Think File Sharing is Sticking it to The Man? Really?

puppetshareBack in the Napster days, I had an assistant named Greg, who remains one of the sweetest guys I’ve ever been lucky enough to call a friend. I remember giving him a hard time one afternoon when I realized he was using the file sharing app to download music.  With a slightly self-aware grin he said to me, “Yeah, but you gotta stick it to The Man,” to which I replied, “Greg, if I can teach you anything, it’s that Mick Jagger is not The Man.”

Of course, many of us know the history of events that unfolded since that time, and I would certainly be among those who say that mistakes made by the recording industry were profoundly unhelpful in the process of migrating entertainment into the digital age.  But that doesn’t entirely explain or excuse the dysfunction which still blinds “file sharers” to the fact that the people being harmed by piracy are indeed the artists and the skilled workers who support those artists.

I spent nearly 20 years providing freelance, creative services in the often bizarre and obfuscating lingo of corporate communications, which is to say I’ve listened to a lot of bullshit.  And when it comes to the various ways people talk about digital copyright infringement, the amount of bullshit is of Augean proportions.  First clue:  when corporate agents describe something that’s really very simple in terms that make it sound visionary, you’re wading knee-deep into it. Thankfully, independent musician David Lowery has brought a bulldozer to the party called The Trichordist.

Lowery of the bands Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker, co-founded this artists’ rights blog, which has a solid track record for getting to the point.  For instance, this week, the site posted a list of 50 major advertisers who have ads appearing on websites whose sole enterprise is unlicensed access to entertainment media (i.e. “dedicated to infringement”).  Aside from the fact that it’s just plain surreal to see Tom Waits “sponsored” by an ad for WeightWatchers, it takes about half a caffeinated brain cell to recognize that the entire business model is what we normally call wrong.  I know this is a word that makes many digital age millennials uncomfortable, but that’s just too bad because this is big boy school, and Professor Lowery is saying something very serious, but also very easy to understand. This is about large, American corporations supporting and legitimizing the exploitation of American workers.

I’ll say it again without equivocation. These sites are in the business of exploiting workers. Period. Don’t let’s get distracted by the fact that copies of files don’t cost anything to produce or distribute or that you think WMG is evil or you don’t like the RIAA.  That’s all that bullshit again, and it has nothing to do with the way in which these sites generate revenue. All that “free” media represent hours or years or even decades of labor, either by one person or by hundreds of people. This labor is very often done for compensation that is paid incrementally after the work is complete — sometimes years after in the case of, say, a screenwriter whose residuals over a decade might represent a portion of her income.

Fortunately, The Trichordist has bulldozed past the moral ambiguity of the user, the self-serving and vague politics of the Web industry, and the functional roadblocks of the technologists right to the money that goes into the pockets of the exploiters. It’s AT&T, it’s Ford, it’s American Express, it’s CitiBank, and so on. This is a B2B problem. Money from American businesses is supporting offshore, illegal operations that exploit American workers in other businesses.  It really doesn’t get more basic than that.

I know my friend at The Cynical Musician would agree that exploiting labor without permission or compensation is what we call slavery, so if we buy fair-trade goods or think twice about who assembles our iPods, we shouldn’t pat ourselves on the backs if we’re also regular users of these sites. The techno-utopians will say, “There are always winners and losers through transformation.” That’s fine, I guess, but then let’s stop all the prattle about new models, shall we? There’s nothing new about theft or exploitation; they are as old as human history and they reek, whether the tools of the exploiters are guns, whips, or keyboards. Moreover, the end-game in this trend is a dilution of the value of the individual voice of the creator, who will (and we’ve already seen this happen) become more dependent on corporate patronage to make a living.  That means art whose primary purpose is to support a brand, which is a functional, if not a legal, limit on free speech.

I would challenge the defender of “file sharing” to read the list on The Trichordist site and convince himself that by downloading unlicensed media he’s “sticking it to The Man.” The truth is the ardent file sharer is a corporate puppet that has no idea which companies are pulling its strings.

