I have excerpted some pertinent bits of writing on the topic of copyright and freeloading which I think contribute intelligently to the debate. The following pieces have been lightly edited to clarify the context.
The source blog is here:
There seem to be a number of overlapping parts of this discussion that often get mistakenly substituted for one another. The most significant of these is the conflation of compensation (i.e. the money I am owed for my labour and its product) and copyright (my ability to determine for myself how, when, where and under what conditions to make the product or service available).
The statement, “Musicians don’t automatically deserve to make a living”, is undeniably true. Most musicians don’t make a living being musicians and they rarely ever have. However, when people avail themselves of a musician’s work (like a gig) or a musician’s products (like a release) the musician does deserve to be paid. The fact that technology makes it effortless to do so still doesn’t make violating copyright OK.
I fully agree that the internet has changed the model for the distribution/dissemination of all sorts of things, especially music, and that there is no going back. But modern consumers seem to be unaware of how directly they’re having an effect on the people whose music they take.
The question of median income doesn’t really add anything since most people who make music don’t make enough to file it on their taxes.
Copyright and compensation are separate but related issues. Copyright can be seen (I think) as the more ‘moral” asset and compensation the more ‘practical’ one.
Usually copyright is only considered as a prelude to discussions about money (i.e. as giving the artist the right to negotiate for the royalties deriving from a product) but it’s much more than that.
If I create a piece of music and decide to only release it on vinyl, I have the exclusive right to do so. If someone comes along and digitizes it and makes it freely available, they have violated my rights and paid me a tremendous insult. The fact that they may be enthusiastic fans who wish to help “promote” my work doesn’t matter. They’ve stepped in to my choice.
This same principle is what allowed Tom Petty, Jackson Browne and numerous other artists to enjoin the Republicans from using their songs at events.
If I, as a free and independent person, fully informed about the pros and cons of my decision, decide to sign a horrible contract that is terribly unfair to me with a third party (usually known as a record company), it’s nobody else’s business to intercede on my behalf without my permission. And that permission is the key.
Where the issues of compensation and copyright do converge is precisely when an artist elects to “release” their work. When someone violates the compensation part, they are also violating the copyright part. As a matter of practicality this is not a big deal; it’s unlikely anybody is going to start negotiating publishing royalties for songs they downloaded. But as a matter of principle, this is quite important: if I, as an artist, simply shrug off my rights to the compensation I’m rightfully owed, how do I then make an argument for those rights elsewhere?
What is intrinsically different if it’s an individual who’s violating my rights, or a group of individuals or a company or even a major corporation? If someone wants to use my music for an ad for a product I disagree with, I have the right to say no. If a label wants to extend the term of a license to my music I have the right to say no. If someone wants to put my music on a compilation, I have the right to say no. And if someone wants to take or give my music away without honouring my copyright, I have the right to say no.
People (other than the Supreme Court) might argue that a company using my music and an individual sharing it are intrinsically different. They’re not. They’re both “transactional”, it’s simply a question of scale.
A company can derive a more widely tradable good (money) but the individual is still deriving benefit, albeit usually non-monetary, from taking the music or giving it away.
I find the issue of people buying less music because they have more choice (e.g. via Spotify) rather bizarre. I think people are buying less music because they simply don’t have to buy it. The reason Spotify can pay such a dismal rate is because the only alternative is to simply get nothing and the reason that the alternative is nothing is because people are already not paying.
This has made the marketplace even more unfair than it was before. The Simon Cowells and Live Nations are doing better than ever. Concomitant with not paying for recorded music, people are more and more reluctant to pay anything, let alone a fair ticket price, for non-mainstream music. The days of get-in-the-van as a norm are long gone. The odds are now stacked much further against the outsiders than they’ve ever been. A quick look at the non-smooth/lounge jazz scene in any city will confirm this. And I can’t help but think the two attitudes (“why should I pay for recorded music?”/”why should I pay for live music?”) are part of the same mindset.
We need a fairer compensation system that is still convenient for the consumer. But iTunes/ Amazon/Bandcamp/Emusic etc. are not really SO onerous or expensive as to not already be convenient. It’s really not such an ordeal to have to click and download a song. But it’s obviously not the complete model we need. If it were, we’d be talking about something else…
Yes, you can’t fight the internet, you’ve got to work with it. Agreed. Nevertheless, people downloading my music free and illegally sucks. I’d rather earn money from it so I can buy better gear or strings.
