The Politics of Digital Piracy

by Chris Whitten (copyright in the author)

It has been thirteen years since the free music service Napster burst into our consciences and anti-copyright activist Larry Lessig began campaigning for the free culture movement. Today however, we find that the free culture movement has lost the war for hearts and minds within the creative community and also increasingly with consumers.

Recent independent research and national political elections show the movement is going backwards from an already low base. The die-hards, lead by a small group of older academics like Lessig, and promoted by younger tech bloggers, who may be benefitting financially from their advocacy, have failed to convince with their philosophical, political argument. Even their claim the creative community would be richer, financially and artistically, by sharing it’s output free of charge hasn’t changed the way the creative community distributes its work.

Nothing promotes innovation better than successful innovation. And yet the vast majority of writers, film makers, photographers and musicians still copyright their works and still seek funding from traditional media organizations.  Anyone with even a passing interest in entertainment understands the bandwagon effect. Lifestyle TV is very popular; suddenly everyone wants to be a celebrity chef. Boy bands are popular, and suddenly there are a dozen new boy bands. Blockbuster movies based on 1960’s comic superheroes bring in millions at the box office, and there are now a slew of new movies featuring superheroes you’ve never even heard of before. Simply put, the MPAA and RIAA can’t stop the creative community from adopting successful innovation.

So over a decade into the free culture debate, where are the Top 40 Creative Commons stars? Where is the blockbuster TV series given away free on YouTube? Clearly there is no grass roots revolution in free entertainment that is gaining unstoppable momentum.

On September 24th 2013, during a public debate held in Melbourne, Australia, titled ‘Copyright Is Dead, Long Live The Pirates’, the free culture movement rolled out Electronic Frontier’s Australia board member Angela Daly. During the debate Daly claimed to have benefitted more financially from giving her books away online, than by selling them through traditional means, protected by copyright. A second anti-copyright speaker, writer and journalist Dr Suelette Dreyfus, elicited enthusiastic applause from the audience by claiming copyright was a stitch up, legislated behind closed doors undemocratically, mainly benefitting big business. She attempted to hammer this home with a claim the entertainment industry is threatening the freedom and privacy of ordinary citizens in it’s efforts to protect copyright.

These free culture bullet points have not changed over the last decade. However, we now have ten years of experience post online piracy to assess them.

Bullet point number one: Can your business be more profitable by giving away the product?

Maybe. But isn’t that a choice better made by the product maker of their own free will. Not forced on them by outside parties? The free culture lobby has a tin ear on this. Daly chose to give her book away freely. That’s completely different from having her business decisions made for her, against her wishes. And if it really was such a no brainer, the simple reality is that millions of young, idealistic writers would have given their books away free by now and benefitted more financially as a result.

If you can show a believable way creative people can grow their business it’s extremely likely many of them will adopt it. The free culture movement has been unable to convince writers and musicians that they can survive and prosper by giving away their work.  As a result we find that an artists work is far more likely to be taken without consent than offered freely.

While I’m on the subject of tin ears, Angela Daly brought up that other old chestnut; free content fuels alternative sources of income. “A musician can make money playing live”. This claim has been rebutted time and time again, but the anti-copyright lobby either isn’t listening or fails to understand the very simple counter argument. As a musician in the 1980’s and 90’s, my income was derived from recording and playing live.

If you remove my income from recording, I am left with income from playing live. It isn’t shiny, new income; it’s income I was already earning thirty years ago. As simply as I can say it one more time, there is no financial benefit from having my avenues of income reduced.

As to copyright being an abuse of democracy by big business.

Isn’t it a little less democratic to ignore creative worker’s legal rights and take content without buying it, just ‘cos you want it? In fact one of the most recent changes to copyright occurred in 2011 as a result of lobbying by individual musicians in Europe, not the axis of American evil the anti-copyright lobby always cite; Disney, the MPAA and RIAA. At the time, UK Musician’s Union General Secretary John Smith called it a “brilliant moment”. By contrast, Jim Killock, executive director of the Open Rights Group, said, “It puts money into the pockets of big labels”.

So despite the clear evidence that average creative workers want copyright protection, piracy advocates never talk about individual artists because it humanizes the debate. Their clear tactic is to dehumanize by continually talking about Disney and the RIAA, wealthy and faceless corporations the general public have little sympathy for.

Dreyfus’ alarmist claim that the entertainment industry is attacking the freedoms and rights of those using the internet came just four months after Edward Snowden’s Prism-gate revelations to The Guardian newspaper. More evidence that the anti-copyright lobby seems incapable of evolving their case for change.

Despite the ongoing furor around technology corporations colluding with the NSA to spy on millions of Europeans, anti-copyright activists still blame the entertainment industry for threatening freedom and privacy on the internet. Really?

Having mentioned democracy, I guess I should commend some in the pirate community for taking their fight to the high seas of mainstream politics. The American Pirate Party leadership state ‘Our primary goal is to get elected into office. We believe in political change from the inside’. There would appear to be no rush to test their digital rights and copyright policies with the American voter however, as they’ve yet to formulate a broader policy platform necessary to mount a meaningful assault on any level of representation, local or national. Elsewhere, the political wing of the pirates has been active since European parliamentary elections in 2009.  Recently, Pirate parties in Australia, Germany and Norway took their message to the people in September 2013 national elections. Unsurprisingly, Pirate Times declared a 0.3% result for the PP Norway ‘a good result’, going on to suggest ‘the future looks bright’. However, measured against the high water marks attained at their launch in 2009, the pirate’s political ship appears to have hit The Doldrums, especially Down Under and in Deutschland.

Having gone as hard on government abuse of digital rights as they have on copyright reform, The Pirate Party could muster no more than 2.2% of the popular vote in recent German national elections. Between 2009 and 2012 the pirates had enjoyed some success in local elections, and had scored as highly as 13% in opinion polls across Germany. However, despite the ongoing NSA scandal, Der Spiegel predicted a ‘sinking ship’ in the run up to the 22nd September election.

Earlier that month voters across Australia had shown more interest in The Sex Party, The Motoring Enthusiasts, and The Shooters and Fishers than the Pirate Party.

The big story of the September 2013 Australian election was not the success of the conservative coalition lead by Tony Abbott, but the rise of the ‘micro-party’. Two new political forces made it to the country’s capital. The Palmer United Party, not so much a single interest party as a self-interest party funded by billionaire mining magnet Clive Palmer. At the other end of the funding scale, The Australian Motoring Enthusiast’s Party, which campaigned amongst other things on the rights of 4WD owners.

With Edward Snowden trapped in Moscow, and expat Australian Julian Assange trapped in London both hitting the headlines in the run up to the September 7th election, you’d think The Pirate Party would at least attract a sizeable youth vote, especially with voting mandatory in the Australian system. But it wasn’t to be.

