A couple of weeks ago I blogged about Dan Nelson's book 'All Known Metal Bands'. A comment on my post alerted me to criticism of the book on the Invisible Oranges blog (which I usually read but haven't for a few weeks):
On one hand, this would surely make great coffee table reading. On the other hand, it is just as surely a copy-and-paste job from metal-archives.com. Essentially, the book is a print version of that website as of sometime last year. The fact that this book has an "author" (a Dan Nelson) is somewhat ludicrous. Does metal-archives.com have a potential intellectual property claim against Nelson/McSweeney's for theft of its idea, process, and/or content? Regarding the latter, probably not; metal-archives.com doesn't own the names of the bands it lists. However, it arguably owns the method of organization of these names, even if it's simply alphabetical. No other site has as complete a list of metal bands, and something feels wrong about a major commercial entity profiting off the backs of an all-volunteer community. In any case, metal-archives.com most certainly lacks the resources to pursue any action against McSweeney's.
Here is metal-archives.com, constantly facing server problems and asking for donations. Over there is McSweeney's, who copied the site's text in probably less than an hour and whipped it into a $22 hardcover ($17 on sale). The least McSweeney's could do is help defray the IT costs of metal-archives.com.
A more recent Invisible Oranges post reports Dan Nelson's defense of the book:
On his site, he has published a statement/defense detailing his book-writing process and intent. In it, he states, among other things, that Encyclopaedia Metallum was not the sole source of content for the book. A link to the statement/defense and excerpts from it follow below:
Confusingly, the linked to page doesn't appear to contain the aforementioned statement, although Invisible Oranges does reprint bits of it:
First, the issue of credit. As stated above, the idea of creating merely a list of names and printing it as a book was my idea, and mine alone. Had it been another's idea, they would have done it. In art, which is granted a sometimes ambiguous sphere of culture, she/he who has the idea and executes it takes the credit. If a photographer makes a picture of a cathedral, those who designed and built the cathedral are not credited. Whether this is wrong or right I don't know and have no opinion. Ask Marcel Duchamp.
There are well-worn issues here about art and intellectual property. This is one those occasions when I can see both sides of the issue. On the one hand, the list of band names on metal archives is the result of a lot of people's (unrewarded) hard work. On the other hand, turning them into a book creates a work that transcends and recontextualises the work on the website. In any case, 30% of the names in the book apparently did not come from metal archives and these may well have been some of the most difficult to collect.
I think this is one of those pieces of art that either speaks to you or doesn't. As my rapturous review suggested, I absolutely love this book. It's a monument both to the awe-inspiring scale of metal and to its transcendent repetitiveness. It captures metal's essential paradox: that a musical form built on an ideology of individualism has despite itself created a monolithic mythic space that stands above the idiosyncracies of its practitioners.
As his deeply annoying website shows, Dan Nelson may have created the book as much out of a tiresome desire for tricksiness than anything else. He should definitely have put better credits in the book. But again, the book stands above Nelson and is a monument to the greatness of metal culture.