Thursday, November 15, 2007

Love music, don't steal it

So, let’s say you’re into woodworking.

Not back-porch whittling, but carefully designed, completely unique, seven-grades-of-sandpaper, weeks-to-complete, beautifully inlaid woodworking. And let’s say your work becomes so popular among your friends and family that you decide to try selling it online. And let’s say one day not long after that you go out to your workshop to finish up that $2000 solid oak custom-engraved headboard you’ve been working on, and you discover that you’ve been cleaned out. There is not one single scrap of wood left anywhere in your 1,000 square-foot workshop.

To add insult to injury, you soon learn the thieves are getting rid of your work online -- not by selling it, though. They’re giving it away, and making their money on the banner ads they can sell based on their site’s high traffic – “Hey everyone, come get (someone else’s) free stuff!” They have stolen your livelihood from you, and now they’re making money by giving it away to people who might have been your paying customers, who might have supported your effort to make a living doing what you do the best and love the most. Who might have made you that rare species, a working artist.

Does this scenario make you angry? Do you feel like the woodworker is getting screwed? Do you think the thieves deserve to go to jail? Do you think the people who take the fruits of the woodworker’s hard labor for free rather than paying for it -- just because they can -- should be ashamed of themselves?

Welcome to the wonderful world of peer-to-peer file sharing. And welcome to one of the biggest generation gaps in society today.

I am old-school, I admit it. I bought vinyl for 15 years before I laid hands on my first CD and didn’t bother learning how to burn my own mixes until just last year. The technology is undeniably cool.

But the technology is killing the art form I love the most: popular music.

I’ve heard all the arguments – we’ve had most of them already on The Daily Vault’s e-mail discussion list, where the line of demarcation is pretty clear.

If you’re under 25, you most likely think of file sharing as part of the landscape, as institutionalized and expected as the post office delivering snail mail. To many of you, music has always been free and always should be.

If you’re over 25, you most likely fall into one of two categories: the queasy advantage-takers or the moralistic iconoclasts. Queasy advantage-takers sense on an instinctual level that there is something bad about file sharing -- but it’s so damn easy and everybody’s doing it and you get all this free stuff! Woo-hoo!

Moralistic iconoclasts sit around and lecture people and are typically ignored because, let’s face it, nobody likes to get lectured.

I don’t want to lecture. I just want to make three quick points:

File sharing is not free. File sharing deprives artists of income. The cost of file sharing is less artists making less music. It’s that simple.

File sharing is stealing. It’s only “giving it away” if the owner is doing the giving. If your neighbor gives you his old hammer, that’s giving. If some guy walking down your street hands you an old hammer that turns out to be your neighbor’s, that’s receiving stolen property.

Stealing is wrong. It’s a sign of how disorienting new technology is that this one is even necessary. But it seems that it is. Stealing is not a victimless crime. It harms other human beings. Don’t do it.

Ah, but there’s one further rationalization people use to justify stealing music: file sharing is a great way to stick it to The Man. This might be true if file sharing only harmed big corporate music labels. But it doesn’t. File sharing harms real people, actual individual artists.

If you think that by downloading music for free you’re sticking it to The Man, you are sadly mistaken. Because about 95% of the time, either you’re sticking it to the independent musicians who The Man hasn’t even noticed yet, or you’re sticking it to the aging musicians who already got screwed by The Man twenty-five years ago.

You’re sticking it to the good guys, and you’re deluding yourself if you believe otherwise.

If you still believe that I just don’t get it, and that file sharing doesn’t do real artists real harm, then maybe, just maybe, I can convince you not to take my word for it, and instead to read the July 13 entry on my friend Mark Doyon’s blog. Mark is a true d-i-y artist, the real-life self-employed singer-songwriter-label manager-distributor-promoter-marketing communications dude in charge of Wampus Multimedia (not to mention his band Arms Of Kismet). He is incredibly talented and incredibly hard-working. And if we continue on the path we’re currently on with virtually unlimited file sharing, we’re going to drive him and the independent musicians whose work he promotes out of business. We are going to rob them of their livelihood, and take away their ability to do what they do the best and love the most.

Do you really want that on your conscience?

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