Across Australia, The Pirate Party polled just 0.31%, with just over 42,000 votes nationally. The Australian Fishing and Lifestyle party won 0.45% of the vote, The Motoring Enthusiast’s Party, 0.50%, The Shooters and Fishers, 0.95% and The Sex Party, 1.37%. For some context, the other political party active on digital rights, The Australian Greens, polled 8.64%, around 1.5 million votes, and this was seen as a disappointing result for them.

So you might be forgiven for assuming Australians are too busy having sex in the back of a Land Cruiser after a successful morning’s fishing to pirate movies and music, but you’d be wrong.

Australia has garnered the dubious accolade of being the world’s leading pirate of popular American television.

In 2012, website Torrent Freak published piracy figures for Game Of Thrones which revealed over 10% of the show’s entire illegal downloads originated in Australia, a nation of just 23 million people. America, populace 313 million, could only manage 9.7%. A year later in April 2013, Australia again topped the piracy league table with 9.9 percent of all those downloading Game Of Thrones. Torrent Freak cited broadcast delay and cost of access as reasons for the high level of downloading.

Prominent local technology site Delimiter, which describes it’s readership as ’primarily IT professionals and early technology adopters’, headlined it’s coverage with ‘Despite quick, cheap, legal option, 
Australia still top Games of Thrones pirating nation’.

A few weeks ago the finale episode of AMC series ‘Breaking Bad’ again broke piracy records with 18% of the show’s illegal downloads originating in Australia, 14.5% in the USA. Torrent Freak cited the ‘convenience’ of file sharing sites, and the cost of legal access. However, subscribers to Foxtel could watch Breaking Bad’s finale episode just five hours after it was aired in America. Not bad considering Aussies are already at work on a Monday morning when Californians are just sitting down to their Sunday evening’s TV viewing.  iTunes offered the finale episode for AU$3.49

Delimiter’s Renai LeMay wrote:

‘Personally, I don’t really believe there is a basis for pirating shows like Breaking Bad on the basis of what many see as the technical annoyances of platforms such as Foxtel and iTunes.’

LeMay does however highlight an issue around converting consumers with disposable income into paying customers:

‘Most of my friends and colleagues are in their late 20′s or mid-30′s. They all have substantial disposable income and spend a solid proportion of it on entertainment and art. What this says to me is that there is a massive untapped market for great content in Australia — a market which is currently satiating its demand for shows like Breaking Bad illegally.’

So, perhaps there is an argument to be had about instant global access, especially in the age of social media. I guess it’s understandable that a certain demographic can’t stay off Twitter or Facebook for a day just so the ending of a popular series isn’t ruined for them. But at the same time, are local TV stations supposed to air their most watched shows, their most valuable asset, in the middle of a weekday morning just to satisfy a minority of viewers?

I will agree that consumers are experts on consuming. However, they aren’t experts on production. Quality content doesn’t grow on trees; it is invariably expensive to produce. Before the consumer gets hooked on a well made TV series, the show’s makers have to secure reliable and long term funding to get their series made. It’s not a little unfair then for consumers to complain about lack of cheap and easy access once they have become fans of a certain show. Cheap television is reality TV made with amateurs and a skeleton crew. Popularly pirated shows like Breaking Bad and Game Of Thrones employ a large, experienced and professional crew are filmed on elaborate sets, and feature professional actors.

Ironically, the reader comments posted below pro-piracy blogs often make the same excuse; “I pirate movies and music because I won’t pay for the crap the entertainment industry is making”. Which seems like a catch 22 scenario to me. You probably get what you (don’t) pay for. In any case, I don’t think anyone could claim ‘Breaking Bad’ is either cheap or crap.

Back to the IQ2 debate in Melbourne, ‘Copyright Is Dead, Long Live The Pirates’.

Lori Flekser, executive director of the Intellectual Property Awareness Foundation, spoke in support of copyright. She says research shows the vast majority of people download content because it is free, and not for any other reason. She cites research undertaken over five years by independent research organization Sycamore, in conjunction with Newspoll.

Flekser wants to dispel a few myths about content piracy.

Her number one myth is that everyone pirates. Implying that if you pay for content you are in a minority, essentially a sucker.

In fact, the Sycamore/Newspoll research shows 75% of Australians over the age of 18 (polled anonymously) do not illegally download content online. A similar figure has been stated by UK communications regulator Ofcom, with 18% of internet users over 12 years old admitting to having pirated content, according to their research. The Breaking Bad finale enjoyed a paying audience of 10.3 million in America alone, with half a million pirating the episode worldwide. So yes, it is clearly a small minority who are pirating. But perhaps they are a very vocal minority, especially online in the forums, tech blogs and chat rooms.

Another Flekser myth, which I would rather call an ‘excuse’, is that people who make television and films are too rich.

Although undoubtedly financially successful, Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan called piracy “ultimately a problem” in a recent interview with the BBC. “A lot of folks who worked on the show would have made more money,” he said.

Let’s not forget that as well as Hollywood executives like Gilligan and star actor Bryan Cranston, many who worked on the show are far less well paid including, the camera assistants, caterers, electricians and runners. These are average workers who depend on a show’s financial success for a job. If a show doesn’t make money, hundreds of employees are laid off.

Piracy is also not means tested. A common claim I hear, which is similar to the above, is that poor kids are pirating the content produced by millionaires. However, I’ve personally witnessed financially comfortable consumers (neighbors, and acquaintances) illegally downloading the music of debt ridden indie-rock artists.

The internet has given creative people instant access to a global market. Every year the tools we need to create have grown more powerful and become less expensive. We have the ability and freedom to self publish and distribute independently online. And yet the anti-copyright lobby still treats us as if we’re naïve, cowering to big business and shackled to the media moguls of the last century.

In fact artists continue to innovate and exploit opportunity via the internet. If simple exposure brought with it enough income to support our work, most of us would have freely shared more content than has actually been shared. By and large, writers, filmmakers and musicians still rely on people paying for their entertainment. That’s because the tried and tested business models work for most, and the free culture models only work for a few.

There is a very loud minority online, mostly male, 18 to 35, who believe they have a right to dictate to another sector of society, the creative community. They demand the power to set the price of content, when and where they access it. While they claim it’s a democratic right, when democracy gives them the chance to vote for greater digital rights and even dismantled copyright, less than 1% vote for it.

So I think you have to conclude there is no appetite for change in the general populace. Online piracy is simply about presenting consumers with content they can download without paying for it and without any negative repercussions to themselves. It’s about something for nothing, not about new societal attitudes to entertainment and the creative community, otherwise the Pirate Party in Norway, Germany and Australia would be as popular with voters as pirating content is.

