AMP Magazine strips The Rowley Estate of winning status in music contest
What started out as an online competition to provide exposure for unsigned punk bands has evolved into a spat of accusations levied against the contest winner, local Windsor band The Rowley Estate, by California-based AMP Magazine.
American Music Press a.k.a. AMP Magazine’s Unsigned Contest VII last May featured 40 punk bands from across the continent competing for two prize packages and immense international exposure.
Five months later, the magazine is alleging The Rowley Estate or its fans cheated in the contest, which used a free website polling plugin to track votes, because the website apparently logged about 2,000 votes from one person in an hour. The contest rules stipulated one vote per band each day.
As of a week ago, The Rowley Estate was still toted on AMP’s website as the winner. It wasn’t until The Lance began inquiring that AMP edited their results page and removed the tally of votes.
“[AMP was] coming at it like we’re these terrible people that are lying and cheating,” said The Rowley Estate Bassist Derek Boyce. “We’re just an honest band. If [AMP] thought that we were cheating, they should have announced it before calling us the winner. We would have been happy to lose if we had ‘won’ under false premises.”
Very few rules were posted for the competition, both on AMP’s website, and in confirmation e-mails to the finalists. AMP encouraged users to: “come back every day and keep voting for the bands you love,” while they made it clear that voters shouldn’t attempt any “tricky business” as AMP “can tell, and all it turns into is more work for us on our end, and the band you’re voting for gets mad at you.”
Rocking the vote
The Rowley Estate primarily used Facebook to inform their fans of the contest. Boyce thought his band would be at a disadvantage. “There were bands on there with a lot more Facebook fans.”
As the contest progressed, The Rowley Estate found themselves vying for the top spot with Californians Clouds Like Mountains.
“We were constantly battling for first, [Clouds Like Mountains] gave us such a hell of race,” explained Boyce. “It was nerve racking. We would be up 13 votes, then we’d refresh the page and they’d be up by two … It was like that for days … going back and forth between first and second place.”
The Rowley Estate had their families and friends send the link out to garner votes. “People just wanted us to win. I feel like people wanted to see a smaller band from a smaller city win. A lot of people who wouldn’t typically vote for us did and I thought it was really rad.”
Clouds Like Mountains employed a similar strategy using Facebook “posting [the voting link] every single day,” stated a member of the band via their Facebook page.
Following the last day of voting on May 18, AMP’s website indicated that The Rowley Estate had won with 4,751 votes (21 per cent). Clouds Like Mountains placed a close second with 4,591 (20 per cent); a difference of 160 votes.
First prize included a full page interview in AMP Magazine, an album stream and an article on the magazine’s website, 1,000 free download cards from Dystrophonix, a $100 credit for merchandise, the first track on Unsigned Heroes AMP compilation, and one week of premium placement and contest option with interpunk.com.
Boyce e-mailed AMP to claim their prizes. But after multiple inquiries, Boyce only received interview questions and an e-mail indicating that AMP contacted Dystrophonix regarding the 1,000 free download cards.
Boyce received no response when he inquired again when the article would be printed, for information on the compilation and inclusion on the AMP and InterPunk website streams.
When the printed publication arrived, Boyce found that their “full page interview” was edited to an abridged bio. Upset, Boyce contacted AMP complaining that the article wasn’t what was guaranteed by the contest.
Things turn sour
On Oct. 17, nearly five months after the contest ended, Boyce received an e-mail from AMP editor Brett Matthews.
Matthews accused The Rowley Estate of cheating, without providing any evidence, and of being overly aggressive not only “post-contest, but throughout,” apparently referencing the band’s persistence in attempting to determine whether they had won the contest, and when they would receive their prizes.
Matthews replied that he didn’t “want to have anything to do with your band anymore,” and that AMP Magazine gets “less crap working with Rise Against.”
Boyce apologized to Matthews, but defended his position that The Rowley Estate was entitled to the prizes as they did not cheat.
Matthews did not respond.
John, who claimed to be an AMP employee but refused to provide his last name, explained via telephone that AMP might cancel all future contests.
