So the Canadian government is currently readying new legislation to attack P2P and other copyright-infringing internet practices, even uploading a copyrighted picture to your Facebook account.

Much is made of whether current “illegal” file-sharing practices “steal” money from artists. More and more people seem to have succumbed to this piece of propaganda – that sharing music, movies, and so on is outright theft. Here’s what I find flawed about the whole concept.

First of all, these debates assume that the current model of music publishing is the only way to do things. It seems to me most people forget that the music industry, as it exists today, is younger than even the televsion industry, and not much older than the videogame industry. Nobody said it was going to be a business model that persisted well into the 21st century. RIAA suits have stolen more money from real artists than an army of college geeks armed with iMacs ever could. That they try to drum up sympathy for their own plight by doing the “but think of the poor artists!” routine is disingenuous in the extreme.

Secondly, these people don’t seem to know what “theft” is. Despite what they would like you to think, downloading an MP3 does not “steal” money from the artist. You in no way decreased their personal worth. What you did was download something you may or may not have paid for had another alternative not been available. They report numbers – “x million songs downloaded, which would have been x million dollars spent” – like everyone who downloads a song would have, with 100% certainty, bought the song from them if downloading wasn’t an option. Anyone fond of downloading music knows well that only a small portion of MP3s people download is music they would have bought for sure; 20 years ago, radio play would have been enough to sate your taste for most of them. “Theft”, when discussing intellectual property like a piece of music, means to take it and pass it off as your own, especially for profit. As far as I can tell, the post-Napster age hasn’t increased this sort of theft in slightest.

Now here we come to the fundamental problem. The music industry is glutted with bad music that is extremely popular because it has been carefully selected, the artists carefully groomed, and an image carefully marketed, often to impressionable youth. This is what they’re fighting to preserve, the ability to completely control the industry. Alan Freed must roll in his grave to see so many levels of the entertainment industry integrated in a bid to seduce tweens into buying into the latest craze. Disney grows them on some weird farm, EMI records them, Clear Channel broadcasts them, MTV markets their image, Paramount makes movies starring them, E! chronicles their inevitable descent, and then VH1 does a retrospective special about them. Chewed up and spat out by all this is the “artist”. The gruesome exploitation and eventual complete breakdown of Britney Spears couldn’t exemplify this more.

So what of the real artists? The ones whose music becomes widely popular not because of how it’s marketed, but because it’s good? Radiohead and NIN have already demonstrated that bands with a large fan base can release music for free and still have a lot of people donate reasonable sums of money, but more than that, real music artists have something that MTV and Disney can’t duplicate; the ability to perform live. When the Britney craze was at its peak, it wasn’t her, or any of her imitators, who were making the Forbes 100 Entertainers list; it was bands like Dave Matthews and the Eagles, making tens of millions of dollars by going out on the road and fucking earning it. That’s how musicians have made money for, quite literally, thousands of years; not by being groomed by a patron for stardom, but by hustling their ass for cash.

Of course, Ticketmaster has its own evil industry-gloved hand deep in the mix there creating its own problems, but that’s another blog.

As for the concern from the MPAA about movie file-sharing… I think there they have a tempest in a tea-pot, just as they freaked out in the late 70s with the advent of VCRs. The fact is, the movie industry charges a reasonable price for their product. A CD that cost a few hundred thousand dollars to produce, with a total of 15-20 minutes of music on it people actually want, costs about the same as a 2-hour movie that cost $100 million to make. Or I can rent it for a couple bucks. That’s why so few people I know, most of whom are furious music downloaders, bother with movies.

At any rate, that’s my first blog in awhile. It rambled a bit, it’s not exactly what I wanted to write, but hey, you have to start again somewhere.

Advertisements