When Labor’s climate change legislation increased the average Aussie’s electricity bill by 10%, Tony Abbott’s conservative coalition, vowing to repeal the tax, swept to power with over 45% of the popular vote. Promising to protect Australian’s digital rights and fundamentally changing copyright (which would effectively legalize illegally free access to content) The Pirate Party received less than half of one percent.

What consumers don’t spend on music, movies and television, they spend on shiny new gadgets on which to play music, movies and television.  As more and more content creators slip into financial hardship, the pirate site owners and tech barons build enormous corporate and personal wealth.

It’s still about money for both sides, and still not about politics or ‘new’ ways of thinking.

Articles used in research or mentioned:

http://piratetimes.net/pp-norway-got-0-3-in-national-election-and-750-000-euros/

http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/pirate-party-fails-to-capitalize-on-nsa-scandal-a-923303.html

http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/bigideas/copy-right-is-dead/4963270

http://www.abc.net.au/news/federal-election-2013/results/senate/

http://pirateparty.org.au/wiki/Policies/Copyright

http://www.ipawareness.com.au/home

http://torrentfreak.com/whos-pirating-game-of-thrones-and-why-120520/

http://delimiter.com.au/2013/04/03/despite-quick-cheap-legal-option-australia-still-top-games-of-thrones-pirating-nation/

http://delimiter.com.au/2013/10/01/australia-extends-global-internet-piracy-lead/

http://www.bbc.co.uk/newsbeat/24550831

The Paradox of Pirate Logic : Music Versus Music Software – Full Post

by Chris Whitten
(Copyright in the Author, Posted with Permission)

The bottom line for many in the often heated piracy debate is this: “Give us a good product at a fair price, make it convenient and easy to obtain and we’ll buy it”.

There is a digital product that ticks most of those boxes. So by comparing two products I wonder if we can learn anything about the chances of reducing music and movie piracy by making it better quality, more affordable and easy to download?

I’m of course talking about music production software.

About 7 years ago I was involved in creating a virtual drum instrument in collaboration with a Swedish music software producer Toontrack. Our product has been critically acclaimed, is a best seller, but is also unfortunately a favourite with software pirates. The pirate’s ‘advice’ to “adapt or die” appears then to ring hollow. As a performance musician I added music software creation to my resume by adapting to new technology, but all that happened was the pirates followed me.

With a foot in each camp, music technology and music performance, I’d like to take a look at the claim that “if you build it they will come.” Let’s see if the available evidence supports that idea.

Straight away we need to acknowledge two things: firstly, no one has ever suggested music software has gone backwards in quality over the last few years. It’s also pretty easy to obtain, including plenty of free alternatives, often offered by new companies trying to build a customer base, or by hobbyist’s happy with the kudos of creating a popular plug-in. Secondly, music software is heavily pirated.

So the signs don’t look good, and the more you look at music software piracy, the more the excuses and arguments made by movie and music pirates seem questionable. Let’s look at a couple of them:

Entertainment pirates claim they are fighting corporate greed. Movies and music need to be liberated from the clutches of billionaires who remain powerful by buying political influence.

This rhetoric may sound compelling, but the reality is that most music software companies are small privately owned businesses, and/or collectives of young innovators and entrepreneurs. Most were founded no earlier than the late 1990’s and still retain the same management and design teams that started the business in the first place. In fact, many music software producers comprise one or two people working from home.

The biggest and longest established names like Spectrasonics and Native Instruments employ between 50 and 270 staff, but those are the exceptions. Even so, we are hardly talking ‘megacorps’ here. For example, one of the hottest names in computer sequencing and recording software, Cockos (producers of Reaper), has a staff of three. Cockos has an instant download demo of Reaper available. They also offer a discounted purchase price of $60 for Reaper, if you declare earnings of less than $20,000 from its commercial use each year. So you could be Donald Trump and buy Reaper for $60 as long as music is your hobby. And yet Reaper appears prominently for free download on piracy sites.

Entertainment pirates claim movies and music are overpriced.

Music software users though have many free options. Apart from the new producers and hobbyists mentioned above, many established software producers offer free products.

For example, Elysia’s Niveau Filter:
https://www.plugin-alliance.com/en/plugins/detail/elysia_niveau_filter.html

And Sonimus’ SonEQ:
http://sonimus.com/site/page/downloads/

One of my own offerings, a sample pack for Toontrack’s EZdrummer, has a retail price of $89.00, but regularly sells for $39.99 from certain online retailers.

To use these software plug-ins you need a computer audio workstation, known as a ‘DAW’. Technology giant Apple give you one free with every computer; Garageband.  Audacity is a multi-track audio recorder and editor that is also free. And as mentioned above Reaper is $60.  Even the more expensive DAW’s like Logic Studio (Apple) and Live (Ableton) come bundled with a host of free software instruments, fx plug-ins and audio loops – something not dreamed of 10 years ago.

So can we still claim music software is over priced? No, not reasonably so.

Entertainment pirates cite what they see as false barriers to access as a major factor driving them to pirate sites.

So is music software easy and convenient to obtain? The answer surely has to be yes. Most music software is available for instant download. Some music software can even be used immediately as a demo without payment.

I was working on some music a few months ago and realized late one night I needed a certain FM synth sound resembling a Yamaha DX7. Not having the keyboard to hand, I went to Native Instrument’s webshop, bought and downloaded FM8, a virtual instrument based on similar architecture to the DX7. Granted it’s quite a large program and I have a basic broadband connection, but I was using FM8 in my project about one hour later.

By the way, FM8 cost me a fraction of the original price DX7’s sold for in the early 80’s. And smaller programs like plug-in EQ’s and compressors are much quicker to download and even with anti-piracy security, you can be using them within minutes. Modern musicians are drawn to music software exactly because it is cheap and convenient.

Music pirates claim digital music has no value.                                                                                  

 MP3’s for example are just ‘1’s and 0’s’ that can be infinitely reproduced at zero cost. Well then I guess digital music software is the same, just 1’s and 0’s, something that can be copied endlessly at no cost. Music pirates say they expect free digital music because it is free to produce, but they will support music by buying concert tickets, which directly fund true performance.

If you superimpose this claim on to music software, the logic falls apart immediately. Would the people who pirate EZdrummer be likely to pay $40 to see EZdrummer live on tour? What form would that tour take? I’m imagining a ‘technerd’ onstage for 12 hours coding the software, or maybe 12 hours of me sampling drums, one drum hit at a time, both of which are akin to paying good money to watch paint dry. What about merchandising? Well I must admit there are some cool Ableton Live t-shirts, but I still feel it’s the incredible music tool I should be valuing, not a Hanes in XL.

And what about the zero cost of reproducing the product indefinitely? Well I don’t agree with that either. Music software has to be maintained, developed and supported full time by a team of workers. Like many things these days, customers demand answers within hours of contact, even if they’ve emailed their query at midnight on Easter Sunday.

