Punk rock royalty

Cash rules everything around me.

You're always hearing stories about how major labels screw artists, but yesterday afternoon brought a man-bites-dog story straight out of indieville. It's a story about the biggest punk band on earth, the indie label that reportedly ripped them off, and a really big IOU that has resulted in the dudes behind American Idiot looking like a trio of grinches who are downsizing one of the most recognizable brand names in all of pop-punk.

For the past decade, if you bought Green Day's pre-Dookie material, you did so through Lookout!, the label that nurtured the band and some of its Gilman Street heroes before pop-punk's mid-'90s breakout. "Due to concerns over unpaid royalties," reports, the band suddenly "revoked" its catalogue; what that means isn't exactly clear, although it probably means GD has revoked the label's license to manufacture, distribute, and sell the two Greed Day re-issues it's been carrying for years. In a move that acknowledges how big a part of the Lookout! enterprise those discs comprise, the label immediately let go two-thirds of its whopping nine-person staff, and announced it won't even think about releasing any new material until next year. If you happen to be in a band called Ted Leo or Mary Timony or Hockey Night, this is probably not very good news. If on the other hand you're a Green Day fan who's be interested in a deal on a gold album, your eBay lucky day may be just around the corner.

It doesn't appear that Lookout! is disputing Green Day's claim that the label owes the band a shitload of money. (It's unclear whether other artists on the label might follow Green Day's lead; privately, one of the six recently-terminated employees, who was eyeing the original Green Day cover artwork tacked above her desk, wondered who might be next in line for back royalties.)

But it's a story that makes everyone look bad: not paying royalties is the music industry's one cardinal sin (worse than payola, even), and by doing so Lookout! raises the inevitable question mark (lookout?) about whether artists who have not just been nominated for eight MTV music video awards might also have been subject to creative accounting. Meanwhile, Billy Joe and the boys look like greedy bullies: sure, they're entitled to every penny of their share of sales on 39/Smooth, but isn't that money a Kerplunk in the bucket for a band with a Grammy on the shelf and a multimillion-dollar arena tour kicking off this summer?
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