© 2013, David Newhoff. All rights reserved.

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  • Thank you.
    However convoluted and utopian the “sharers” argument, it all boils down to your distinct summary. Connect the dots, and it paints a very clear picture. It’s not complex, or ‘revolutionary’, it’s quite simple indeed. Mega-corporations are trading on our backs, and the ‘consumer’ is eating out of “The Man’s” right-hand.

  • Thanks for this post! Yes, we are becoming slaves to the corporate advertisers and those who enable them (Google, Yahoo, etc). Do we need a Tech Era Lincoln to come along and fix this, or do we just find another way to beat them. I for one have withheld my next release because of all this. No, I’m not famous, but how can anyone work under these conditions. I may just keep my day job and go back to school for something else. If THAT happens, I will surely never release anything for ‘free’ consumption.

    • If everyone started to use Ad-Blockers (free addon for Firefox and Chrome) then these sites wouldn’t be able to make their money! The more people to use these the less money these companies will be making!

      • The ad blockers just mean that people don’t see them, and they can safely ignore the reality of these sites. Many people I’ve encountered have no idea that this is how sharing sites make their money. I’m convinced that many people think they’re running charities.

    • People have been taping albums owned by friends and family members for decades, borrowing albums from libraries etc and buying them second hand. The musician/s who made the music would only ever have received profit from a fraction of their fans, and the same is true now. The difference is, a small fish can get heard around the world very easily and have a touring career that doesn’t hinge on one middle aged white guy deciding if he can market your music or not.

      • David Newhoff

        That argument has been used many times, and it ignores several facts, including the multi-million dollar profiteering by BitTorrent site owners, etc. You focus too much on the individual user, who is generally lying to himself about his role in doing harm to the artist.

  • A great article! It links in with the previous one, especially the part linking the historical Luddites with Occupy.

    What I wish people would understand is that this is a labour issue more than anything else. Consider the Amanda Palmer “kerfuffle” from last fall. This was supposed to be a textbook example of how Kickstarter would solve all artists’ financial woes. Instead Palmer ended up deferring the costs onto her pickup musicians. The level of venom directed towards the musicians from Palmer’s supporters was disturbing.

    • Thank you, and agreed. There is too great a tendency to look at finished works, at the wealthy people at the top of the food chain, and at the zero cost of replication and then forget that there are huge investments of capital and labor that are designed to pay off over time. And it is indeed disturbing to see the level of outrage that boils up. But then, the Web consistently fosters mobs in so many contexts.

  • It is unfortunate that it has taken so long to clear out the “bizarre and obfuscating lingo” (I like that description) that always accompanies any discussion of copyright and illegal digital distribution.

    Now that the argument has been clearly reduced to a problem that accountants and marketing professionals can understand, maybe some progress will be made in solving this problem.

    • It will help, certainly, although there are several additional hoops that need jumping through:

      The first is fundamentally tied to the “accountant’s understanding” bit (I guess I can speak as one, since that’s my present job description): the general lack of accountability when it comes to online businesses. Money and goods change hands online and it is my impression that there is little requirement for anyone to keep a record of where it’s coming from and where it’s going – quite against any reasonable accounting standards implemented worldwide. The very fact that you can simply charge for displaying “user-provided content” (which was what Megavideo was doing if a video exceeded an alloted time limit) and need provide no record of where you got said content is pretty much an anathema to good accounting practice (to say nothing of applicable regulations). It seems that online businesses can simply set up shop and operate without having to do all the record-keeping a meat-space business would – that means you have a lot more room for unsavoury business practices. We could do a lot to fix the problem if an online business were required to keep detailed records of their business – hardly an impossible feat, given how computers do all the heavy lifting anyway and will keep server logs in any case.

      The second is a question of “winning hearts and minds”.

      A lot of damage has been done over the last decade with regards to how these issues are understood and perceived. A whole industry (so to speak) has sprung up to convince not only the public, but the very creators, that file-sharing and piracy in general is a boon that the “greedy content business” want to take away. These people are still there and they’re still very loud.