Then there is the initial investment in the creation of the software. If a hobbyist doesn’t count their man hours, a basic software plug-in like a softsynth, or compressor can be produced at low or no cost – but only IF they don’t count their man hours. However, sample based music software is much more costly to produce. For example, my most recent EZdrummer sample pack was recorded over four days at a commercial studio in New Jersey. I don’t live in New Jersey, the recording engineer doesn’t live in New Jersey, the Toontrack production team don’t live in New Jersey. My drums and cymbals aren’t located in New Jersey.

So why work there? Well because it was the right studio for the product we wanted to create. But let’s be clear: the costs involved are significant. To produce the included midi content alone, I recorded my own v-drum performances over two days. Then I spent two weeks, working ten hour days editing that midi. So again, are we working for free, for the ‘fun’ of it, or is it a job, or better still a career? The answer according to the pirates is it’s up to me to decide, but don’t expect to be paid. They say if I don’t like the work conditions and lack of pay, someone else will, or at least be more flexible and accepting than me.

But there are no free equivalents to EZdrummer. Why? Because it costs a lot of money to record several drum kits over several days in a decent recording studio, and hobbyists, or the free software evangelicals, aren’t prepared to spend that kind of money, or work that hard, then give away the end product without recompense.  So I guess you can argue that digital copying is zero cost, but when people pirate music software, they aren’t just taking 1’s and 0’s without payment, they aren’t ‘paying back’ by contributing anything towards the production cost of the original product.

Put another way, our first EZdrummer customer could pay $25,000, then all subsequent customers could take it without payment. More fairly however, I’d suggest the first customer and every customer subsequently should pay the same small share towards the production costs, say $39.99?

Entertainment pirates claim Hollywood and the music industry have failed to innovate and failed to listen to their customers.

They go on to state they’ll pay for movies and music if the content industries offer “a good product at a fair price, while making it convenient and easy to obtain”.

Meanwhile, the music software industry has responded to customer demands. While continuously improving their products, they’ve priced them competitively and fairly, many producers encouraging customers to audition products freely first. Almost all music software is available for instant download, wherever you are and at whatever time of the day or night.

Those customers who buy their music software are funding new ideas from young innovators and entrepreneurs directly, not giving money to middlemen who keep most of it for themselves while passing on a pittance to the creative employees, as is claimed happens in the music industry.

And yet music software products like Live (Ableton), EZdrummer (Toontrack), FM8 (Native Instruments) and Omnisphere (Spectrasonics) all appear on unauthorized file sharing sites for people to download without paying. Are the pirates therefore sincere in their promise to buy if the product is right and the price is fair, or is the only ‘fair’ price no price?

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you may also be interested in: You Can’t Have A Healthy Market Economy Without Property Rights
https://thetrichordist.wordpress.com/2012/05/05/full-post-you-cant-have-a-have-a-healthy-market-economy-without-property-rights-why-do-so-many-in-tech-blogosphere-want-to-abolish-cyber-property-rights-and-cripple-the-cyber-economy/

###

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[ JOHN PERRY BARLOW ] [ HUMAN RIGHTS OF ARTISTS ] [ INFRINGEMENT IS THEFT ]
[ THE SKY IS RISING : MAGIC BEAVER EDITION ] [SF GATE BLUNDERS PIRACY FACTS ]
[ WHY ARENT MORE MUSICIANS WORKING ] [ ARTISTS FOR AN ETHICAL INTERNET ]

The Paradox of Pirate Logic : Music Versus Music Software – Part 2

by Chris Whitten
(Copyright in the Author, Posted with Permission)

Entertainment pirates cite what they see as false barriers to access as a major factor driving them to pirate sites.

So is music software easy and convenient to obtain? The answer surely has to be yes. Most music software is available for instant download. Some music software can even be used immediately as a demo without payment.

I was working on some music a few months ago and realized late one night I needed a certain FM synth sound resembling a Yamaha DX7. Not having the keyboard to hand, I went to Native Instrument’s webshop, bought and downloaded FM8, a virtual instrument based on similar architecture to the DX7. Granted it’s quite a large program and I have a basic broadband connection, but I was using FM8 in my project about one hour later.

By the way, FM8 cost me a fraction of the original price DX7’s sold for in the early 80’s. And smaller programs like plug-in EQ’s and compressors are much quicker to download and even with anti-piracy security, you can be using them within minutes. Modern musicians are drawn to music software exactly because it is cheap and convenient.

Music pirates claim digital music has no value.                                                                                  

 MP3’s for example are just ‘1’s and 0’s’ that can be infinitely reproduced at zero cost. Well then I guess digital music software is the same, just 1’s and 0’s, something that can be copied endlessly at no cost. Music pirates say they expect free digital music because it is free to produce, but they will support music by buying concert tickets, which directly fund true performance.

If you superimpose this claim on to music software, the logic falls apart immediately. Would the people who pirate EZdrummer be likely to pay $40 to see EZdrummer live on tour? What form would that tour take? I’m imagining a ‘technerd’ onstage for 12 hours coding the software, or maybe 12 hours of me sampling drums, one drum hit at a time, both of which are akin to paying good money to watch paint dry. What about merchandising? Well I must admit there are some cool Ableton Live t-shirts, but I still feel it’s the incredible music tool I should be valuing, not a Hanes in XL.

And what about the zero cost of reproducing the product indefinitely? Well I don’t agree with that either. Music software has to be maintained, developed and supported full time by a team of workers. Like many things these days, customers demand answers within hours of contact, even if they’ve emailed their query at midnight on Easter Sunday.

Then there is the initial investment in the creation of the software. If a hobbyist doesn’t count their man hours, a basic software plug-in like a softsynth, or compressor can be produced at low or no cost – but only IF they don’t count their man hours. However, sample based music software is much more costly to produce. For example, my most recent EZdrummer sample pack was recorded over four days at a commercial studio in New Jersey. I don’t live in New Jersey, the recording engineer doesn’t live in New Jersey, the Toontrack production team don’t live in New Jersey. My drums and cymbals aren’t located in New Jersey.

So why work there? Well because it was the right studio for the product we wanted to create. But let’s be clear: the costs involved are significant. To produce the included midi content alone, I recorded my own v-drum performances over two days. Then I spent two weeks, working ten hour days editing that midi. So again, are we working for free, for the ‘fun’ of it, or is it a job, or better still a career? The answer according to the pirates is it’s up to me to decide, but don’t expect to be paid. They say if I don’t like the work conditions and lack of pay, someone else will, or at least be more flexible and accepting than me.

