In the summer of 2008, Kevin Cogill, known online as “Skwerl”, received Interscope Records co-founder Jimmy Iovine’s copy of nine pre-release tracks from Guns N’ Roses’ long-delayed album, Chinese Democracy. Cogill did what any good blogger would do and promptly leaked the songs to the public via his website, Antiquiet. In a fascinating new, detail-heavy account coming in at well over 8,000 words, Cogill has shared the full story of the leak and subsequent fallout.
He begins by detailing how he received the album from an anonymous emailer, and then posted a streaming-only version of the album on his website. Not surprisingly, a surge of traffic crashed the site’s servers in 10 minutes. He removed the files after receiving a deluge of “cease & desists” from Guns N’ Roses’ camp and, later, an investigation by the FBI. After realizing he could be charged under federal copyright law, Cogill volunteered to turn himself in and was arrested at his home by the FBI with “at least six handguns pointed at me from at least six different angles.” If that sounds crazy, that’s because it was. Cogill explains, “The judge was [surprised] that they arrested me at gunpoint. He actually said, ‘I don’t understand why this wasn’t a summons case, like I recommended.’”
After the arrest, Cogill enlisted the help of lawyer David Kaloyanides, who expertly knocked away the possibility of a damning felony charge. Cogill alleges that the case “became, more or less, a matter of the US government trying to save face by figuring out how to slap me with a misdemeanor.” Because Chinese Democracy was the living definition of “a project that might never be finished,” the government’s case against Cogill was complicated. He explains, “the US government would have to prove, in court, that Chinese Democracy was really coming. And no one at the RIAA or the label had informed the government that these songs had been lying around for 14 years. Only that they had cost $12 million. The government would soon come to realize the RIAA had given them a pretty shitty case.”
In fact, it seemed as if the leak ended up actually helping Universal Music Group and Guns N’ Roses. Every time news of Cogill’s court case hit the media, press releases about Chinese Democracy would follow. On November 23rd, 2008, 20 weeks after the leak, the album was released exclusively through Best Buy, which had “paid a large up front sum for the exclusive, at least seven figures, by all reports.” According to Cogill, “UMG had shown Best Buy charts of Google traffic for Chinese Democracy that started spiking in June, and was riding high.” Not only that, but the record label seemed to be timing promotional activities with major events in the case. “I would attend a scheduled court appearance, and a single would drop. Or the album art would be revealed. Or there was a tour announcement.”
Though prosecutors had originally planned on giving Cogill jail time, the case was settled in a plea deal with Cogill only receiving a misdemeanor charge “equivalent to copying an album for a friend”, two months house arrest, a year of probation, and participation in a “stupid PSA” that ended up never actually airing. The whole story is crazy, and includes other ridiculous tidbits, like one featuring a vinyl pre-release bootleg of Chinese Democracy for sale at Amoeba Records, and another involving A Perfect Circle’s Billy Howerdel as the alleged source of the leak. Read the full account of the misadventure here.
Presumably still riding high on Chinese Democracy’s success, Guns N’ Roses recently announced plans to embark on a string of tour dates in Mexico and South America. Besides Mexico City’s Hell & Heaven Fest in March, Axl Rose and company haven’t named venues yet for their upcoming trip.
Guns N’ Roses 2014 Tour Dates:
03/16 – Mexico City, Mexico @ Heaven & Hell Metal Fest
03/20 – Rio De Janeiro, Brazil
03/22 – Belo Horizonte, Brazil
03/25 – Brasilia, Brazil
03/28 – Sao Paulo, Brazil
03/30 – Curitiba, Brazil
04/01 – Florianópolis, Brazil
04/03 – Porto Alegre, Brazil
04/06 – Buenos Aires, Argentina
04/09 – Asuncion, Paraguay