      The thing that I always found deplorable was how few creators were willing to take a stand against this wholesale exploitation of creative labour – and perhaps more so how many were willing to stand up and support it, for whatever misguided reason. It almost seemed a case of “for every Ph.D. there’s an equal and opposite Ph.D.” As a result, people got mixed messages and went with the one that made them feel better.

      Feeling better is not the same as actually being better, though. The situation steadily went from bad to worse – since even the legal market now is fundamentally worse than it was (in terms of such things as pricing and remuneration) or it might have been. None of this was really unexpected either: if you go through my writings from 2008/2009 you’ll see I have anticipated a lot of this (sorry ’bout the shameless plug, but it’s meant to illustrate the point).

      Right now, we’re going to need a whole lot of work to actually get back on track to improving the cultural landscape – both for creators and consumers of culture. Not only will the whole “piracy is good” meme have to be staked and buried at a crossroads once and for all, but we’re probably going to have to dismantle (or at least: fundamentally alter) much of the “new content business” that has sprung up since 2000. In many ways, the last decade set us back almost a hundred years in terms of business ethics, workers’ rights and cultural richness.

      • Thanks as always, Faza, for your sober and experienced insight. I actually agree that we’re looking at both a practical and a cultural matter and have a measure of hope in both cases. As far as the ads themselves, a lot of it is the result of low-cost ad remnant buys. This gives decision makers at large companies an opportunity to absolve themselves of blame and to formally commit to addressing the problem. I believe these ads are of very little value to the advertiser — in some cases real waste, so I don’t think it’s farfetched hope they’ll be motivated to mandate change within their organizations. Once this happens, I agree that it’s not a particularly hard hole to plug.

        At the same time, and perhaps even first, is the cultural matter you refer to as “hearts and minds.” That’s why this post is about the advertisers but also about the user’s perception that he’s somehow Robin Hood in this mix. I agree that there is a lot of work to be done, but we’re already seeing signs of creators coming out of the shadows of Lars Ulrich and the RIAA lawsuits of the 2000s willing to say, “Wait, there’s a lot more to this story.”

        The problem, of course, is that the truth regarding almost any issue is more complex than most people care to consider, so the team with the catchiest headline wins. So much of this nonsense is just window dressing — the Web industry mantras are young, hip, forward-looking; or at they sound that way. It’s easy to get someone to repeat a statement like “Copyright stands in the way of innovation” without really considering what this actually means, or if it means anything at all. It just kinda sounds smart and futuristic; and the people questioning it are old and stodgy and greedy, right? So the problem among many creators, even if they disagree with these views, has been that it isn’t worth the risk of being publicly pilloried like Ulrich. But that trend may be changing. David Lowery has been unapologetically outspoken, of course, and it hasn’t hurt him or his bands at all. Granted, I suspect his fan base is from my generation and includes few millennials, but I think there’s still time to at least change the tone and content of the dialogue before we and the Boomers are all gone.

        Of course, I suspect my kids will be facing many serious challenges by the time they’re my age that may simultaneously make the term “post scarcity” sound even dumber than it does now but also have a profound effect on the value and nature of cultural experiences. Too hard to predict. But what does art look like in a world where, say, water becomes a scarce commodity?

    • Thanks for reading and for your response. Here’s hoping!

  • A Lot of faith can be restored (not even talking about piracy here) in the new crop of ‘legal’ streaming and D/L business if they would have to adhere to an industry standard audit clause. As it stands, there is no recourse– nor any reason for the businesses to keep –and more importantly pay– anything resembling an honest payout. As Chris Castle says [paraphrase] ” We have to rely on the kindness of strangers” that they are actually paying correctly. Right now, it’s a ‘black box’ where they can say (and pay) anything… and we all know that this breeds dishonest business practices. There needs to be transparency before moving forward.

  • Got to love white people comparing bittorrent to slavery. If you want to alienate people of color from your movement, keep doing what you’re doing.