But there are no free equivalents to EZdrummer. Why? Because it costs a lot of money to record several drum kits over several days in a decent recording studio, and hobbyists, or the free software evangelicals, aren’t prepared to spend that kind of money, or work that hard, then give away the end product without recompense.  So I guess you can argue that digital copying is zero cost, but when people pirate music software, they aren’t just taking 1’s and 0’s without payment, they aren’t ‘paying back’ by contributing anything towards the production cost of the original product.

Put another way, our first EZdrummer customer could pay $25,000, then all subsequent customers could take it without payment. More fairly however, I’d suggest the first customer and every customer subsequently should pay the same small share towards the production costs, say $39.99?

Entertainment pirates claim Hollywood and the music industry have failed to innovate and failed to listen to their customers.

They go on to state they’ll pay for movies and music if the content industries offer “a good product at a fair price, while making it convenient and easy to obtain”.

Meanwhile, the music software industry has responded to customer demands. While continuously improving their products, they’ve priced them competitively and fairly, many producers encouraging customers to audition products freely first. Almost all music software is available for instant download, wherever you are and at whatever time of the day or night.

Those customers who buy their music software are funding new ideas from young innovators and entrepreneurs directly, not giving money to middlemen who keep most of it for themselves while passing on a pittance to the creative employees, as is claimed happens in the music industry.

And yet music software products like Live (Ableton), EZdrummer (Toontrack), FM8 (Native Instruments) and Omnisphere (Spectrasonics) all appear on unauthorized file sharing sites for people to download without paying. Are the pirates therefore sincere in their promise to buy if the product is right and the price is fair, or is the only ‘fair’ price no price?

Musicians POV: Occupy Artist Rights – Full Post

By Chris Whitten

(Copyright in the author, used by permission, all rights reserved)

I’m an independent, self-employed musician.  It’s a risky business. You’re only as good as your last record or gig. There are few long term contracts, no sick leave, no holiday entitlements and nothing in the way of protection against bullying in the workplace, sexual discrimination, or unfair dismissal. Yes, it’s largely a labour of love, with some degree of personal satisfaction, and if you’re one of the lucky ones, some financial reward.

To co-opt the slogan of the recent Occupy movement, we are the 99%.  The 99% of professional musicians who have more in common with ordinary workers than the rock stars portrayed by the media, frittering away their millions like 24-hour party people.

For the last couple of years I’ve been following the piracy debate, especially online. Contrary to what is often claimed, I feel the ‘free music’ movement has succeeded in shouting down the view from actual content creators. Much of the commentary is dominated by technology journalists, or tech industry watchers, but relatively little has been contributed by creative people working in the music industry. Many musicians, especially the young, up-and-coming ones, have stayed out of the debate, leaving music fans not much option but to accept one or two myths and misrepresentations as fact.

The political musician is a thing of the past, it seems. Maybe recent generations of artists are rebelling against their parents who went to Woodstock or Live Aid? What is sure is that musicians understand they need to be liked in order to survive. You build a fanbase, which in turn provides the all-important bums on seats needed to fund the next tour or album recording. So the last thing you want to do is alienate that fanbase. Heck, who wants to be the next Lars Ulrich? Still getting a public kicking eleven years after Metallica triumphed over Napster. As with many things in life, short term gain is popular while the long game is not. Young musicians who ask fans to pay for their music, sometimes even daring to critisise music pirates, are often derided around the blogs and internet music communities.

Let’s be clear about this: in the relationship between musician and music consumer, the musician has no power. Currently the consumer has all the power. Even if they could admit to themselves that non-payment is wrong, who’s going to readily give up all that free music, movies and television with virtually no chance of ever being caught?

The reader comments section of any blog discussing the issue of music piracy makes for depressing reading – at least for professional musicians. The often repeated threat of “price music fairly or we’ll just take it” is made by people who aren’t prepared to work for free themselves, and couldn’t make ends meet if their weekly paypacket fluctuated wildly dependent on how much their employer felt like paying them each week.

The modern mantra is ‘information is free’. Well we pay for our internet service, don’t we? And music isn’t really information, it’s the product of someone working hard to entertain us. In a capitalist system you don’t get to demand entertainment for free. Someone provides a service, and the consumer decides whether they are willing to buy it or not. After the death of capitalism, when we no longer have to pay for our electricity, we can talk about free music.

Another myth is that the music pirate is somehow righting a wrong visited on artists by the major record labels in past decades. Sadly, musicians survive at least in part by selling records. So what we have is an apparent double punishment. You’ve been ripped off by the labels, and now it’s the music fan’s turn to rip you off. Worse still, with the short careers of many artists, we’re supposedly righting some financial wrong done to The Saints by ripping off Wolfmother.

Music artists are grown up enough to look after themselves. As far back as the late 1970’s with the explosion of independent labels and DIY recording, artists have had plenty of acceptable avenues to distribute their work without relying on corporate labels. The reality which rather sinks this pirate ship is the amount of independent and self-released music that is pirated. Do music pirates download music they want to hear, whatever the source, or do they target major label artists only? I personally know people who have written and recorded their own music, paying for the whole thing themselves, only to find it uploaded against their wishes by someone they don’t know for everyone else to share freely.

I have no doubt there are a few idealists, anti-capitalists and ex-hippies who genuinely believe that by file-sharing they are bringing down the corporate music industry. However, the biggest casualties caught in the crossfire are average musicians. Even if they try to do the right thing by the public, eschewing the major label system, pricing their music fairly, giving some music away, they are pirated as readily as the commercial pop manufactured for mass consumption. When Radiohead offered their ‘pay whatever you want’ download of ‘In Rainbows’ there is evidence many still downloaded the album from popular pirate sites. The clear motive then for most is to obtain any music, any time, without having to pay for it.

So let’s briefly look at a few other, shall we say ‘misunderstandings’….

• The new economy for music is in live performance.

Actually, that was the old economy. You earned a little income from selling records, you might also make a bit from playing live, put it all together and most musicians could earn enough to keep playing. The pirate economy removes income from recordings. So in fact, there is no new way of making money, we’ve just taken one income source away.  In addition, the recording is a product in of itself. It isn’t a promotional tool. After Sgt Peppers was released, The Beatles didn’t tour, and yet we can all still enjoy the music today. I was too young to see Jimi Hendrix in concert, but I have always enjoyed listening to Electric Ladyland. In a country like Australia, you often can’t support artists via their shows without literally going the extra mile. If you live in Darwin, even Albury Wadonga, the only way to see most bands is to travel. International acts just don’t play outside the major Metropolitan centres. The easier way to support artist’s output is to buy the record. Records and shows are two equal products with equal creative value. Recordings capture a moment in time. In recordings from ‘Kind Of Blue’ (Miles Davis) to ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ (Nirvana) it’s a moment of magic you can’t replicate in live performance now some of the players are gone. In the end, does anyone suggest actors appear in movies to promote theatre?

