The Internet has transformed how bands interact with their fans. But that can lead to troublesome consequences.
A lawsuit filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court alleges that Warner Music Group, Atlantic Records and other music industry organizations helped coerce a 16-year-old girl into making pornographic rock videos when a band advertised for extras on MySpace, News Corp.'s teen-oriented social networking site.
The companies and musicians’ representatives deny they did anything wrong. But they acknowledge that difficult situations may arise as they reach out to young fans.
But it is just such situations, the girl’s attorney said, that demand heightened caution by the music business.
“For years, the industry has been talking about how online sales and online promotion creates unique opportunities to reach out to fans,” said the attorney, Douglas Silverstein. “Well, that also creates a unique burden” to protect minors from online exploitation, he added.
The suit, filed Thursday, alleges that popular rock group Buckcherry, which is known for its sexually suggestive lyrics and members’ tattooed torsos, asked fans to show up at Hollywood’s Key Club in October.
The plaintiff, a minor identified as Jane Doe who was living in Southern California, was allegedly given alcohol to drink and filmed exposing her breasts, kissing another female and writhing against a pole while Buckcherry performed a song with an unprintable title.
According to the lawsuit, the music video was posted on the band’s website and distributed widely online, as was a “behind the scenes” program that referred to the girl’s first name, featured more nudity and had band members saying, “It’s like watching seven hours of porn.”
As a result of the video’s airing, the minor suffered severe emotional distress, said Silverstein, who is seeking unspecified damages.
“You can imagine the panic this girl felt when this video started getting aired,” he said. “She’s been called a lesbian at school. She’s had to switch schools because of that video.”
An attorney for Buckcherry said it was possible that an underage girl appeared in the video but precautions were taken to keep minors out.
“We had a guy at the door checking IDs, and to get in, this girl had to show a fake identification showing she was over 18,” said Skip Miller of law firm Miller Barondess. “There were signs telling minors to stay out. This woman filled out a release form with false information. And once it was determined this woman was underage, the video was removed.”
The lawsuit alleges that the minor was not asked for identification.
Representatives of Buckcherry said the girl bears some responsibility.
“There was every opportunity for her not to be in that video,” said Allen Kovac, Buckcherry’s manager.
“For whatever reason, the girl subverted those efforts, and now her mom is trying to blame everyone but her. This woman is now looking at them as a profit opportunity.”
A representative of Warner Music Group said it had no role in the video’s original production. He said Buckcherry was signed by its Atlantic label in May, after the video was produced.
The Warner executive, however, said that when the music company was contacted by the girl’s mother, it immediately re-edited the video to exclude her and removed the original from circulation, hiring an outside group to strip it from websites that had posted it illegally.
But as of Sunday, versions of the video showing the minor were still on the Web.
“There’s no way to completely erase something from the Internet,” said Judi Westberg-Warren, president of the advocacy group Web Wise Kids. “Once it’s out there, you can’t make it disappear. And it’s horrible for kids to know that people all over the world have seen them in compromising, sexual situations.”
The Buckcherry situation is just the latest incident demonstrating how the Internet is erasing lines that once separated the private and the public.
Last month, online giant AOL, a unit of Time Warner Inc., accidentally released detailed records of Internet searches conducted by 657,000 Americans, bringing users’ private interests into view.
Sexual predators -- some posing as famous singers or actors -- have used e-mails and postings to lure children into offline meetings.
Recently, the women’s lacrosse team at Catholic University in Washington drew national attention when someone posted embarrassing photos of the players and a male stripper.
MySpace, in particular, has been targeted by online predators, experts say, because it’s so popular among teens.
Unlike Internet message boards, clips such as the Buckcherry video have wide commercial exposure.
“Mistakes have such long-lasting consequences when they are posted online,” Westberg-Warren said. “Everyone has to become so much more careful now. Companies and children need to realize that things have changed.”