Telling me to look to Radiohead as a model is moot because artists like me (and most from this day forward) didn’t get the corporate push Radiohead got. It sure helps your 4th release when you’ve already had 3 on a major label.
If most bands had a pay what you want model it wouldn’t matter because nobody’s heard of their band. Like every other artist you list as doing ‘valuable work’, the reason anybody has even heard their music is because they were promoted by a big label. These are not models for the current musician starting out.
As a DIY artist/entrepreneur, it’s kind of a shame that I have to be so business minded. Luckily I have a good head on my shoulders, but many great artists do not. And you know what? In the future, you might never get exposed to them.
The bottom line for many of us is CHOICE.
Radiohead chose (once) to give away some music (Now they’re choosing not to give it away).
In this day and age, you choose to sign with a label, and agree to the possible contradictions and compromise that goes with it.
Artists are never asked if they mind their music being copied and shared across the internet. In fact when any of them contact The Pirate Bay to discuss it, they are literally told to f**k off.
If the internet means ‘free music’ is the new paradigm, I say those who believe it should start making it and sharing it.
Musicians who still want to charge a fee for their work should be left alone. If they are wrong, they’ll become irrelevant. Sadly, in contradiction, they are often the most pirated.
Yes, as soon as technology made it possible, people started sharing music files, and record companies and musicians started losing money. So because people started stealing and have continued to do so, we’re just supposed to accept it and not try to do something about it, or even say, “HEY. Can you, y’know, maybe try to be a better person?”
There are TONS of aspects of technology that people are discovering may not be great for us – multi-tasking and jumping from site to site is actually making it more difficult for our brains to concentrate on one thing, internet anonymity is causing people to be cruel and inhuman, smart phone usage is encroaching on our in-person time with people we care about. So, for those of us who view these things as problems, should we just accept them and not make any attempt to change things?
There has been massive growth in the role technology plays in our lives in the last decade, but there hasn’t been a lot of thought given to ethics around this growth on the user side or the corporate side. (Even Google, whose motto is “Don’t Be Evil”, stole private user data from their street view cars.)
So obviously I think this is a larger problem than just downloading or burning free music, but it’s sad to me to think that there are smart people who have just accepted the situation and aren’t interested in working toward a solution that gives creative people what they deserve for their work.
No musicians I know are looking for a handout, or feel that society owes them a living. They just believe, rightly so, that theirs is a specialized skill, and their product has significant value in people’s lives, and should be valued appropriately.
My main issue with the thrust of these ‘stop whining and find yourself more fans’ arguments is this: since only 10-20% of our roughly calculated fan base is still buying our stuff legally (and i don’t count spotify as legal, as their payment scale is laughable to all but the biggest major label acts) and it takes 8-10k records sold as an indie to break even – using that math, there’s a shitload of really important, influential artists that would’ve had to quit 1 or 2 records into their heydey – Big Star. Husker Du. Little Willie John. Irma Thomas. (half the artists i have ever loved, really) we would have lost them all. because apparently they were so terribly mediocre they couldn’t amass 100k fans.
I’m sorry – it’s stealing. and yes, i’m a dinosaur. it costs me about 20k to make a record, paying musicians, engineers, graphic artists. and more if i hire anyone to promote the thing. sure, i could record something mediocre sounding on home gear, despite my having no aptitude or desire to do so, and mock up the art myself, and may wind up doing so yet. but don’t expect me to not whine about it. it sucks.
Me and my misguided, pathetic little 30k fan base had me happily earning a mid-career kindergarten teacher’s salary 10 years ago, which also helped a bunch of other creative professionals scrape the bottom of the middle class by hiring them to play, mix, master, design, photograph, and roadie this apparently unworthy little career i had. They’re fucked too.
I’m sorry. The ethical argument is all we have. Each record costs us thousands of dollars and hours of labor, plus years of experience to make – just like each bottle of wine that gets sold for 15 bucks and drunk only ONCE. Just because it’s easier to steal music than booze doesn’t make it right.
Check this post out too, an eloquent plea from someone who walks the walk, as opposed to a know nothing, do nothing, want everything freeloader.