  • I would challenge the defender of “file sharing” to read the list on The Trichordist site and convince himself that by downloading unlicensed media he’s “sticking it to The Man.”

    As a file-sharer who is 0% motivated by any desire to “stick it to the man,” I have to say that I do see piracy as an anti-establishment act, notwithstanding that plenty of torrent sites derive revenue from ads. For one thing, I bet a large percentage of visitors use adblock (as do I). But even if they don’t, almost any unpopular or controversial internet content will be supported by ads, including content like 4chan that is unambiguously sticking it to somebody/everybody. Twitter, and by extension everyone who posts there for free, is supported by ads, but it’s hard to think of internet use that “sticks it to the man” more archetypally than those Arab Spring tweeters. So ads don’t negate anti-establishment content. Meanwhile, by file sharing, you are sticking it to the other advertisers whose ads you aren’t forced to watch (hey, we said advertisers qualified as The Man), sticking it to corporate Big Content (definitely The Man) and sticking it to the U.S. government (the purest embodiment of The Man). Mick Jagger, meanwhile, seems pretty unbothered by piracy.

    • The stick it to The Man mindset exists, whether you personally adopt it or not; and it is a ridiculous notion, however muted, to imbue the use of torrents with even a hint of rebellion. Really? Downloading Sex in the City 2 is anti-establishment? Earlier, you painted a picture of convenience and relative laziness, which rings more true than anything you’re saying here. As for Mick, he’s not an up and coming band or an indie label trying to figure out how to manage a market where free is the new price. Frankly, he’s behaving rather blithely in my opinion, which isn’t hard for a multimillionaire who got to exploit that golden window to which he refers. I know why you brought him up, but my anecdote goes back more than a decade, and I was really using Jagger generically as a representative of popular musicians.

      • I’m not downloading torrents to be anti-establishment (here, I say I’m “0% motivated by any desire to Stick It To The Man”), but I don’t think it’s remiss to call torrenting an anti-establishment act. If I’m actively stealing from the people who made Sex and the City 2 (who are undoubtedly establishment types), then what I’m doing is fairly anti-, no? I know the “stick it to the man” mindset exists, but I don’t think even those people are operating under the illusion that torrents are Serious Business that will topple governments. (Though not unrelatedly, documents that do fall under that category are likley to be distributed through torrents). I think it’s probably most accurate to look at that “torrenting is sticking it to the man” mindset through the lens of the psych concept of reactance, which is basically a drive to rebel against any perceived attempt to restrict one’s behavior (reducing the range of currently available behaviors). You can call it childish — you told me not to torrent so I’m definitely going to torrent — but the point is that it has more to do with rebelling against pressure/control, irrespective of its source or social significance, than with the perception that one’s rebellion is Important.

        As I said, I don’t really care about Sticking It To The Man, and in most situations am not even a very reactant person. But if my ISP under Six Strikes tells me it plans to throttle my connection because of IP infringement, my involuntary psych response will be: oh yeah? The fuck you will! . And I will spend at least 20 minutes constructing a persuasive case for fair use, which I would not be remotely eager or energized to do if it were, say, a work assignment. That’s the power of reactance.

      • Yeah, I get all that, but it’s just a long-winded explanation for doing something that’s basically dumb and actually is harmful. Reactance? Get over it. Take responsibility for the choice. Man up and say, “I know I’m stealing from artists, but I don’t care.” At least that would be honest.

      • In case it wasn’t clear from my other comments, I know I’m stealing fractions of pennies from artists, Big Content, advertisers, the IRS and others I’m probably forgetting. And I don’t care.

        You brought up the “sticking it to the man” mindset, and the reactance bit was my attempt to refine that discussion, by pointing out that file-sharers aren’t concerned with sticking it to “The Man” so much as with resisting attempts to restrict a range of available behaviors. I would love to see you explain how examining reactance in this context is “harmful.”