• You should play music for love not money.

Yes, but instruments, music lessons and rehearsal spaces don’t come free. And if you want to attain some level of excellence you need to invest a lot of time and money in your music. Besides, why are there all these rules for musicians that don’t apply to anyone else? I’m sure Sam Stosur would play tennis just for grins, but we apparently have no problem with appearance fees and prize money. It’s obvious Tony Abbott would LOVE to be Prime Minister. When he finally achieves that goal should we take away the $260,000 a year he’s enjoyed as opposition leader, pay him nothing and recommend he “have fun”?

If you add the suggestion to play for the love of music, to the suggestion musicians play more shows, the cracks in these theories start to appear. Putting on a show doesn’t come cheap, there are rehearsals, travelling expenses, equipment costs. So are musicians to fund these costs through professional musicianship, or accept the dreaded day job? If like others in society your ambition is to rent or own a home, start a family and provide for your kids, you’ll likely need to get a regular job. The bank manager doesn’t understand “I work only for love”.

The average holiday entitlement in regular employment is four weeks per annum. That hardly meets the demands of modern touring. So the post piracy band would only tour for one month each year, and every band member would have to co-ordinate the same month off. Then work the remaining eleven months without a break. When do they find time to record the album, or shoot the video?

When I toured globally with Dire Straits in 1991, we spent six weeks in Australia alone. You can forget seeing most international acts grace these shores ever again if those acts have to balance the needs of regular employment with their careers in music.

Finally we come to a couple of ‘dog ate my homework’ type excuses.

• Not Every Illegal Download Is a Lost Sale.

Duh…. yeah! That’s right, but it’s amazing how regularly this is brought up in the debate as if it’s the killer argument, the Achilles heel of the professional musician. Never mind the high probability that many illegal downloads represent many lost sales. It’s really not believable to claim all pirated music is binned without being listened to, or if it is listened to and appreciated, the downloader goes on to pay for it. Clearly a reasonable amount of music is pirated because the pirate wants to enjoy the music but isn’t prepared to pay for it. Isn’t prepared to actually support the persons creating the music.

More than three years into a GFC, with Europe facing financial meltdown, 40% youth unemployment in Spain, rock music’s biggest market the USA looking down the barrel of a double dip recession, and most Aussie musicians driving in the slow lane of a three speed economy, you bet every single lost sale counts.

• I Can’t Afford Music

I can’t afford to eat at Aria. Life’s a beeeyach. Obtaining music isn’t a right, it’s one of life’s pleasures. And while we’re talking about life’s pleasures, a take away coffee costs $3 to $4, and lasts as long as it takes to drink. A song costs $2.99 from iTunes, and provides entertainment for years. With the popularity of fast broadband and large data plans, it’s quite obvious many of the same people who claim they can’t afford music, somehow can afford a computer, a Blackberry or iPhone and a $60 a month ADSL2 plan. I think what they mean to say is “I can’t afford music because my entertainment priorities lie elsewhere….. and music is available free”

Music piracy is a wholly negative culture. It takes out, but puts nothing back.                                  When I was a teenager we had a similar view of the mainstream music industry. It was tired, complacent and wasn’t making the records we wanted to hear. Towards the end of the 1970’s like-minded people started forming their own bands, they wrote their own music, promoted their own gigs, made their own records and started their own indie labels. It really did blow the establishment apart…. at least for a few years. Why is it that action for positive change has been replaced by simply robbing music from music makers? I can’t say I understand the excuse that pirates download music because most music is rubbish. Surely some young person somewhere is thinking they’d rather make some amazing new music of their own and make a name for themself, rather than spend all night trawling through torrent sites downloading gigs of garbage.

The final pirate promise is that music will always be there.

Well you can’t really argue with that, but what kind of music will it be? Just as talented school athletes play a variety of sports and eventually decide to concentrate on one, young creative often draw, write and play an instrument to a reasonably high level. Given a choice, teenagers will usually opt to pursue a career where they feel valued, have a decent chance of success, and be rewarded for their hard work. Things are pretty gloomy right now in the music scene, but if we could restore income from record sales, I think we could reward our best and brightest to make great music in the future. With the industry in the doldrums or worse than its current state, the most talented creative minds will choose other avenues to express themselves, avenues that give them some hope of a decent living, put a roof over their head, and a pat on the back from respected peers for a job well done.

That would be the music fan’s loss.

Downloading music for free is a short term gain. The long term damage it’s doing to the broader music community and the message that sends to the grass roots, where the musicians of tomorrow emerge from, should be understood by anyone who enjoys new and exciting music. We need creative risk taking and innovation in music, or else millions of teenagers would still be listening to Doris Day and dancing The Twist. The history of pop music shows us creative risk taking and innovation is carried out in the bedrooms of Manchester, England, the garages of Seattle, the back room of a pub in Melbourne, not in the spotlight glare of a season of X Factor. The mainstream is supported by television and advertising, mainstream artists are offered guest spots on CSI: Miami, or a signature fragrance as part of a cosmetic sponsorship. These aren’t avenues of income a young band from Wagga Wagga can enjoy. So we need to financially support the musicians at the margin, for they are the future of good music.

The final ironic twist is I believe free music is a brief abberration. Everyone but the pirates understand that quality content comes at a price. The internet giants are the new record companies. While music sales have been hammered by illegal downloading, web companies have seized the opportunity to throw desperate musicians a bone in the form of some small income from iTunes, Spotify and the forthcoming ‘cloud’. Most of these services are embryonic, but once they gain some popularity it’ll be in the tech industry’s interests to finally stamp out easily available free music, while encouraging people to access music through paid for services like Spotify and iCloud.

The only difference is that many tech companies have demonstrated they are more ruthless than any record label ever was. Unlike record labels, tech companies aren’t interested in music specifically, the nurturing and development of new artists. They are primarily interested in making money through hardware sales like iPads, or online services like Google and Facebook. They want to supply the most popular, most desirable content, at the lowest price as a way to attract and hold on to loyal customers. Mark Zuckerberg’s recent high profile relaunch of Facebook was centred around the (legal) sharing of music and movies.

It’s in the interest of music fans to financially support the next generation of musicians. The internet corporations demonstrably aren’t, and musicians being normal people, they’ll drift away from music as the daily grind of making innovative music with no reward and no encouragement takesits toll.

Less edgy innovation, but more mainstream commercial pop – that’s the road we are on and that’s bad for music fans.

Rather than online anarchy, a mass exploitation by the many of the few, we the 99% of music consumers need to directly support the 1% of adventurous, young music makers, or we can’t really complain when we end up paying. But we won’t just be paying for our entertainment. We will also be paying in terms of the talent that goes unheard and the groundbreaking music that wont be made. And the ultimate irony is that this time it’s a computer company – not a specialist music company – determining what music we get.

