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Music Theft/File Sharing?

rapper ll cool j joined entertainment executives in the music industries law suit against downloaders, to once again demonstrate that a supposed voice of the youth, doesn't understand a generation of change.

downloading appears to be one of those things that gets people all agitated no matter where you sit on the fence. i had a conversation the other day with my friend c., who is a writer, and who refused to believe that downloading was anything but theft. he wasn't limiting his opinion to just music, either: film, writing, whatever an artist once supplied for money, and which could now be moved around without such a transaction, was included. (we had a brief discussion about art as found in paintings. it's interesting how no one thinks an artist should receive money for the copies of his or her art that float around in images and scans, while copies of songs and writing should be. granted, it's not the same thing, but still.)

for me, i don't believe that downloading is theft. i don't believe any of it is, but lets just keep the focus on music, because with other art forms, there are different variations of it. but, if you spend any time online, it will quickly become obvious that downloading music isn't seen as theft, but rather as sharing, in the same way that you make copies of albums, and lend books, though the scale of your friends has changed. (that said, i have lent albums to people i wouldn't call a friend, just as i would allow someone to download a song from an album i bought on a peer to peer system.) it's not hard to see that a culture of sharing of information and property is fundamental to the web, and could indeed be argued as the founding principle behind it. it shouldn't, therefor, come as a surprise that this would be seen as a problem, or indeed, as 'theft' in a capitalist society.

the problem is, however, that net culture views downloading as sharing. the simplest example of this is in the title for it: file sharing. how can it be theft when you're getting a copy from another person? when there is no flashing light, no sensors to skip past, and no monetary value associated? yes, it could be argued that there is a monetary value, but if we take a hard and fast line with that, doesn't that mean that me making a copy of my cd for a friend is just as illegal as file sharing? and where does that place the radio? for years now, we've grown up viewing the radio as a tool where we can discover new music, a venue that is open to us--but clearly, the signal the record companies are sending us, is that the radio is not about music but instead about advertising their music, which is, i think, a fundamental change in opinion to how we view the radio. radio hosts begun, in essence, nothing more than voices that assist the packaging and sale of the object to us, much in the way that infomercials have hosts to sell us the new toaster or skin cream agent.

but, back to the argument of the cool j and his suited business friends: downloading takes money from artists. it is theft. and if it is, then surely what we are looking at here is petty theft? equal to a kid nicking a candy bar in the store, for, assuming we believe such an argument (and i don't, as i will explain later) then the theft that is happening, while on a grand scale, is no different to the thousands of mars bars that are ripped off on a daily basis throughout the world.

but that argument doesn't interest me. it's for someone else to take the pursuit of, because i clearly don't view downloading as theft. and what is more, is that i view downloading as an activity that is primarily indulged in by the youth, of kids between the ages of ten and eighteen.

(and i say this without any research, but there must be a large essence of truth to the statement for giant companies to sue a 12 year old girl for downloading, and say, in the board room to the question of the bad press that would naturally arise from this,

"Fuck it.

"Fuck it, 'cause we'll scare the little fuckers with the big bad whip of the law, we'll scare 'em with LL Cool J's face saying that they're naughty, and we'll sue the kids who have a disposable income of about thirty bucks, cause that's who we've got to stop.")

targeting a base who legally aren't allowed to be employed does not seem to be combating the people who are no longer buying cds. youths primarily get their cash from their parents, and on a general level, don't have the kind of money that allows them to buy a couple of cds a week. (when i was twelve, i would be digesting, through friends, through the radio, and through the tv, music that equaled a couple of cds, easily.) but more than that: it's ridiculous to target this audience. it's ridiculous to punish them because they're downloading because mummy and daddy won't drive them to the mall, or because they don't have the money to buy cds. but more than that, it's clearly ridiculous to target them when it is those people in their twenties to forties who are traditionally thought of as having the keys to the disposable income, are they are the ones who are turning around and saying, "I'm not going to buy this new pop music."

new pop music always aims for the teenager, and it is always traded around by them, but traditionally, it is the twenty to forty bracket who pay for the cds, who give them as gifts, or toss the cash. this is, after all, is the way music was given out to the generation that the thirty five year old ll cool j represents.

but there was no internet back then.

and now, for a new youth culture, music is no longer found--or experienced--through sharing on a face to face basis with you friends, or sitting down to rage at midnight, or on the radio. it's found online, and it's shared with the global community who exist online too. it's not something that can be compared to what has gone before, because the net is new, the net is new culture, new thoughts, and new social practices, and this, i think, is being totally forgotten when people point to file sharing and claim it to be theft.

you know, i began this as a simple thought. look how it got out of control. anyhow, if you read this, and you think some of the arguments are a bit weak, then that could be because they are. it's all off the top of my head. however, if you think this is neat, and you'd like to share it around the net, please, feel free. it's a global community.

Comments

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burntcopper
Oct. 1st, 2003 11:19 am (UTC)
One side of all this is the fact that singles were the primary way that teenagers and kids got new music. They can afford those. In Virgin, we had a fairly simple rule of thumb : kids bought singles with their pocket money, adults bought the albums. Singles are simply a loss leader to get people to buy the albums, and money off singles is actually made by radio play. The only way you make money off singles is when said single goes to the top five and stays there for weeks.

However, since most downloads are single songs, not whole albums - the majority of people that I know who download music download a couple of songs, and if they like that, buy the album. In that way, downloads aren't really affecting album sales. What's paining the record companies is that sales are partially dropping because kids download just the songs they want, rather than saving up for the whole album, and of course they're not begging mum and dad for money for these albums, as they've already got the tracks they want.