      • I said that piracy is harmful, and I’m not doing ten rounds in the comment thread as to why it’s harmful and how you are not merely stealing fractions of pennies from the pockets you describe. Reactance is an interesting psychological topic and is perhaps a different reason for “file-sharing,” but it really amounts to another somewhat juvenile rationale for the same unexamined behavior.

      • If you meant to say that piracy (rather than my “long-winded explanation”) is harmful, then I misread your sentence and feel no need to debate that point. Also, reactance is not a rationale for behavior (as in a justification concocted by the people engaging in the behavior in order to rationalize it); reactance is just how experts describe the mental processes at work in this situation. I believe studies have shown that reactance responses can be sharply mitigated by doing fairly superficial things, such as ending a document that announces new rules with a question or a superficial “choice” fork. Another relevant insight is that as new generations come of age, file sharing will become less attractive because, not having grown up with that freedom and seeing powerful forces try to “take it away,” upcoming generations won’t feel the same strong reactance response.

      • Like I said, it’s an interesting subject, and forgive my terse responses earlier. It’s late, been a long day, and this site lit up with comments today, including my being called a racist. It gets exhausting. I’ll respond appropriately tomorrow.

      • Sorry that I didn’t get a chance to respond to this earlier. I think it’s clear that reactance is a factor in file sharing. To insist upon doing something simply because it is verboten is one of the joys of being young (although I’d argue that this is at least a mild form of sticking it to the man). I have considered the possibility that we can reach a tipping point at which file sharing is marginalized enough that the whiff of revolution dissipates. It’s true that if one pushes too hard, one gets a backlash; but it also doesn’t help when monied interests stir up fears that aren’t sound. I believe content creators have learned to shift focus and blame away from individual users, and that we’re seeing more independent artists come out and say, “Hey, forget Warner Bros., you’re stealing from me.” If these trends continue, they should mitigate the reactance response.

        It’s funny, I used to be 100% pro legalizing marijuana, not because I’m a user, but because it always seemed to make sense. But it took becoming a parent to consider potential manifestations in my grandkids’ generation growing up with legal marijuana as a norm. On the one hand, overall use might not increase, but it’s also possible that use would increase enough to create new health problems. It’s also possible that by removing the illicitness of that drug, a future generation will seek out more potent, more dangerous options in order to sate their reactance.

      • You may be getting more traffic because of the announced Copyright Alert program. That’s what brought me here — you were linked by a copyright advocacy group that had been linked by the site serving as the main information hub for the new program. Also, there is a whole social justice subculture on the Internet that will readily call you racist for comments like yours referring to slavery. After dealing with them for a long time, my main takeaway is that you just can’t interpret “racist” (in the way they use it) to mean actually racist. As I believe I commented elsewhere, I didn’t love the slavery comparison either, but it’s easy to see it was not made out of racial animus.


    • Ah, yes. One musician who has benefited from the music business doesn’t mind piracy, so it’s all okay!

      The thing about the whole Big Content argument is that the piracy mentality screws mom and pop operators, too. Musicians who put out their own stuff are pirated as well, and when they complain they’re considered spoilsports or antiquated fogies who need a new business plan.

    • File sharing isn’t anti establishment at all: it’s antisocial and ultimately anti human: it shows the ultimate contempt for the people who make the “content.”

      We have heard constantly how the Internet has allowed artists of all stripes to distribute their material without heed for gatekeepers. That’s all well and good, but filesharing effectively hobbles any attempts to make a living off art. This results in arbitrary claims that one should make art “for the love of it,” which ignores the fact that love doesn’t pay the rent.

      No, it’s not slavery, but it’s something rather insidious: an alienation of artists from the basic benefits of the capitalist system.

      Art is always compromised by commerce, but the copyright based system is probably the least corrupting and insulting to the artist’s dignity. Returning to patronage or the way of the troubadour simply opens the artist up to exploitation. (In the case of torrent sites, perhaps a better term than theft or slavery would be fraud.)

