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March 22, 2004 | by  | in Features |
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Head to Head :: Sue Me!

Pirating music fucks Metallica off. What more reason do you need? Seriously, though, artists and fans have lost control of music. The power is in the hands of a small number of corporations that overcharge you for everything, keep most of the profits for themselves, force artists into unfair contracts and barrage the mainstream media with karaoke Idol stars and other made-to-sell bullshit. Artistic freedom has succumbed to big business, to which music is little more than intellectual property that must be aggressively protected.

Online sharing is a way of fighting back. It’s a way of discovering new music rather than having it selectively shoved down our throats. It’s a way of getting only the songs you want when most of an album is filler, and not paying an arm and a leg for it when the majority of the profits are kept from the artists. It’s also a way to help artists spread their music and gain exposure cheaply and easily – something that NZ bands need desperately. My friends and family back in Canada are cranking Goodshirt’s Fiji Baby at parties, giving a good Kiwi band the exposure that they deserve, even though you won’t likely see their album in retail. The catch is that sharing music makes you a criminal. Hell, it probably makes you a terrorist, too.

What irritates the recording industry is that it loses about six billion dollars a year to the activity, mostly from peer-to-peer services like KaZaA. Who’s it hurting most? The reality is that profits get divided in a way that puts around eighty-five to ninety percent in the pockets of the corporate body. Most artists don’t come close to making a living on album sales, and the few who do won’t miss the money. Britney will still get her vacation home in Malibu and Lars will still get his gold-plated diapers, so everything’s alright. The record companies, most of which are backed by one of the five major media conglomerates (Sony, BMG, EMI, Warner, Universal), won’t go bankrupt anytime soon, either. Put a big enough dent in their profit margins for a long enough period of time, though, and you’ll force them to change their policies. For now, they’re throwing their toys – alienating consumers by suing thousands of online users for upwards of millions of dollars. And when they’re not busy threatening 12-year old girls, they put out those bizarre copy-controlled CDs that are laughably easy to circumvent yet fail when you try to use them for so-called legitimate purposes. Merely inserting Blur’s Think Tank into my laptop causes it to spiral into a fiery crash of death, and the new Goodshirt CD says something about it possibly not playing in car stereos. Thanks for that, EMI.

Copy-controlled CDs also hinder consumers from ripping music for use in personal devices, such as portable mp3 players. Is anyone questioning the legality of that? Does anyone see the contradiction and irony in having Sony legally collecting huge profits off its MP3 players, while Sony Music fights bitterly to seize people’s MP3 collections? Trying to contain sharing without changing any of the policies that drive people to pirate music in the first place will get them nowhere. A fair compromise would be to keep the online distribution model but to fairly compensate artists and studios for their work and give artists more control over their music. The major labels’ own attempts (MusicNet and PressPlay) failed miserably because they offered limited selections at inflated prices with over-restrictive policies. Steve Jobs (CEO of Apple) managed to convince them that they were going at it ass-backwards. Apple’s iTunes Music Store, which sells individual songs for ninety nine cents and places little restriction on the user, is the most popular legal music service. It’s not good enough, though; Apple barely breaks even on it, and it’s more concerned with attracting consumers to its iPod portable music player. But it’s not KaZaA that’s hindering iTunes from turning a profit: it’s the recording industry, which eats up about fifty percent of sales. Without its iPod business, Apple’s service could hardly support itself. Napster 2.0, iTunes’ closest rival, which relies solely on the sale of music, is facing resigning board members, a tumbling stock price and only losses to show for itself. Clearly, we’re not there yet. The record industry will slowly make concessions, albeit while kicking and screaming, and we might eventually reach a point at which both sides are happy. In the meantime, keep pissing Metallica off.

Right of Reply by James Robinson

My counterpart in a way reinforces my point – yet to me shows a lack of understanding. He says that the only people who can make a living from album sales are the people who will not miss the money from burning. Damn straight! Yet these people will be the only ones making music in about 20 years if piracy is not stopped and controlled. These artists are a fraction of total musicians – a small fraction – and to damn the other artists for being tied up with the same organisation is callous. One in five releases makes money nowadays – and to use that as an excuse to burn is odd logic. Sure, the big corporations get rich but how is that new? Labels have been getting filthy rich off other people’s work for a very long time now, which is no excuse to reduce the artists to obsolescence. As for online downloading – if the correct research was done you’d discover that free downloading is increasingly a thing of the past.

As much as it pains me to say, Metallica were pissed off because they were right. And they won. And downloading and burning is not the only way to discover music and spread the word. Go to Real Groovy, listen to an album. Look on the Internet for info, read Rolling Stone, Q – the Internet is not the only way. Hell, you could even buy a copy of an album! Send a bought copy of the Goodshirt album to your Canadian friends that love it so much – and maybe, just maybe Goodshirt will make another one for your enjoyment.

If we continue to rip off the artists we love – they will not be around for too much longer. Plain and simple.

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