Few albums have been as closely guarded as Eminem's The Eminem Show.
No one at Interscope Records has a personal copy, and journalists who want to review it have to go to special listening sessions where representatives from the rapper's management deliver the disc, sit through the sessions and then take the record back to keep it out of enemy hands.
Despite such precautions, all 20 songs were leaked to the Internet by May 11, a full three weeks before the disc's release date. The tracks are available on various file-sharing services. Plus, bootleg vendors began selling the CD on the streets of New York for $5 this weekend.
"No one's happy about it, but it's very hard to prevent," an Interscope spokesperson said. "You do everything you can to stop it from happening and then you get scooped. But we got it down to three weeks, which is not as bad as the industry standard at this point."
He pointed out that Korn's Untouchables was leaked a full two months before its release date and 15 System of a Down tracks being considered for the band's next album found their way to the Internet last week. "It totally sucks, but it's relative," he said.
The last Eminem album, The Marshall Mathers LP, was leaked 11 days before it came out, but that was in May 2000 when Internet pirating was less pervasive. Today, platinum acts are lucky to even get their music to the record label before Net thieves nab it.
But if label employees, journalists and radio stations don't have the music, how does it wind up online? It's hard to tell for sure, but there are several theories. Since manufacturing plants are sent completed discs to be pressed months before release, many industry insiders believe plant employees are responsible for the leaks.
In other situations, the leaks seem to come directly from the recording studios, which explains how B-sides, demos and alternate takes get uploaded along with album tracks. One other theory is that the culprits are computer hackers who break into home and studio computers and rip the music files.
However it happens, one thing's clear you can talk about better security and more high-tech copyright protection software till your tongue dries out, but for every protective measure taken there's someone working just as hard at the other end to break the code. For now at least, it looks like artists are going to have to bite the bullet and accept the inevitable.
"Our whole purpose is to get our music out to people and let them hear, and if that is the way it is going [to happen] then I have no problem with it," Korn frontman Jonathan Davis said. "You can't fight technology. You can't fight what is going to be going on. So you might as well join it."