      Mick Jagger may have a background in economics, but he misrepresents the history of the music business.even before the 70s artists could get rich off record sales, but more importantly the industry could support a whole middle class, from nonperforming songwriters to the secretaries at the record company to the clerks at stores.
      What’s troubling about Jagger’s assertion that this era is over is that it implies that this socioeconomic progress was just a blip in history this is a remarkably conservative view. As well, it ignores the fact that filesharing also disrupts other industries (publishing, even the movie business) that are less adaptable to the “touring and t shirt” model.

      • lol @ “anti human.” Antisocial depends on whose social norms you’re deferring to. Intellectual property is not a settled concept in every society. Historically, there have been many civilizations (and there are still many groups) who don’t even conceive of a right to own land. I’m not going to retreat to pure sophistry and say there’s no objective way to tell whether something is antisocial — I would say that stealing is antisocial — but I’m not convinced that there’s a black and white consensus on whether copyright infringement is stealing. But even if we disagree on that, it’s clear that something can be both anti-establishment and antisocial. In fact there is probably a huge overlap there.


        filesharing effectively hobbles any attempts to make a living off art.

        I mean, really? Because if we wanted to sit around long enough, you and I could both name hundred of people making a living off art as we speak. I would agree that file sharing disrupts, and reduces profits in, multiple industries, but landscapes change and industries ebb and swell and that happens. What has been the ultimate loss of revenue for the movie industry due to piracy…6%? 10%? I am guessing here, so tell me if I’m way off base.

        If it had been possible since the eighteenth century to effortlessly replicate and transmit thousands of copies of an audio or visual experience or a written text and to access that transmission from anywhere, I suspect we wouldn’t have a legal concept of copyright at all (or we’d have an extremely weak one). It just wouldn’t be something that anyone ever would have conceived of as viable or enforceable. And maybe we had a blip for awhile where it was viable and enforceable, and I actually think we’re still in that blip and it will persist for several more generations at least. But what do you do with an asserted right that’s impossible to enforce? Like, I could reasonably say I have a right not to be lied to, right? But unless I’m lied to in a big way in a context where it’s very commercially significant (in which case I sue for fraud), there’s nothing I can do about being lied to, and society doesn’t waste its time trying to criminalize or prevent lying — except, again, in the big commercially significant cases. Now, you might say tht infringement is commercially significant, but that’s only if you aggregate a bunch of “small” instances. If I aggregate all the lies that are told every day, there are probably major social effects, too.

        Perhaps a more viable version of copyright would prohibit commercial use but not personal use. It’s easier to prohibit someone from taking credit for and selling a song than to prohibit someone from listening to it.

  • Anon: it’s anti human because it reduces human expression to mere data. It suggests in essence that information is everything – who cares about the individual expression of that information? It’s anti human because it takes all expression and reduces its value to site hits.

    It’s definitely not anti establishment as it benefits corporations – just not those who financed the material in the first place.

    A hundred people is not a lot, considering that the internet was supposed to liberate the artist and help them reach the public. This is the deadly irony – as David has pointed out – the ones being called “luddites” are often those who looked forward to the digital age.

    The problem about what percentage has been lost to piracy is that a) it will likely grow and b) it disproportionately hits the smaller companies.

    It’s not an unassertable right at all. It just takes the will to stop the financial benefit of piracy. Many, many people who find the RIAA approach of going after individuals risible believe that going after commercial operations devoted to piracy is a viable alternative.

    Here’s my question, for you and for others: *why not* pay the artist?