###

[ THE 101 ] [NEW BOSS / OLD BOSS ] [ SPOTIFY ] [GROOVESHARK ] [ LARRY LESSIG ]
[ JOHN PERRY BARLOW ] [ HUMAN RIGHTS OF ARTISTS ] [ INFRINGEMENT IS THEFT ]
[ THE SKY IS RISING : MAGIC BEAVER EDITION ] [SF GATE BLUNDERS PIRACY FACTS ]
[ WHY ARENT MORE MUSICIANS WORKING ] [ ARTISTS FOR AN ETHICAL INTERNET ]

The Musicians POV: Occupy Artist Rights, Part 3–The attack of the homework eating dogs

[Part 3 of a 3-part post “Occupy Artist Rights”]

By Chris Whitten

Finally we come to a couple of ‘dog ate my homework’ type excuses.

• Not Every Illegal Download Is a Lost Sale.

Duh…. yeah! That’s right, but it’s amazing how regularly this is brought up in the debate as if it’s the killer argument, the Achilles heel of the professional musician. Never mind the high probability that many illegal downloads represent many lost sales. It’s really not believable to claim all pirated music is binned without being listened to, or if it is listened to and appreciated, the downloader goes on to pay for it. Clearly a reasonable amount of music is pirated because the pirate wants to enjoy the music but isn’t prepared to pay for it. Isn’t prepared to actually support the persons creating the music.

More than three years into a GFC, with Europe facing financial meltdown, 40% youth unemployment in Spain, rock music’s biggest market the USA looking down the barrel of a double dip recession, and most Aussie musicians driving in the slow lane of a three speed economy, you bet every single lost sale counts.

• I Can’t Afford Music

I can’t afford to eat at Aria. Life’s a beeeyach. Obtaining music isn’t a right, it’s one of life’s pleasures. And while we’re talking about life’s pleasures, a take away coffee costs $3 to $4, and lasts as long as it takes to drink. A song costs $2.99 from iTunes, and provides entertainment for years. With the popularity of fast broadband and large data plans, it’s quite obvious many of the same people who claim they can’t afford music, somehow can afford a computer, a Blackberry or iPhone and a $60 a month ADSL2 plan. I think what they mean to say is “I can’t afford music because my entertainment priorities lie elsewhere….. and music is available free”

Music piracy is a wholly negative culture. It takes out, but puts nothing back.  When I was a teenager we had a similar view of the mainstream music industry. It was tired, complacent and wasn’t making the records we wanted to hear. Towards the end of the 1970’s like-minded people started forming their own bands, they wrote their own music, promoted their own gigs, made their own records and started their own indie labels. It really did blow the establishment apart…. at least for a few years. Why is it that action for positive change has been replaced by simply robbing music from music makers? I can’t say I understand the excuse that pirates download music because most music is rubbish. Surely some young person somewhere is thinking they’d rather make some amazing new music of their own and make a name for themself, rather than spend all night trawling through torrent sites downloading gigs of garbage.

The final pirate promise is that music will always be there.

Well you can’t really argue with that, but what kind of music will it be? Just as talented school athletes play a variety of sports and eventually decide to concentrate on one, young creative often draw, write and play an instrument to a reasonably high level. Given a choice, teenagers will usually opt to pursue a career where they feel valued, have a decent chance of success, and be rewarded for their hard work. Things are pretty gloomy right now in the music scene, but if we could restore income from record sales, I think we could reward our best and brightest to make great music in the future. With the industry in the doldrums or worse than its current state, the most talented creative minds will choose other avenues to express themselves, avenues that give them some hope of a decent living, put a roof over their head, and a pat on the back from respected peers for a job well done.

That would be the music fan’s loss.

Downloading music for free is a short term gain. The long term damage it’s doing to the broader music community and the message that sends to the grass roots, where the musicians of tomorrow emerge from, should be understood by anyone who enjoys new and exciting music. We need creative risk taking and innovation in music, or else millions of teenagers would still be listening to Doris Day and dancing The Twist. The history of pop music shows us creative risk taking and innovation is carried out in the bedrooms of Manchester, England, the garages of Seattle, the back room of a pub in Melbourne, not in the spotlight glare of a season of X Factor. The mainstream is supported by television and advertising, mainstream artists are offered guest spots on CSI: Miami, or a signature fragrance as part of a cosmetic sponsorship. These aren’t avenues of income a young band from Wagga Wagga can enjoy. So we need to financially support the musicians at the margin, for they are the future of good music.

The final ironic twist is I believe free music is a brief abberration. Everyone but the pirates understand that quality content comes at a price. The internet giants are the new record companies. While music sales have been hammered by illegal downloading, web companies have seized the opportunity to throw desperate musicians a bone in the form of some small income from iTunes, Spotify and the forthcoming ‘cloud’. Most of these services are embryonic, but once they gain some popularity it’ll be in the tech industry’s interests to finally stamp out easily available free music, while encouraging people to access music through paid for services like Spotify and iCloud.

The only difference is that many tech companies have demonstrated they are more ruthless than any record label ever was. Unlike record labels, tech companies aren’t interested in music specifically, the nurturing and development of new artists. They are primarily interested in making money through hardware sales like iPads, or online services like Google and Facebook. They want to supply the most popular, most desirable content, at the lowest price as a way to attract and hold on to loyal customers. Mark Zuckerberg’s recent high profile relaunch of Facebook was centred around the (legal) sharing of music and movies.

It’s in the interest of music fans to financially support the next generation of musicians. The internet corporations demonstrably aren’t, and musicians being normal people, they’ll drift away from music as the daily grind of making innovative music with no reward and no encouragement takesits toll.

Less edgy innovation, but more mainstream commercial pop – that’s the road we are on and that’s bad for music fans.

Rather than online anarchy, a mass exploitation by the many of the few, we the 99% of music consumers need to directly support the 1% of adventurous, young music makers, or we can’t really complain when we end up paying. But we won’t just be paying for our entertainment. We will also be paying in terms of the talent that goes unheard and the groundbreaking music that wont be made. And the ultimate irony is that this time it’s a computer company – not a specialist music company – determining what music we get.

_______________________

See Part 1: “The New Boss is Worse Than the Old Boss

See Part 2: “A Few Misunderstandings

See complete post: “Occupy Artist Rights (Complete)”

The Musican’s POV: Occupy Artist Rights, Part 2–a few misunderstandings

[Part 2 of a 3 part post–“Occupy Artist Rights”]

By Chris Whitten

So let’s briefly look at a few other, shall we say ‘misunderstandings’….

• The new economy for music is in live performance.