“They somehow managed to get, what, 15,000 votes in a couple of weeks. They went through [and] they cheated,” said John.
He also claimed The Rowley Estate was “bitching” because they weren’t happy with their “big article in the magazine,” and that they were “busting [the magazine’s staffs'] balls every day.”
Boyce questions why any prizes were awarded to his band if AMP suspected cheating. “Let’s say we had fans and friends that did cheat, that we didn’t know anything about, why would their magazine make the decision to count those votes and call us the winner? We were assured that cheating would be caught and taken care of. I’d rather lose honestly than win by cheating. I don’t want to win a contest for my band by cheating.”
AMP circulated an e-mail to participating bands stating that cheating wouldn’t be allowed, and that it would be caught before the close of the contest.
The technical aspects
AMP ran its contest using WP-Polls, the most popular polling plugin for the website platform WordPress. In an e-mail to The Lance, Matthews alleged the “band cheated on the contest, with over 2,000 votes in just over an hour from one IP source, clearing cookies every vote.”
Tom McDonald, a local website developer, explained that it’s possible for someone with the right knowledge to exploit WordPress polling plugins. “Anything that tracks unique votes, IP addresses, cookies or time is exploitable in some way.”
McDonald said it’s also possible for the polling plugin to register the same unique identifier, IP address, from multiple computers if the computers are part of the same network. “The unique IP address that everyone has within a network only exists within that network. On the outside [of that network], everyone within that one network would [be seen as having] the same IP address.”
“If you [voted] from your home [or business], on a [consumer] router, it would definitely give everyone the same IP,” explained McDonald. “Even though everyone within the network has their own local address, that address will not be seen by the website … they’ll only see the remote address that is shared.”
Will Garant, The Rowley Estate’s drummer, explained that his father had 50 people at his office “voting for us every day, that adds up. Over a month of 30 days, 50 votes a day adds up to 1,500 votes.”
The Lance installed WP-Polls on its website and had multiple users within the University of Windsor network vote. With the security set to block multiple votes— by analyzing user IP addresses and cookies— voters were only able to vote once in a certain time period, even when cookies were cleared. The poll was effective at blocking multiple votes from an average user.
AMP magazine ignored repeated requests to provide a copy of the IP addresses logged by the polling plugin. On Friday, they said they would comply, but at the time of printing, has yet to provide the relevant information to verify claims that The Rowley Estate cheated.
From bad to worse
AMP recently took its claims against the band from e-mail conversations to a more public forum. The magazine responded to Facebook post by The Rowley Estate guitarist Mike Difazio stating that if the band “put as much time into songwriting as they did cheating and sniveling, they’d be set by now.”
Fans of The Rowley Estate learned about the situation, and took to AMP’s Facebook page to question why the band hadn’t received their prizes.
AMP censored select posts and blocked The Rowley Estate’s fans who attempted to make the matter public.
CJAM music director Murad Erzinclioglu was blocked when he inquired why AMP had posted disparaging comments about the band. AMP responded, “[The Rowley Estate] cheated and were ungrateful for what they did receive.” Erzinclioglu replied that accusing somebody of cheating without providing proof could be considered libelous and/or defamatory.
Erzinclioglu’s post was deleted from AMP’s page, and his account was blocked.
Legal sources indicate there’s a contractual obligation on all parties involved in a contest once the relationship is established. The promoter of the contest must adhere to the rules created and prizes awarded in adherence with those rules. The sources added there’s a high bar on libel or slander (more commonly called defamation), but it isn’t often fruitful to pursue defamation as those accused can countersue on the same charges.
Boyce may consider legal action against the magazine. “I feel like we’ve been slandered against. The word ‘consider’ is very important in this question, but yes, I would consider it.”
In a statement on AMP’s website on Nov. 1, Mathews said, “The Unsigned comp that’s coming out next week will no longer have this band on it, and we’re sorry that we portrayed them to you guys as ‘the winners.’”
What Boyce truly wants is what they were promised and for AMP to “apologize to our fans, because it is our fans who made us win. They’re insulting our fans more than us.”