Battle of the bands gets caught up in a blog war
The organiser of a competition for unsigned bands has said a dispute with Birmingham bloggers was "blown out of all proportion" and made him feel "bullied".
Jay Mitchell, founder and managing director of Walsall-based Surface Unsigned, said he had been shocked by the "aggressive" response by bloggers after he sent an email threatening legal action if a blog failed to remove content related to his company.
The response was an explosion of posts by local bloggers criticising Surface Unsigned.
Mr Mitchell, aged 28, said: "It is as if the bloggers have declared war on me and the company and there is nothing that I can do about it.
"It is like bullies in a playground. They have assumed I'm this big corporate entity trying to squash the little man when, in fact, Surface is run by a passionate small team."
Surface Unsigned sent the email to Danny Smith, one of the authors of the creative industries blog "Created in Birmingham" (CiB). The email was published on the personal website of CiB co-creator Pete Ashton. Other bloggers then linked to the post, creating a storm of negative publicity.
Mr Mitchell said: "Our company has been criticised for acting threateningly, but we felt threatened by the blog. One comment suggested a member of our staff had a speech impediment.
"It felt like a personal attack and we didn't want our logo or words associated with it."
The post and subsequent comments criticised the Surface Unsigned competition rules that stipulated bands had to sell 25 tickets in order to enter the competition.
But, Mr Mitchell claims, this is legitimate practice in a music industry swamped by unsigned bands that are often required to pay to play.
"If a band can not prove they have a fan-base of at least 25, then we have to ask why they are in the competition," he said.
Mr Mitchell launched Surface Unsigned two years ago after working with unsigned bands at his Walsall-based rehearsal centre JJM Studios. He has also worked as head of guitar at the Birmingham Academy of Music.
In a joint statement the authors of Created in Birmingham agreed a line should be drawn under the episode.
"On reflection the offending post could have been better written, but by dealing with it in this way Surface did themselves more harm that good," they said.
"Created in Birmingham is an open forum where comments and feedback are welcome in a public environment. Surface could have joined in this conversation on the original post or emailed to draw our attention to it. Instead we received an anonymous threatening letter which turned out to have little or no legal basis. This put us on the defensive."
Dr Peter Webb from the department of Media Studies at The University of Birmingham said flare ups between businesses and bloggers were become increasingly common.
He said: "Blogging debates get taken incredibly seriously, but businesses must remember people recognise blogs as opinion.
"If the guys from Surface had ignored the post, how much difference would it have made to them?"
Dr Webb said he would not advise other firms to issue legal warnings over copyright.
"Unless it comes down to personal defamation then it is probably better not to go down the legalistic route.
"If they are concerned, business are probably better served responding to criticism on their site in a way that provides people with the full picture."