There’s currently a web-protest going on about a law in New Zealand – the Guilt Upon Accusation law ‘Section 92A’ that calls for internet disconnection based on accusations of copyright infringement without a trial and without any evidence held up to court scrutiny. This law is due to go into effect on February 28th of this year.

Here’s an excerpt of the actual text of the law:

“An internet service provider must adopt and reasonably implement a policy that provides for termination, in appropriate circumstances, of the account with that Internet service provider of a repeat infringer.

… repeat infringer means a person who repeatedly infringes the copyright in a work by using one or more of the Internet services of the Internet service provider to do a restricted act without the consent of the copyright owner.”

I’d post the whole thing here, but not one of the protesting organizations I’ve found has actually seen fit to do that.

I understand the idea behind this protest, and think the law is silly on its face, as no ISP is going to be able to properly enforce it.

The protest itself consists of blacking out one’s twitter or facebook icon, and / or sending a letter of protest.

Typical of these kind of protests – none of these artist or listener communities is acting – approaching the lawmakers and saying “yes, we value art, but we value our freedom too.  Let’s figure out a way to jointly do both.”

But they’re sure complaining a lot.  And uploading black icons.

Problem is… as easy and as popular as it is to make the argument that this is just the greedy entertainment industry wanting to wring every possible dollar our of the poor working stiff, and using the government to do it, it’s happening for a reason.

“I am limewiring and bit torrenting today.”– a quote from a twitter post

It would be easy to look at the above quote, be a smartass and say “well, maybe they’re uploading some of their original artwork for their friends” – but everone knows clearly what this quote means.  This person is either downloading or uploading music and/or movies that they have no rights to.

I’m not going to address movies, because I’m not involved with them.

But those of us who create music pay for it.  I mean we pay to make music.  We pay with the time and effort taken from our lives, with the money it takes to get the gear necessary to make the music, or pay someone else to record it… we pay when we nourish ourselves so we can make art in the first place.

And every time someone casually downloads an album or a track… they are taking food out of someone’s mouth.

In the past 6 months, I know of at least two independent artists who have found their releases bittorrented.  Internet-savvy readers might reply “So what?”.  Well, for every one of those torrents that get downloaded, there’s  anywhere from 4 to 14 dollars that is being directly taken out of the pocket of the independent artist.

And lest someone wants to argue the point – it’s pretty simple. Unless the artist is giving it away – it’s something the indie artist is SELLING.  And if you’re not paying for it – it is theft, pure and simple – no matter how commonplace it is for people to do.

It’s a wonderful world.

There is a veritable Greek chorus out there chanting “it’s a wonderful, limitless digital world out there for an indie musician!!!!”  I couldn’t agree more – not only from the perspective of methods of distribution, but also in collaboration between artists, and in communication between artists and their audiences.  All wonderful, empowering things.

(One particularly bright light here – podcasters.  I’ve found that podcasters in general have a very healthy respect for the work of the artists they play, and make a point of encouraging listeners to go buy the music they’re being treated to, both in the ‘cast, and through links on their sites.  To those podcasters – a big thumbs-up, and gratitude to boot. I make it a point of linking to every ‘netcast that plays my stuff – on every page of my website.)

But along with this world comes dozens of methods for listeners to stream music, make playlists, send links to songs for others to listen to – all with zero revenue generation for the artists who created the work in the first place.  Critics argue that these invariably lead to sales of digital tracks and/or CD’s.  I say, prove it.  I challenge anyone with a Blip account to send me the receipts for all the digital music they bought to match the blips they blipped, and I’ll shut up.

And full disclosure:  I had a Blip account, and used it.  Not often, but I did.  ‘Til it occurred to me what I was participating in.   And I cancelled my Blip account.  I had, in fact, uploaded one of the tracks from my New Eye album to Blip – thinking that it might be a good idea promotionally.  No spike in any sales – but oddly enough, over the ensuing two or three months, someone uploaded more tracks from my album to Blip.    And every Blip of those tracks is potentially a lost iTunes or Amazon sale.

Now an alternate argument being made as of late is that indie artists should just expect little or no revenue from recorded music at all… that they should instead give away their music for free, then go out and play live and sell merchandise to make the money back. This falls apart when one looks at local music scenes and sees how attendance has dropped.  (Not to mention the fact that there are those of us who are just recording artists.)

In essence, this argument is saying that we should just accept the idea that people are going to fileshare.  That recording artists should have no expectation of revenue from recorded works at all.

