as we were.

Nancy Baym, a professor of Communication Studies at Kansas University who is currently writing a book about musician and audience interaction in the age of social media, said the idea of a fan club operating in such a fashion strikes her as odd. 

"I'd really want to know if this is something that Pearl Jam is advocating, is asking them to do. How do they feel about this," Baym says. "Certainly some of the artists I've spoken with would really not want their audience doing this, whereas others might feel like this was a great thing for their audience to be doing to help them out."

 Baym explains that in some cases, the uploading of live concerts to YouTube by fans is a good thing for artists.  Bands frequently decline to file complaints against such infringements if it's clear there's no threat of lost revenue. "To the contrary, they think it broadens their audience and reaches more people. Therefore it results in either increased music sales or an increased audience which will eventually find their way to give (the band) money in some other way, whether that's buying tickets or buying merchandise."  

No doubt the Ten Club has specific reasons for lodging takedown notices with YouTube, but it's unclear how a fan club finds attains the position of copyright watchdog. 

YouTube's management won't comment on specific accounts, but the process for flagging a video for copyright infringement involves a representative, such as a record company lawyer filling out a legal document provided by the online video giant. If the form is filled out correctly, YouTube is legally obligated to remove the video. However, the person or persons who uploaded the video have the right the file a counter claim with YouTube if they feel they haven't violated the law.

"Generally with a takedown notice the person issuing it is swearing under oath that they're either the copyright owner or that they have the rights to enforce that (copyright)," says  Julie Ahrens, Associate Director of the Fair Use Project at Stanford Law School. She admits she hasn't heard of a fan club working in this capacity; legally they make such claims. 

"I couldn't just say, 'I wrote this book, but if anybody infringes it go out and enforce it,'" Ahrens explains. Maybe, Ahrens suggested, the Ten Club has sole rights to record live Eddie Vedder concerts--thus giving them the legal authority to claim infringement.

It should be mentioned this issue wouldn't be worth discussing were we talking about Beyonce, or Christina Aguilara--performers whose image centers on physical attributes such as voluptuousness and wardrobe choices which requiring narcissistic level image vigilance. 

 But we're talking about Eddie Vedder, an ostensibly idealistic man who appreciates rocking in the free world. Why wouldn't he want to see his work shared with as wide an audience as possible? This is the same guy who fronts a band which released 72 official bootlegs in stores in 2001 and even more in subsequent years. The same guy whose band went to the United States Congress in protest of Ticketmaster for charging PJ fans a whopping $5 service charge on Pearl Jam tickets. In 1994, the band canceled their summer tour in defiance of the draconian fee which Pearl Jam demanded be reduced to $2. 

 Now it seems as if they have deputized their minions to keep people in the tenth row armed with point and shoot cameras equipped with lousy sound devices from sharing the gift of Eddie's rich booming voice with the world.

 Perhaps the most baffling example of Pearl Jam's wide-eyed idealism juxtaposed with this copyright hubub is the band's run-in with AT&T back in 2007. The communications juggernaut was responsible for transmitting a live webcast of the band's Lollapalooza performance during which the band launched into an impromptu cover of Pink Floyd's "The Wall."  During the tune, liberal lefty Vedder sang the lyrics "George Bush, leave this world alone." 

It was later discovered this section of the song had been edited during the webcast. Though AT&T said the edit was a mistake, Pearl Jam was pissed and took to their website "This, of course, troubles us as artists but also as citizens concerned with the issue of censorship and the increasingly consolidated control of the media. AT&T's actions strike at the heart of the public's concerns over the power that corporations have when it comes to determining what the public sees and hears through communications media." 

Though the band has yet to comment to the Weekly on the reasons for its vigorous game of brand protection, it would seem Pearl Jam has taken a page right out of AT&T's censorship book. We'd love to hear Eddie weigh in on the issue. We're all ears. 

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