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March 22, 2004 | by  | in Features |
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Head to Head :: Why do we commit the crime when we love the victim?

Stop kidding yourself – music piracy is not a victimless crime. It may be easy to get away with, and a hell of a lot cheaper, but it hurts the artists that you love. So what? All the artists are mega, mega millionaires anyway – one copy won’t hurt. YES IT WILL!

First, piracy makes you a criminal. The copyright on every CD gives the artists unequivocal say on the distribution of their music and when you violate that by copying you have already crossed the law. CD copying and distribution of copies may not be such a problem in New Zealand, where copying makes up for under 10% of CD sales, but take a country like Hungary – where over 50% of music sold is pirated – and this is severely damaging, as well as criminal and extremely hard to police. We are all part of the problem.

The artist is the next to suffer. The biggest misconception about burning is this: If I burn Eminem (one of the most widely pirated artists) he is going to go multi-platinum so how can this hurt him? Well – if you burn a copy of Eminem, you are stealing from Universal music and for every less copy of Eminem sold in New Zealand, that is less money for our local branch of Universal Music, giving them less money to invest in local artists such as Elemeno P. If they have less to spend that means fewer new artists are invested in, and record companies will rely on bankable big sellers such as K’Lee and other like-minded, rather crap local artists for their revenue. So burning a big name overseas band hurts the small time local bands too. With a drop in investment in new artists worldwide, we have a larger amount of music covering a small, crappy range. All over the world labels turn to disposable and shitty pop artists. Again YOU lose.

But what about the artist? The poor artist whose copyright you pillage. We love these musicians, we sticker our walls and our hearts with their posters, yet we steal from the copyright designed to protect the very genius that we love. The thing about the majority of artists we adore is that they are not that rich. In fact, the majority of New Zealand artists barely subsist and the same goes for a lot of American artists as well.

When I spoke to Dave Gibson from Elemeno P after their Orientation show, he had been on the road for eight months since their CD was released to make enough money to have a break – even though they went double platinum. Often artists don’t make a hell of a lot of money from music sales, sometimes as little as a dollar an album. Album sales have to pay for music videos and publicity, as well as recoup the advance an artist was given on an album. Even well regarded artists such as Björk and Michael Franti who commonly sell between 500,000 and 800,000 copies worldwide per album, have told of being in debt with their record company after albums. So when you burn an album, you worsen the plight of the artist. Artists you love! People who say CD burning is a victimless crime are wankers, because the victims are the Bjorks and the Frantis and the Elemeno Ps – bands filled with people who already work bloody hard to make a living and as well as that they now have to fight against a war we are creating. Sure there are the Avrils and the J. Los, but if we keep on burning these may be the only artists that survive.

KaZaA and Napster anyone? Let’s download off the net, since we shouldn’t burn. It’s just as illegal and just as damaging. I know we all wanted Napster to win but they got their ass kicked for a reason: they were breaking the law. Thankfully, file sharing is easier to police – with the arrest of 8 Western Australian students last year for having mp3s in their computer files is an example of this. They were forced to pay over $800,000 each for the copyrights they had stolen. Record companies have set up pay-per-listen systems with artists permissions. KaZaA and Napster charge now. Free P2P is soon to be a thing of the past.

Buying music rules. The giddy rush of buying a hummer of an album makes me happy. Maybe I’m a minority and the only one who cares anymore, but for your sake and mine – I hope not!

Right of Reply by Amnon Ben Or

Quick — someone get me a report on music copyright laws; I want to wipe my ass with it. This article has missed the point. Arguing for the side of the law on the mere basis that it is the law isn’t very constructive because of the inherent assumption that the law is just. If James had, instead, examined music and digital copyright laws and explained why he thinks they are fair (instead of simply stating that it’s wrong to pirate music because “it makes you a criminal”), I could offer a more intelligent counterargument. Sometimes, unjust laws are broken in order to incite change – laws that don’t protect the “[geniuses] that we love”, but the businessmen who exploit them. The article also states, as plain fact, that “artists [have] unequivocal say on the distribution of their music“, which is, of course, completely and utterly false. I urge James to better research recording and distribution contracts. Much of the rest of the piece is devoted to explaining the realities of a problematic industry, ignoring these problems by passing them off as facts of life, and then arguing that piracy makes a shitty situation worse. For example: rather than question the reasons Elemeno P isn’t in a stable financial situation, James instead argues that, if we pirate music, we’re certainly not improving things for them. I feel that, instead of pointing the blame squarely at the consumer, the article should at least attempt to investigate the record companies’ practices, even if they happen to operate within the framework of the law. Oh, well. In a somewhat funny twist of propaganda, we’re also to believe that the corporate assault on us of junk-pop is tied in any way to music piracy, and that it’s a triumph for law enforcement that some poor Australian kids are in a multi-million dollar debt for life because they listened to an MP3. That’s just terrible.

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About the Author ()

James Robinson is a university dropout turned journalist who likes to pretend he has an honours degree. Turn ons include soup, scarfs, a hot bath and some FM-smooth Kenny G-esque instrumental jazz. Turn offs include student politicians, the homeless, and people who pronounce it supposebly.

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