Just Who Is Being Dishonest?
Yesterday, I was snooping through the news feed on facebook when I read the status of a friend of mine which stated something along the lines of, “I hate it that people think they can steal music.” About a hundred or more comments followed, many, as is often the case on facebook, by the same three people waging an online argument on someone else’s page. With the public outcry over SOPA and PIPA, the internet has been overloaded with such arguments of late. Many posts key on one or the other side being, ‘dishonest’ in their positions or argument on the use of content on the Internet. For me, this is one of those arguments where it’s hard to figure out who is right. But it’s not hard to figure out who is full of crap.
People on the anti-downloading side are two types of people. First there are artists who often have little to fear from illegal downloading. Which is to say, most of the people who get ripped off on the internet tend to be really popular artists, ones that make a lot of money through legitimate sales of their music. But you rarely hear much from them. The folks I am talking about are usually artists that make their own music, don’t make any money doing it but feel they are making even LESS THAN NOTHING because of the wanton thievery that the Internet encourages.
The other type of regulate-the-interneters are people in the legitimate music and/or movie industry. These people are called, Rights Holders. There is a huge difference between a creator and a Rights Holder. Rights Holder’s are people that own copyrighted material, sometimes through creation but often through purchase, contract, licensing or some other method. It’s these Rights Holders that are pissed off and are looking to control the way their property is being used. What is dishonest about their position is that they often invoke words like ‘creators’ and ‘artists’ when describing who kids are hurting when they listen to a song on youtube instead of heading to HMV to buy the CD. Let me be clear about something. No one at a record company gives a pony’s ass whether any creator, musician or writer, artist, whatever you want to call them makes a single penny. That’s really none of their business. That is neither a bad thing or a good thing, it’s an IS thing. Companies are beholden to their shareholders, they are not benevolent societies. They are in this business to make money, otherwise, they cannot exist. If they make more money and the artist makes less money, that’s a good thing in their world. That’s completely fine with me. Just don’t bullshit the public about what your true motives are.
In many instances, the rights holders claims are based on things that would make most fair people ponder. Disney makes movies based on stories in the public domain and then copyrights their new versions. Hundreds of blues and folk songs have been remade by rock bands who now have the copyright for those songs. A guy like Clyde Stubblefield who invented the drum beat for Funky Drummer, arguably the most sampled beat is history has never made a dime off of any of those uses. See, he is not the rights holder of that beat, the estate of James Brown and his record company are. No one gives a crap about Clyde Stubblefields rights as a creator. In this argument, he has no rights.
Furthermore, the music industry has taken great advantage of the internet when it has suited their purposes. They’ve pretty much given up on artist development, promotion and marketing since the bands can all do that themselves. Artists can shoot their own videos and upload them to Youtube, use facebook, Reverbnation, Soundcloud etc to spread the word about their band and their music. I often wonder if one of these draconian bills every passed would record companies hire back all the staff they laid off and start making 100.000 dollar videos again or would they say, “Oh, shit-we kind of had a good thing going there.”
In terms of the technologists, the other side in this argument, these people regularly show a complete and utter contempt for content providers. Their stance is that all writers, musicians, filmmakers etc should provide their content for free and the technologists and their websites should make all the money. These people feel that if someone interferes with them being able to make money off of free content that free speech is jeopardized. (This is a complex argument, one for a lawyer not for someone like me). They also vilify the rights holders and say they are greedy and controlling when the fact is the technologists are worse. In their arrogance, what they don’t understand is that, without content, our computer screens are either blank, say ‘page not found’ or at best are sophisticated postal delivery systems. The world would turn to texting in order to communicate and the personal computer would go the way of the Betamax. There are probably 1000 people world-wide who give a crap about people who write code. There are billions of people who care about someone who writes a great song or great story or makes a hilarious video of their drunk Dad. THAT is the internet.
The saddest part of this debate is that it’s been going on for well over 10 years and we are no closer to a meaningful solution now than when Napster first appeared. I definitely don’t want to come off as some smug know it all because I really don’t know anything when it comes to this and i sure don’t have the answer. What I do know is that things can’t go back to the old rules and there certainly shouldn’t continue to be no rules. I do feel the terms of the debate need to change. Maybe we need someone more impartial to figure this out, someone who’s not directly connected to either camp. Who would that be?