I support illegal file sharing because it shouldn’t be illegal. It only has that status in the western world because politicians spend more time serving corporate constituents than they do caring about general social interests. It almost goes without saying that people vote for them to serve broader interests, to create a better society for the greater good. The “greater good” should be defined as benefiting as large a chunk of the population as possible. Instead, it appears that the powers that be define it as benefiting the largest profit margins possible.
I remember growing up that one of the key principles of social etiquette was sharing, even if doing so was at times uncomfortable. Greed was something that was generally frowned upon. The least popular children tended to be the ones that hoarded toys, and vice versa. So, if sharing isn’t a moral imperative, its a social one.
And that’s what this post is about: sharing. I’ll not defend those parasitic capitalists that pirate media and try to resell it for profit.
The following will be a discussion focusing on the Music Industry defined as major music record labels, the types who created Britney Spears, and believe in suing file sharers for hundreds of thousands of dollars. File sharing is a good thing, as long as it is not done for profit. This is not a comment on hosting sites (a topic for another post), but merely refers to the business’s relationship with the consumer.
THE MUSIC INDUSTRY
I remember taping songs from the radio onto cassette because I couldn’t afford CDs or tapes. I enjoyed the music and played it for personal enjoyment. I didn’t fear lawsuits in those days. When Napster came around, it was a revelation. I felt such joy that an entire world’s worth of music was available at my fingertips, and could be accessed from the comfort of my room. I also remember getting an email warning from Dr. Dre and Metallica threatening legal action. Many of my friends heeded the warning and dutifully complied with requests to delete the “infringing content.”
But I didn’t. At that point, I realized this was a war. A broke student wanted music, millionaire rockers and rappers wanted $. Actually, they had $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$. But what they wanted, apparently, was more. And they were threatening me. As much as I liked and still like Metallica and Dre musically, from that point forward they lost any potential business from me. No concerts, or merchandise. I vowed to share as much of their music as my computer could handle. I think in hindsight they realized it was a mistake, though as far as I can tell they never apologized and probably still feel like victims.
So remember, the first punches were thrown by the industry.
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The issue is essentially this: what is copyright, why does it exist, and how should it be enforced?
I actually believe in copyright. I don’t think others should profit off the work of others without authorization or compensation. But there is a qualitative difference between the person downloading songs for their IPod and the person downloading songs to burn to CD to sell on the street. If I loan my book to my neighbor, am I committing a crime? What if I let him keep it? Am I doing anything wrong when I loan or give a CD or DVD?
So how are these examples different from file sharing? The difference, obviously is in the economics. File sharing turns a significant part of a ridiculously lucrative commercial enterprise into socially accessible media. Companies lose money, and that being the case, they are going to fight back. Not that they should; but corporate greed being what it is, it’s not entirely surprising either.
The way the issue is often framed in MSM is that file sharing hurts artists. Now, there’s no doubt this may be true in some cases, and many small musicians may struggle by not making money they would if there were not a free file sharing option. And for many artists, file sharing offers the consumer an opportunity to discover new music and “try before they buy”. In the long term, I believe file sharing will have the impact on new musical talent that radio and MTV had on previous generations. It will help market up and comers who might not have otherwise had the chance. Most importantly, the consumer will be the judge of whether the product sinks or swims, unlike the current record executive who often is the be-all-end-all of the starving artist desperate for a shot at promotion and distribution.
Moreover, most artists don’t get a share of record sales. The way record labels work is, they offer a band or singer an up-front lump sum to sign, and make subsequent records as per the contract. So with the exception of Madonna or U2 who have the bargaining power to take home a cut of sales of records, most of your hard-earned money is going to record-label execs so they can buy that 9th Bentley they’ve been pining over for the last few days.
Anyone familiar with the record industry knows that these contracts don’t offer fair market value. They exploit the artists, often demanding creative control over the content to maximize commercial gain (a la Gaga) which therefore minimizes creative artistic expression (a la Gaga). So major record labels trying to take the moral high ground are utterly shameless and reprehensible.
But this isn’t just about what’s in the artist’s best interest. After all, many of them have it pretty comfortable as it currently stands. We have turned our entertainers into social royalty. Back in the day, a court jester was exactly that. Now, they are almost literally the Kings and Queens of society. Why is Lady Gaga such a success? Her music is pretty bad, yet I don’t make it past half a day before I hear her caterwauling or see her in some ridiculous sequined lobster hat-mask and machine-gun bra.
I think most people with decent taste in music and culture would agree that a world with less Nickelbacks, Britney Spears and Lil Jons is probably a good thing. There are companies out there that specialize in researching what basic melodies and sounds most appeal to the average listener and songs are literally created in this fashion.
Gone are the days when music was created for the love, the passion, the craft. Nowadays it seems like it’s all about Fame and Fortune. Hey, fair enough, people should be free to sell out as much as they want. But when we are bombarded with a homogenization of pop culture and art to the point where we know no better, someone has to fight back to bring reality to maximize the human potential for artistic greatness and creative serendipity.
Major record labels started a war when they sued file sharers. Everyone now should be familiar with the tales of 12 year-old girls being sued for hundreds of thousands of dollars for downloading a couple dozen songs. That incredibly malign gesture illustrated the extent of the greed and perversion of major record labels. It also was a desperate act which probably marked the point of no return for that segment of the industry. Major record labels are dying, and they know it. By pursuing lawsuits against file sharers they are desperately lashing out at anything they can.
The reality was that consumers were and are willing to pay for content. ITunes is a multi-billion dollar enterprise even in today’s bit torrent utopia. What people want though, was flexibility in terms of buying what they wanted. Once file sharing came to pass, consumers no longer had to purchase full CDs built around one song they wanted and liked. If a CD was low quality with the exception of one or two of its songs, most consumers wouldn’t want the CD. But the major labels tried to force it down their throats anyway. And that’s not even considering the ludicrous prices being charged. $17 for a CD???! I remember going to Europe seeing singles at that price and full CDs going for over $25. The valuation of music was grotesquely inflated far beyond what the content was actually worth. Consumers have proven the price they are generally willing to pay for a song they like is about $1. If a CD was good-great, it would be worth about $12. Since only great CDs are compose of “must-have” songs, it follows that the overwhelming majority of CDs were overpriced by at least 25%. Again, corporate greed is at fault.
So the image generally portrayed is of theft, starving artists, and wanton immorality. The reality is that those terms are applicable to this issue, but they apply to the side doing the accusing. Just as Israel calls its adversaries terrorists and liars, this is a case of projection from the music industry supported by our corrupt and incompetent MSM. The truth is finally coming to light, and a new era of unique, creative content from artists who live for their craft, supported by independent labels giving them a fair share, is becoming a new social and commercial reality.
While the major record labels are dying, their actions have amounted to suicide. And the people have shown that broader social interests will trump greed at least some of the time.