    • Why not pay the artist? How many people grew up taping albums, either vinyl or CD, owned by their older brothers, sisters, friends, uncles… How many people taped chart songs off the radio every week instead of buying the singles? How many people have accepted a mix tape off a boy? All music obtained for free. Why didn’t those people buy every album, single, song? Bands have always known that a lot of the people screaming at their shows hadn’t paid a penny toward a record, and never a sweat was broken. Men and women should be able to make a career and a life out of their music, film, art or whatever. Illegal downloading has not stopped this, for all the damage it has done to the industry. Bands that would have had extremely limited exposure around the world now get to spread their work with ease, and they get to tour the world, to packed rooms instead of empty pubs. Look at the quickly growing desire for vinyl collections, which most intelligent bands now take advantage of – can’t download that giant black disc and the artwork on cardboard. People build collections how they always did, with a combination of bought and not-bought stuff. If you hoard music and never go to a show, buy a t-shirt, vinyl record, stencil, hoodie etc etc etc put out by the bands, then you’ve robbed them. If you download an album because you’re strapped for cash, but then spend a decade collecting that bands’ vinyls and assorted merch, then eh not so much. Trying to remember the last time I saw a band’s merch table free of a line of people waiting to get some goodies… statistically I think it’s fair to say a few thousand of those boys n girls over the last decade may have downloaded one or ten of that band’s albums.

      • David Newhoff

        Same argument but longer. Appreciate you weighing in, but I’ll let someone else take this one. Or I can suggest reading Robert Levine’s Free Ride or Chris Ruen’s Freeloading, if you actually want actual, researched information about musicians and the industry. Everything you’re saying is negated by artists who know what they’re talking about and have had long careers. These are all independent artists, by the way.

      • The difference is that the internet makes using other’s work for free much, much easier and more widespread. To copy a tape, you had to personally know someone who let you do so. So for widespread copying to occur, there also had to be a lot of purchases. But millions can copy something from a single source on the internet.

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  • Hi David;

    My humble opinion…you’re right and you’re wrong. And to characterize this as a simplistic discussion whereby file sharers are only demonized is pretty silly…

    First off, Mick Jagger IS the Man. From day one he has been acutely aware of the economics of the Rock and Roll business (in fact went to the London School of Economics) and has handled the business for the Rolling Stones…and it’s a big business. If you want to somehow make the argument that he has his audience’s interests at heart, I would point you toward the reality of trying to buy a good seat for their current show. The band has taken many of those seats out of circulation, which has consequently driven prices way up for the remainder…and ALL the tickets are expensive to begin with…The band, by the way, has a guarantee from the promoter, so they don’t care that much…but what has happened is that the prices for seats has risen so far that people are not buying them…and I assure you that all the dates have been bought by promoters who are hoping to sell tickets. So you are really defending someone who has skewed the equation heavily in his direction at the expense of others.

    But it’s The Rolling Stones…and you and Mick are indeed in different businesses. But please don’t ask me to feel sorry for him. Also, please don’t ask me to feel sorry for the Record Labels who, since the record business started, have made it a priority…a PRIORITY…to screw the people who make music for them. They have done this in many ways, among them: 1) Low per unit royalty rates, 2) “Distribution” fees, 3) under-reporting of sales, 4) badly skewed contracts in favor of the label, 5) grabbing publishing rights (and thereby owning the copyright), and in some cases grabbing authorship rights…I could go on, but the list is long and you know that the artist has always gotten the short end. So I don’t feel sorry for them, and I don’t feel sorry for the RIAA, who at the end of the day, represents the labels…not the artist.

    So where does the artist fit into the picture in today’s new world? Well…I’m not sure that he does. If you are fortunate enough to have something go viral on YouTube, you don’t need the publicity machine. Psy will never miss a meal from now on, in spite of the fact that his follow-up record is a piece of garbage. Like Chubby Checker, he can milk his hit until he dies…and I applaud that. We’re in a tough business, and anything you can do to get on top of it is good.

    But the fact is…there are no guarantees. And there is no guarantee that just because you pay your dues and put in your time that this business owes you a living. It doesn’t. At the end of the day it’s a popularity contest and you must do something hugely popular to make money for a sustained period. Or you can do something smaller with a core audience of fans who like what you do enough to buy your CD’s and come to your shows…and you will likely have a career that lasts many years.

    But as to the real issue of not paying artists for downloading their songs…I think that the greed of people like Disney, who demanded that copyrights be extended almost indefinitely, has resonated with the public in a negative way…who rightly feel that greed is their motivation. Possibly you can explain to me why songs from the 1920’s still pay royalties to the companies who own the copyrights long after the authors are dead? You can argue that some provision might be made as to heirs and the estate of the songwriter, but paying a company who likely demanded copyright ownership at the recording session, seems to me to be an abuse.