Actually, that was the old economy. You earned a little income from selling records, you might also make a bit from playing live, put it all together and most musicians could earn enough to keep playing. The pirate economy removes income from recordings. So in fact, there is no new way of making money, we’ve just taken one income source away.  In addition, the recording is a product in of itself. It isn’t a promotional tool. After Sgt Peppers was released, The Beatles didn’t tour, and yet we can all still enjoy the music today. I was too young to see Jimi Hendrix in concert, but I have always enjoyed listening to Electric Ladyland. In a country like Australia, you often can’t support artists via their shows without literally going the extra mile. If you live in Darwin, even Albury Wadonga, the only way to see most bands is to travel. International acts just don’t play outside the major Metropolitan centres. The easier way to support artist’s output is to buy the record. Records and shows are two equal products with equal creative value. Recordings capture a moment in time. In recordings from ‘Kind Of Blue’ (Miles Davis) to ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ (Nirvana) it’s a moment of magic you can’t replicate in live performance now some of the players are gone. In the end, does anyone suggest actors appear in movies to promote theatre?

• You should play music for love not money.

Yes, but instruments, music lessons and rehearsal spaces don’t come free. And if you want to attain some level of excellence you need to invest a lot of time and money in your music. Besides, why are there all these rules for musicians that don’t apply to anyone else? I’m sure Sam Stosur would play tennis just for grins, but we apparently have no problem with appearance fees and prize money. It’s obvious Tony Abbott would LOVE to be Prime Minister. When he finally achieves that goal should we take away the $260,000 a year he’s enjoyed as opposition leader, pay him nothing and recommend he “have fun”?

If you add the suggestion to play for the love of music, to the suggestion musicians play more shows, the cracks in these theories start to appear. Putting on a show doesn’t come cheap, there are rehearsals, travelling expenses, equipment costs. So are musicians to fund these costs through professional musicianship, or accept the dreaded day job? If like others in society your ambition is to rent or own a home, start a family and provide for your kids, you’ll likely need to get a regular job. The bank manager doesn’t understand “I work only for love”.

The average holiday entitlement in regular employment is four weeks per annum. That hardly meets the demands of modern touring. So the post piracy band would only tour for one month each year, and every band member would have to co-ordinate the same month off. Then work the remaining eleven months without a break. When do they find time to record the album, or shoot the video?

When I toured globally with Dire Straits in 1991, we spent six weeks in Australia alone. You can forget seeing most international acts grace these shores ever again if those acts have to balance the needs of regular employment with their careers in music.

_________________

See Part 1 “Occupy Artist Rights

See Part 3 “The Attack of the Homework Eating Dogs

The Musician’s POV: Occupy Artist Rights, Part 1

By Chris Whitten

[Part 1 of a 3 part post–“Occupy Artist Rights”]

(Copyright in the author, used by permission, all rights reserved)

I’m an independent, self-employed musician.  It’s a risky business. You’re only as good as your last record or gig. There are few long term contracts, no sick leave, no holiday entitlements and nothing in the way of protection against bullying in the workplace, sexual discrimination, or unfair dismissal. Yes, it’s largely a labour of love, with some degree of personal satisfaction, and if you’re one of the lucky ones, some financial reward.

To co-opt the slogan of the recent Occupy movement, we are the 99%.  The 99% of professional musicians who have more in common with ordinary workers than the rock stars portrayed by the media, frittering away their millions like 24-hour party people.

For the last couple of years I’ve been following the piracy debate, especially online. Contrary to what is often claimed, I feel the ‘free music’ movement has succeeded in shouting down the view from actual content creators. Much of the commentary is dominated by technology journalists, or tech industry watchers, but relatively little has been contributed by creative people working in the music industry. Many musicians, especially the young, up-and-coming ones, have stayed out of the debate, leaving music fans not much option but to accept one or two myths and misrepresentations as fact.

The political musician is a thing of the past, it seems. Maybe recent generations of artists are rebelling against their parents who went to Woodstock or Live Aid? What is sure is that musicians understand they need to be liked in order to survive. You build a fanbase, which in turn provides the all-important bums on seats needed to fund the next tour or album recording. So the last thing you want to do is alienate that fanbase. Heck, who wants to be the next Lars Ulrich? Still getting a public kicking eleven years after Metallica triumphed over Napster. As with many things in life, short term gain is popular while the long game is not. Young musicians who ask fans to pay for their music, sometimes even daring to critisise music pirates, are often derided around the blogs and internet music communities.

Let’s be clear about this: in the relationship between musician and music consumer, the musician has no power. Currently the consumer has all the power. Even if they could admit to themselves that non-payment is wrong, who’s going to readily give up all that free music, movies and television with virtually no chance of ever being caught?

The reader comments section of any blog discussing the issue of music piracy makes for depressing reading – at least for professional musicians. The often repeated threat of “price music fairly or we’ll just take it” is made by people who aren’t prepared to work for free themselves, and couldn’t make ends meet if their weekly paypacket fluctuated wildly dependent on how much their employer felt like paying them each week.

The modern mantra is ‘information is free’. Well we pay for our internet service, don’t we? And music isn’t really information, it’s the product of someone working hard to entertain us. In a capitalist system you don’t get to demand entertainment for free. Someone provides a service, and the consumer decides whether they are willing to buy it or not. After the death of capitalism, when we no longer have to pay for our electricity, we can talk about free music.

Another myth is that the music pirate is somehow righting a wrong visited on artists by the major record labels in past decades. Sadly, musicians survive at least in part by selling records. So what we have is an apparent double punishment. You’ve been ripped off by the labels, and now it’s the music fan’s turn to rip you off. Worse still, with the short careers of many artists, we’re supposedly righting some financial wrong done to The Saints by ripping off Wolfmother.

Music artists are grown up enough to look after themselves. As far back as the late 1970’s with the explosion of independent labels and DIY recording, artists have had plenty of acceptable avenues to distribute their work without relying on corporate labels. The reality which rather sinks this pirate ship is the amount of independent and self-released music that is pirated. Do music pirates download music they want to hear, whatever the source, or do they target major label artists only? I personally know people who have written and recorded their own music, paying for the whole thing themselves, only to find it uploaded against their wishes by someone they don’t know for everyone else to share freely.

I have no doubt there are a few idealists, anti-capitalists and ex-hippies who genuinely believe that by file-sharing they are bringing down the corporate music industry. However, the biggest casualties caught in the crossfire are average musicians. Even if they try to do the right thing by the public, eschewing the major label system, pricing their music fairly, giving some music away, they are pirated as readily as the commercial pop manufactured for mass consumption. When Radiohead offered their ‘pay whatever you want’ download of ‘In Rainbows’ there is evidence many still downloaded the album from popular pirate sites. The clear motive then for most is to obtain any music, any time, without having to pay for it.

_____________________

See Part 2: “A Few Misunderstandings

See Part 3: “The Attack of the Homework Eating Dogs