Punk-rap stars the Beastie Boys are offering three previously unreleased songs for download from the Internet to help raise up to $2 million for relief efforts in war-torn Kosovo.
"We felt honored to be able to help people in need, using both our music and this new technology," Beastie Boy Mike Diamond said in a statement.
Ironically, the group's label, Capitol Records, is supporting the project, in spite of the fact that last year it called for the Beasties to remove MP3 files from their website.
Capitol's move marks one of the first times a major label has supported the free downloading of unreleased work by a multiplatinum artist.
The songs will be offered through Launch.com over the next 10 weeks. The first cut, a DJ Design remix of "The Negotiation Limerick File"
(RealAudio excerpt), went online Wednesday.
For every download, the Beasties and Launch will donate $1 to two charities that support Kosovo relief -- CARE and MADRE -- up to a total pool of $1 million. Microsoft, whose Windows Media Technology is being used for the downloads, will match the donation, with those proceeds benefiting the U.S. Committee for UNICEF and Doctors Without Borders.
"I think people will feel quite happy to know that going to this site will automatically provide relief for people who are in need," said Lovisa Stannow, West Coast director of Doctors Without Borders. The organization is the world's largest independent international medical-relief agency aiding victims of armed conflict, epidemics and natural and man-made disasters.
"It is in crises like these that we are all reminded of what we should already be aware [of]: There are many beings suffering and it is everyone's responsibility to help change that," Diamond said.
Last year, the Beasties posted several live songs on their official website (www.beastieboys.com) in the easily copied MP3 format. But those cuts were offered without Capitol's permission, and eventually the label forced their removal.
The band continues to offer live songs such as "Three MCs and One DJ"
(RealAudio excerpt) in a streaming format, which means they can be listened to but not saved.
The Kosovo benefit tracks are posted using Microsoft's new Audio 4.0 format, which cannot be copied. Earlier this week Capitol showed signs it was softening its stance on downloads by allowing the ska band Less Than Jake to post several live MP3s on the MP3.com website.
The music industry has historically fought the MP3 format (short for Moving Pictures Experts Group, audio layer 3), citing fears of online piracy.
"Record companies are recognizing that they're not doing themselves any favor by ignoring opportunities in order to perpetuate a fight they cannot win," said attorney Ken Hertz, who helped negotiate a deal for an online posting by Alanis Morissette.
Launch's CEO, Dave Goldberg, said the Beastie Boys -- Diamond, Adam Yauch, and Ad-Rock (born Adam Horovitz) -- have been active in all levels of the collaboration, even faxing changes to the download website from Australia this week.
"The Beastie Boys are the best artists that one could choose to work with this in this situation, and the charity component is also a fantastic thing," said Goldberg, who is hoping the site surpasses its goal of a million downloads. "You're not just getting great, new music from the Beastie Boys, but you're also contributing money to relief efforts. I certainly think it's not only doable, but I hope we do better."
The socially and politically conscious Beastie Boys have been active in humanitarian matters for some time. In 1994 they founded the Milarepa Fund, a human-rights organization originally funded by proceeds from the band's royalties. Two years later, the Beasties and Milarepa staged the first Tibetan Freedom Concert in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park, followed in subsequent summers by concerts in New York and Washington, D.C. This year the concert will be a multicontinent event, with shows next month in Wisconsin, as well as Tokyo; Sydney, Australia; and Amsterdam, Netherlands.
"We all find that this is such a terrific initiative, to really contribute to organizations working day and night right now trying to provide relief and help save lives," Stannow said. "And to do it by using new technology, you're reaching entirely new groups of people. It's such a generous and innovative campaign, and I just hope others follow it."