And yes – one can always find exceptions, where a handful of indie artists are making tens of thousands or even millions.  But they are the exceptions to the rule.  And advising someone of those exceptions is not unlike telling someone who’s subject to racism to “just look at Colin Powell”.

And I find equal problem with the “Look at Nine Inch Nails or Radiohead” arguments, too.  Easy to ignore that they had the benefit of the old system to build a fan base of millions, and then jumped over to this realm – where an established fan base makes the difference between success and failure – including taking it live to generate revenue.

Intellectual property vs. nourishment.

It’s very easy to look at music as simple intellectual property.  But I believe that people are nourished by it, in no less important a way than they are nourished by food.  Someone once said that if you wanted to get people to start appreciating music again,  all you’d have to do is just remove all music from the world for one day, and see how fast people miss it.  I believe that people use Blip, etc. because they need music in their lives.

But as a general rule, the conversation about music downloading and sharing centers around intellectual property and the law.

My beliefs aside… this issue is not simply a matter of law.  People’s lives are affected by filesharing – you can ignore it if you wish, but when you download something that doesn’t belong to you, someone is being affected by it.

Now I don’t record for the money.  Never have.  I write and record because I love to do it.  And when I choose to give away tracks, as I have in the past, and will in the future, I’m happy to have people download them, listen to them, and share them until the cows come home.  And if I’m very, very fortunate, those tracks will in some way enrich someone’s life.

I have always maintained that I am deeply touched when people listen to what I write and record…. especially when they are touched by it.  That is, in and of itself, a form of income for me – and I am tremendously thankful for it.

But when myself, or any other artist for that matter, goes to the trouble of writing, recording and mixing a whole album, creating artwork to accompany it, paying for duplication or for digital distribution – this is more than simply sitting down and playing a song… this is creating an experience for you (and I), the listeners.  Yes, I’m a listener too.

And lest you think that making an album is as simple as getting a group of people into a room, recording for a couple of days, taking a day to mix and then burning CD’s or making MP3 files, think again.  For me at least, creating recorded music is a painstaking process that can take as much as 100 hours for a single song, depending on its complexity.

Don’t the bastard filesharers know i have to eat? just found all the eps in their totality being given away..!

The above quote from an independent artist who, to honor those who pre-ordered her album, had just finished hand-ribboning 500 CD’s for them. This after paying for the masters at Abbey Road, mind you.

You say you love music?  Me too. I say back it up. If you love something enough to continually download it into your life, then give the creators of it a little respect.  They went to the trouble of making it.  Go to the trouble of buying it.  That’s how you keep good art flowing… by supporting it.

The organization I linked to at the beginning of this post – creativefreedom – says that  “The Creative Freedom Foundation advocates on behalf of artists whose creative freedom is affected by major Governmental decisions made in their name, and in the name of protecting creativity.”

Well – here are their stated goals (paraphrased):

1. Lose the dopey NZ law

2. Remove Digital Rights Management  (DRM) from digital releases

3.  Stop government snooping on internet usage

Now I completely understand these goals, but fail to understand how in any way they either advocate for artists or their creative freedom.  Seems to me that each of these goals is aimed squarely at the rights of individuals to share files.  Period.

I understand how boneheaded the NZ law is.  But if people weren’t freely trafficking in content that didn’t belong to them, it wouldn’t exist.

So change that.  This is your society.  Work with the lawmakers on behalf of artists, to come up with sensible solutions.  Work to support the artists who’s work you enjoy on an everyday basis.  Find and use online services that include revenue sharing to the artists.

Honor the positive impact that music has on your life, and the creators of that music.

You can start by simply not downloading what’s not yours.

Then go get the boneheaded laws changed.

One final thought:

To those of you who DO buy music, on or off the web… thank you.  It means a tremendous amount.

3 replies
  1. Ben Lazar
    Ben Lazar says:

    Mark, your piece is well thought out and articulate. But I’m not sure what the point of it is. The whole “people need/should/ought to pay for music” argument seems to have left the station a while back. Recorded music – easily downloaded, copied, endlessly and perfectly reproduced – is hurtling towards free. In ten years, with increased computer power, faster d’l’ing speeds, more storage, etc., it will be even more so. Even if the government got involved, there’d be plenty of ways around it. Ever get together with friends with a new external hard drive and a computer? You can get hundreds of gigs of music in a short period of time – with no Internet connection required.

    Should artists get paid from their recordings? Sure – but the word “should” has very little relationship to the reality of this situation. What is – music being free for many – is. And I say this as a former major label exec who watched his job get eliminated in the wake of the collapse of the labels. I don’t know what the answer is…but it sure seems to me like there is no answer.

