I got an email today from Jim Urie, President of NARM (National Association of Recording Merchandisers) reminding me of his primary mission for 2010 regarding intellectual property and ISP involvement. At the recent awards dinner he made a keynote speech entitled “Call To Action“. The thrust was that the government (!) needs to intervene in the war on piracy before all is lost, because people are sharing music illegally.
Urie (also the head of Universal Music Group) is seeking a viral marketing campaign to bring the issue to the attention of our elected representatives to force cooperation from Internet Service Providers, a tactic which he says has worked in other countries to reverse the trend. From his email:
“The music business is facing huge challenges from piracy and theft. Never before in American history has an entire industry been so decimated by illegal behavior. Yet the government has not responded in a meaningful way to help us address this crisis. My call to action is for all of us to become more aggressive in lobbying our government, more outspoken in drawing attention to the problems caused by piracy and more actively engaged. We cannot win this fight alone.”
I have mixed emotions about this issue. On one side, the record industry could have done the right thing all along – like any sane business – and by anticipating the future and changing with the times. But they stubbornly held on to their antiquated sales model years after its atomic half-life expired, and even when blatant warning flags like Napster came along to wake them from their slumber, they just didn’t get it.
First it was the loyal mom and pop shops who took the hit. Few at the top of the record company foodchain gave a shit, because they were concerned with their mega-chains and their superstar artists and keeping their hand in your wallet 24/7. But when seismic shifts happened – like Tower Records collapsing – then and only then did the movers and shakers start to admit that change was evident.
It’s 2010…Tower filed for bankruptcy in 2004 and closed in 2006.
So much for preemptive strikes; even Tower’s demise didn’t force the issue. The barn door has been open for years and years and I’m not even certain the horses are still in view. Had they not been so greedy and foolish, we wouldn’t be having this exchange today.
Ten years ago Kodak was still stubbornly insisting that digital photography was a fad and that film cameras would be around forever. That egregious decision almost sunk a billion dollar corporation; what was a seventy dollar stock price in 2000 now hovers at five. They will survive, but they’ll probably never recover from the failure to act.
Maybe I’d feel more sympathetic towards the music industry if I didn’t witness so many labels treating artists like cattle, failing to reinvest their huge profits into artist development and coddling flavors of the moment instead of nurturing long-term relationships. Tend the fire? They couldn’t even keep the kindling lit. They support gougers like Ticketmaster. They support the monopolies of national promoters because they are also a monopoly.
Now they’re drowning. Think Ticketmaster or Live Nation gives a shit?
On the other side, I am acquainted with a lot of people who are musicians and artists who are watching their product get stolen (and in some cases sold for money they have no share in). I know writers and publicists who lost their jobs. I know many record stores that aren’t there anymore.
And as much as I can blame shitty radio or the drive to satisfy tweens or the myriad of other ways to spend an entertainment dollar, the fact remains that a large part of their potential income is lost because people take their art and give it away without their permission. Put as much lipstick on that pig that you want, but that is called theft.
And I realize that a lot of those people getting that free music would never have paid for it; they only got it because it was free. That’s not the point. And if you try to sell me the idea that attainability is possession, I’ll respond with a hearty fuck you – just because you can grab something does not mean it belongs to you. If possession was ownership, there would be no shoplifting, no breaking and entering, no kidnapping, no grand larceny. I’m not trying to equate file sharing with kidnapping, but the premise is the same – someone taking what they want without concern for anything but their own gain.
I’m all for the availability of music, but I firmly believe that the only person who decides what price you should pay is the owner of that music. And more and more often these days, that’s the artist, not the record company. But even as assholic as the record companies have proven to be, if they legally own the music, it belongs to them. Let the paradigm change as artists discover they can do it better on their own rather than have a large faceless corporation bury them in a financial blizzard.
It’s a simple fact that a musician selling CDs on CD Baby can reap five to fifty times the royalty rate they would get on a major label deal. An independent artist with controlled overhead and fiscal sanity could sell a thousand albums and make a living. Try doing that on a major label.
So you can see why I’m divided on this issue. On one hand I’m disgusted that the record industry waited long after an appropriate time to try to resolve the issue fairly; they banked on the fact that the tide would come back in and everything would return to normal. On the other hand…theft is theft.
So check out the links below and make up your own mind. Maybe you’ll sign a petition. Maybe you’ll patronize the artists instead of the torrent sites. Maybe you won’t do anything.
In the end it is your conscience and your wallet. Do the right thing.
Music United website