Filesharing (again)

I really am getting to the point where I don’t want to write any more about filesharing, Spotify, Music 2.0 and all the rest of that stuff. It seems to just keep coming up, and keeps having to be addressed, because there still seem to be so many shouty voices clamouring to make the act justifiable, to blame their acts on an altruistic urge to tear down the exploitative hegemony of the record labels and return music to the people. I keep reading opinions (this week, via the comments board on Sam Leith’s article in the Guardian http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/2010/apr/18/sam-leith-downloading-money-spotify) that really seem like nothing other than a desperate and self-serving justification of an act that the perpetrators know is wrong, and are doing simply because they know they can get away with it. Then, on the other side, the music industry comes wading in with an attitude that owes much, in its sensitivity to criticism, to Stalinist Russia. At some point an industry spokesperson is going to have to step up and explain to the public why exactly copyright laws are as they are, why it is the case that a lucky nobody who happens to have written a hit single can live the rest of their life without having to do another day’s work, as well as precisely how seldom  that event occurs. Because until someone explains the reality of the music industry – its vast number of failed projects that have to be funded with the money made by the few successes; the high-risk investment in talent model that is the only viable way to bring an act’s music to an audience larger than 10,000 sales; the very fact that the vast, vast majority of music is made, developed, supported, recorded by, sold by and played by people whose yearly income is less than a traffic warden’s; until someone worthy of the public’s respect gets up and makes the statement that is needed, the public is still going to sit back, thieve music, and justify that theft by pointing to Lady GaGa’s bank balance and shouting about how it’s their right and responsibility to steal the work of others.

Some quotes from the comments board:

I disagree with the author’s statement that, just because you might think record company’s charge too much, it doesn’t make it OK to steal it. Personally, in this case, I think it does. Lady Gaga gets to benefit from the work that the rest of us do for absolutely fuck all compared to what she earns. Why should we not be allowed some entertainment? She’s hardly starving. What’s wrong with the general population deciding that they don’t want to pay more than they can afford to someone who is happy to scrap £2m because she wants to redesign her stage set?

and

Oh no, poor music industry (sob, sob).

As far as I’m concerned, they’re only getting what was coming to them. The fact that suits have run the industry since the 60’s is obvious – music has become a product and blandness rules.

The problem with all of this is that the considered voices are being drowned out by all the shouting from both sides. There is a compelling argument, when made well, that Spotify, LastFM, free downloads and even illegal filesharing can be considered as  valuable and low-cost method of promoting your music. There are those who see the free distribution of music, in its digital form, as justifiable collateral damage in the larger scheme of monetisation – using it all as a taster, to bring people to your gigs, your box-sets, t-shirts, posters, phials of blood, etc. All this stuff needs to be examined properly, with real studies, real statistics, real legislation to make it all fair and accountable. Right now we have a wheelbarrow load of opinions, each supporting the shouter’s point of view, and each as lacking in hard data and objectivity as the other. As @Kalyr put it on Twitter:

Filesharing discussions always degenerate into a dialogue of the deaf between two equal but opposite sides of wrong.

I really wish we could get this sorted out. It would just be nice to have a situation where artists could really use all this lovely new technology to make their music, get it to people who want it, be compensated fairly, and introduce the dignity of transaction into the music business. Because there is a real dignity to paying for something you value too. That applies to everything, not just music. A problem is that the word ‘free’ is such a strong one, that it carries a power of its own.

Just to introduce another quote, the last one before I finish up, here’s Irish judge, Peter Charelton, on the issue of illegal filesharing in Ireland:

“The right to be identified with and to reasonably exploit one’s own original creative endeavour I regard as a human right…. The internet is only a means of communication. It has not rewritten the legal rules of each nation through which it passes. It is not an amorphous extraterrestrial body with an entitlement to norms that run counter to the fundamental principles of human rights. There is nothing in the criminal or civil law which legalises that which is otherwise illegal simply because the transaction takes place over the internet”.

That final quote came from an open press-release. Kalyr is quoted with permission. The other two haven’t replied to my request to publish here, but as they are so strongly in favour of the abolition of intellectual property laws, I feel justified in quoting them anyway, presumably they can take it as well as they can dish it.

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