    Reply
  2. dariadij
    dariadij says:

    I enjoy reading your posts, I get the grieving and the concern for a way to resolve the need for financial support for art. But I have to agree with the above post; “the train has left the station”. The question is not where is it going, but who is on board. I am absolutely certain that anyone under twenty-five is on the train and taking the ride. I am fearlessly going to try to apply some out of the box thinking to something that is frozen here. Art has been around a long time and has had a lot of methods for financing itself. Some good and some not so good. Go back to the Medici family sponsoring artists and Bach trying to find a sponsor. The history book of music does not start with Elvis, it has been writing itself for a thousand years. Time and time again, artists have struggled for both recognition and the financing it offered.The best of times came to music in the last century; the only one we lived through, but only for those who made it onto that very small train. In the last century, only a limited number of great artists got record contracts, music actually dwindled away because it was commercially successful for only a few. Garage bands lasted until the end of the artists teens and then they moved on to the “real job”. The majority of the Les Paul guitars, were collecting dust while millions of unsung artists, who did not get record contracts retired from music to the day job. But today the internet and home recording on a laptop with a few inexpensive attachments have opened up the field of music to literally millions of artists worldwide. We have billions of potential listeners. They are not limited to only a few dozen artists who made onto Billboard’s top hundred songs. This is a big, big change. So much music is now playing that I, for one, cannot even keep track of all the directions music is moving in. I hear Indian instrumentals meshed with Elvis sounding lyrics and I can actually listen to “House” music without cringing. It is as if the phenomes of all the worlds languages are becoming audible to my previously unexposed ear. Suddenly, I am not limited to only English. I am not sure if I am saying this correctly and I do not want to discount the plight of the recording artists. But the talkies came and the Rudolf Valentinos became classics. In the sixties,Rock enboldened a generation and classical orchestras could not draw an audience at the Lincoln Center. Music is all about change, the thing that Rock and Roll and the music of the Elvis, The Beatles and Rolling Stones embrassed was change. Now is the time to find the next big thing and it will be so big that we cannot even concieve of it. Every generation is trapped in the lifestyle that it grew up in. And only a very few of the living can continue as they mature to move into the future open to the change of the next generation for whom reality is today. You are one of them, you made this web site .. give it a chance .. what it is; it is .. and one thing I know; “Things will change” that is the joy of living. Being alive is appreciating that every new day will open with a greater potential than the one before. And so this new day of the internet will fulfill its promise to reach into every corner of the world and unite and invent. I hope that I am not in any way minimizing the devastation to the way things have been done in the past; but the beauty of my son hearing all the music made when I was a kid and eating it up is inescapable. He does not download free music, he is forbidden, but he has heard almost every song I grew up with thanks to the internet and to be honest, when we were his age; we had no such library of the music happening in St Louis or New Orleans or Harlem, that was truely great, but never recorded because it was not commercially profitable. We have no recordings of the music of the classical artists of the thirteenth century; we have only notes on a page. Today there is no reason for any music to be lost, all music can be recorded by the original artist and shared for generations. How this will feed my son, I have no idea, but I am encouraging him 100% to stick with his passion and not give in to fear that he will not make a living. I know in my heart that if it is his passion, he will succeed. He will feel successful. I am telling you the same thing. Keep the faith, be confident that as one door closes another opens.

    Reply
  3. MM
    MM says:

    Daria-

    Good morning – and WOW. Thanks for such a well thought out and hopeful response.

    I appreciate your thoughts – and anyone who knows me will tell you that I am, by nature, a positive and hopeful person… and that I can see the good side in any situation. This one is no exception – there are, as you so eloquently said, wonderful things about the technology available to us, both as artists and lovers of art. (And kudos to you for your stance on downloading with your son.)

    I am, as you can see, embracing the opportunity with both arms. 🙂

    But most importantly – you honor art…which I guess was the point of my post in the first place.

    I think what set me off more than anything was the cavalier way it was all being talked about – that somewhere in the mix, people were forgetting that at the heart of this, someone was creating… and that this was being taken for granted.

    I will be making art in one form or another right up to my last breath. Not because of income, but because it’s what I was born to do.

    Lastly – a huge part of my love of music came from my Mom – who played music in the house all the time, and loved it. Awesome for your kid that you have such a love, and are exposing him to it all. Good for you – even better for him! 🙂

    Thanks again and again.

    xoxo

    M.

    Reply

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