Second factor in cd sales downturn : record companies investing huge amounts of money in here today, gone tomorrow pop acts, who barely last an album. It's a genrally acknowledged fact that if you're in a band, you don't really start making money properly until the second album, or if #1 was a mega hit, not just a normal-sized hit/mediocre-did okayish hit like most of the pop albums. Single, single, not very well selling album targeted at an audience reknowned for their short attention span - that's a whole lot of money used on marketing and the like down the drain.
benpeek
Oct. 1st, 2003 05:27 pm (UTC)
totally.

also of consideration with album sales is that, really, the huge boom from the eighties/nineties was not going to continue forever. nothing continually rises--eventually, it'll peak, and then settle downwards as their audience changes. and added to this, is the rise of independent labels who are producing music that has carved off parts of the big industries audience.

the downloading of singles was well noted. forget all about that.

of course, i should add, that for my taste, most big pop albums have all the content of a water cracker these days--pumped through a machine and fronted by girls no older than fifteen, it's hard for me to really get behind that, especially as they talk about their chastity and getting married and all that wholesome trash. where are my drug taking, short life living musicians who would appear drunk on tv shows, and assure everyone that they were brilliant, and everyone was lucky to be here?

but of course, that's simply taste. it's not really part of the argument for downloading. so we can ignore that :)
ashamel
Oct. 1st, 2003 06:40 pm (UTC)
<<but if we take a hard and fast line with that, doesn't that mean that me making a copy of my cd for a friend is just as illegal as file sharing?>>

Well, yes.

<<is that the radio is not about music but instead about advertising their music, which is, i think, a fundamental change in opinion to how we view the radio>>

Radio is there to sell advertising (though on occasion the Government allocates money for stations to get by without advertising). Likewise, record companies put out singles to get played on the radio so people buy the album. That might not be why you listen to radio, but it is why there are radio stations for you to listen to.

I don't think file sharing is one of the big sins of modern life, and the record companies have are hardly bastions of virtue when it comes to the rights of artists. But I still haven't seen an argument that is more than 'I should be able be able to copy music without charge, because I want to'.
benpeek
Oct. 1st, 2003 09:39 pm (UTC)
well, if radio is nothing more than one big advertising medium, why is it that such an issue is raised for the cash for comments thing? surely cash is given for music being played, what difference does it make about the comments said? granted, i agree that this is why radio stations are there, but it's not what, culturally, we like to think radio stations are there for.

i don't think you're ever going to get a reasoning beyond i can, and i want too for file sharing. culturally, it's changed, and we can, and we will. the map of the cultural world relating to this has changed, and new thought has to come out about it. it's no longer enough to answer file sharing with the word of 'stop! it's illegal! buy or fry!' so to say.

(Anonymous)
Oct. 12th, 2003 07:58 am (UTC)
Honestly, sharing music is theft. Music is intellectual property, and just like any other forms of copyrighted IP, unauthorised distribution is akin to theft. Whether music should be published by artists who allow it to be shared is a separate issue (and seems to look at your argument about "getting with the times", culturally speaking). However, the fact still remains - if I create something and want to sell it, I should be able to moderate who gets hold of my work and how.

The flipside is that, if you don't approve of the fees the music companies are charging for CDs, you don't have to listen to the music. However, no one likes the sound of that assertion (pun unintended).

Hey, we all pirate music, but trying to find some moral justification for it is something that's not possible. Music is just like any other form of intellectual property.
benpeek
Oct. 12th, 2003 05:43 pm (UTC)
intellectual property is a strange little beast. you often have to ask the question: does a piece of work, mass marketed, churned through the air, and billed everywhere around you, stop being an intellectual property and become a commodity? because i don't view the cd of a musician to be his or her intellectual property--i view that as the product, the merchandise.

their intellectual property is the musical knowledge, the application of that into turning it into a song. the arrangment of a's and b's and notes accordingly and so on and so forth. this is the intellectual property, and when it is stolen, it is called plagurism, and someone is trying to pass the work off as their own. which is not happening with file sharing.

personally, i'm not trying to morally find a reason for downloading. i don't need it. i'm perfectly happy with the reasons that i do it. however: the cultural climate *has* changed, and the way in which we view downloading/theft and music and even the concept of intellectual property changes with these times. nothing retains the same cultural meaning forever. it's important, i think, to note this. things change, it's the constant in our world.

to answer the question of, if you make a work and you should be able to detail how you want it sold and not, then yes, certainly you do have this point. one could argue that if you were so concerned with the selling of your material and control over its distribution, then you should start your own company, rather than placing your art in the hands of a giant corperation. but that doesn't really answer your point, and in truth, it can't be answered--if musicians don't want their music shared, then it shouldn't be. however, this will not be stopped through the suing of people. it will not be stopped by any court action. it will only be stopped if the cultural change in music listening is properly explored and accepted.

one result of this, could simply be that people will accept the view of the artist. across the net, people frequently take down things of an artist if the artist requests. sure, some don't, but frankly, no one believes that music bootlegging has suddenly come up in the last few years upon the net. (if bootlegging is what you want to call it. since no one makes money out of it, i don't.) the mexican music industry is apparently losing money at an amazing rate due to the bootlegging trade there, which has nothing to do with downloading, but rather a crippled economic system that sees its citizens looking for the cheapest things imaginable.
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