    What I take from all these conversations on this topic is that there is a screaming need for the existing copyright laws to be rewritten in a way that might be fair to both the public and the artist…and corporations as well, if it can be shown that they represent and treat their artists fairly. One of the things that has gone missing in these conversations is the concept of “Fair Use”, which has a real public benefit…and as has been shown in the Hip-Hop community, something new can be made from something old…in my view, there is every reason to encourage this…but it’s wrong for (as an extreme example) the “owner” of a kick drum sample to be able to shut down someone else’s work that may be using it by accident. Under current law, this is a reality.

    I look to iTunes as a good model, and Pandora and Spotify as bad models of where this should go. And I think you’re quite right about torrent sites that are paid by advertising. Some of this money should flow to the creators of the work that the users of that site are there to view or exploit. It just seems fair.

    • David Newhoff

      Thank you for writing, and forgive me for not responding point by point to your thoughtful comment. I just don’t have that much time available. What I can say is that the point of the piece is that the notion that contributing to piracy is in anyway anti-establishment is complete nonsense. First the, downloader is lining the pockets of actual criminals, some who are linked to crimes far more serious than copyright infringement. Next, the downloader is lining the pockets of corporations like Google. Hence, “the man” getting screwed ain’t nothin’ compared to “the man” making money on what is fundamentally exploitation of legitimate labor. I wouldn’t get too hung up on Mick Jagger as example in this story; he was just the name that came to mind at the time of that anecdote, and he is just code for any artist in this context. Mick himself has been full of it more than a few times on any number of issues.

      As for copyright itself, issues pertaining to the music industry, etc., I have posts here, but I would also recommend sites like Copyhype for legit legal expertise or some of the work done by David Lowery at The Trichordist for the straight dope on tangible reality within the music industry. I tend not to get into each matter, like what is or is not defined as fair use; there are better experts for that than I. I focus on social or creative issues, like the social phenomenon that millions of people contribute to a form of exploitation without really considering their actions. And on this score, evidence is clear — and Chris Ruen talks about this as well — that when some of the facts about what people innocuously call “file sharing” are explained calmly and rationally, that people can change their attitudes on the subject. Fundamentally, it’s a social justice issue, which has nothing to do with your feelings about the recording industry or any other industry. Contracts between artists and corporations are their business; and the public interest does not include the right to decide for the artist (and their supporting labor) how or by whom the work is to be used.

      Thanks again.


      • Thanks David…I agree with most of what you said until you came to: “Contracts between artists and corporations are their business…”
        In fact, those contracts deeply affect how the public either benefits or does not benefit from the artists work. It is my opinion that the music industry has entered a new era, and the old model is obsolete, and musicians have to seriously ask themselves if they think there is a chance for a career in their chosen field. The fact that the RIAA wants to turn the clock back to the 80’s and insists that they maintain their salaries and perks…only reminds me of how out of it they are. You can’t put the genie back in the bottle, and it was the record labels that pushed all this digital music on us in the first place, unable to resist selling us music we already owned in yet another format. Now they don’t want to live with the result…which is just silly.

      • David Newhoff

        To your first point, the public has no more say in how a creator chooses to exploit his/her work than it does how any other entrepreneur conducts a business venture. The problem with the over-broad perspective you’re echoing — it’s repeated often — is that you forget that artists aren’t obligated to create, and consumption of these works is not a right, but a luxury. More importantly, though, I feel you’re expressing some views that are themselves obsolete and out of synch with the contemporary realities of the market, both for consumers and creators. Most production of music and film, for instance, is independent production, and the independent’s need to protect rights are pretty well aligned with those of the large corporations and entities like the RIAA. If you really want a more updated and less generalized view on these matters, I would suggest Chris’s book Freeloading as a good starting point.

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