Tag Archives: piracy

The Internet: land of opportunity or just a different way for musicians to starve?

Sometimes its good to be challenged, to step back and question if your beliefs still hold water.

I recently read a very thought provoking (but VERY long) article from David Lowery of Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker (I seriously love both bands): Meet the New Boss, Worse Than the Old Boss? I don’t agree with all of his points, but I can see where he’s coming from.

Like I said, it’s quite long, but it’s worth reading when you have time. You can skip around a bit and still get the gist of it, which is that the freedom and opportunity many of us thought the Internet would give musicians is not panning out, that tech industry giants — Apple, Google, Amazon, Spotify, etc. — are simply taking on the role that the music industry giants used to, and controlling the flow of content.

Only they actually appear to care even less about musicians than the cynical record executives did. According to Lowery, the potential for a musician to actually earn a living from what he creates seems to be diminishing, not growing. The new gatekeepers seem to want all content to be dirt cheap or free. Never mind that musicians are human beings who have to eat and pay rent. Lowery makes some good points.

I sometimes think of 2002 as a mini-golden age for rock ‘n’ roll. It was a time of discovery for me. I found so many great bands during that time. In part, it’s because I had recently moved into the orbit of KTSW, the excellent college radio station at Texas State University in San Marcos (formerly Southwest Texas State University).

But I also have a pet theory. I think there was a brief period in the early ’00s when the Internet helped independent artists find their audience and actually helped them. After that, the Internet turned into a drain for content and began hurting them, just like the major label artists.

If you had told me that at the time, I would’ve argued. I totally bought into the whole cyberpunk ethos (see my blog post on the subject). Ideas like: information wants to be free, always yield to the hands-on imperative, the street finds its own uses for things. Those ideas, and the sheer potential of computers and the Internet captivated me.

On some level I still believe those things. I enjoy the freedom of expression the Internet gives us and hamfisted attempts to stop copyright violations such as SOPA put that freedom at serious risk. It’s also not cut-and-dried. If you clamp down too hard on that sort of thing, you will eliminate some very creative works. I’ve blogged on that subject before.

But I’ve come to the conclusion that all that “sharing” I defended so hard for so many years, may indeed have been hurting many of my favorite musicians. As someone who works in journalism, I’m also a content creator, and my industry is also struggling because of the Internet. It would be very hypocritical of me to tell musicians to suck it up, when I am facing many of the same challenges.

That doesn’t mean I think we can or should go back to the old model, but it sometimes seems to me that we’ve raised a generation of people to believe that they should never pay for creative content. It would be nice if people who call themselves music fans would show some appreciation and spend a little money on the musicians they say they love. You can’t really call yourself a music lover if you’re OK with the musicians starving or winding up on the street. If we want artists to keep creating, we should throw a little money their way.

I quit trying to download the Internet years ago and now I pay for music when I can. I’m more likely to buy digital files than CDs, but I do buy them. It’s kind of hard to say after I’ve found some music I love and played it a few dozen times that the artist’s digital album is not worth $10 or $15. I’m pinching pennies too, but I can afford that every once in a while.

There are some signs of hope. As Lowery says in his article, Bandcamp and CD Baby appear to operate with artists in mind. They aren’t huge in the scheme of things, but I believe they are helping. Another interesting development is the rise of entities like Patronism and the Eye and the Sky Collective, which curate good music and create a system for fans who want to support and interact with them to do so.

If we can get musicians and music lovers on the same page maybe we can both get what we want: great music for us and the ability to pay rent and put food on the table for the artists.

I would love to get some comments on this subject, especially from musicians.


Filed under commentary

Do you like blogs or social networks like Facebook? SOPA and Protect IP could make them all go away

PROTECT IP Act Breaks The Internet from Fight for the Future on Vimeo.

Have you ever seen a video or image in a forum get taken down because of of a complaint over copyrights? There are probably a few Youtube embeds in this blog that are dead because of that. It’s annoying, but not the end of the world.

What if the copyright complaint didn’t just get the clip taken down? What if it resulted in the entire website being taken down? What if Google and other search engines were legally forbidden from taking you to that website ever again? What if it became illegal for Visa or Mastercard to process any payments to the website? What if putting a video of yourself singing a pop song on the internet became a FELONY, punishible by up to 5 years in jail?

Do you think a social network like Facebook could survive under those conditions? With millions of users, could they afford to risk allowing any of them to post ANYTHING?

That scenario could be imminent, thanks to the lobbying efforts of media companies and organizations like the RIAA and MPAA.

Legislation is being considered in both houses of Congress – SOPA (Stop Internet Piracy) in the House of Representatives and Protect IP in the Senate – that would drastically change the way the Internet works.

Allowing user-based content will become so risky if this becomes law, that the Internet will change into something top-down, more like TV. You’ll get whatever some company decides to give you and like it.

This post on Reddit – one of the popular social networks in danger of being wiped out – has a list of SOPA’s sponsors and a link that makes it easy to send a note to your representative.

And of course using social networks like Facebook and Twitter for political protest would no longer be possible, which I’m sure would suit Congress – now about as unpopular as communism – just fine.

I am embarrassed to say that I kind of let SOPA and Protect IP sneak up on me. I knew something like this was being discussed in congress, but it sounded so ridiculous I didn’t think anything could possibly come of it. Well I was wrong. It’s VERY close to passing right now. Internet businesses like Google, Facebook, Reddit, etc. are pushing hard to stop it, but they kind of got a late start too.

Don’t take this lightly. There was a US House Judicial Committee hearing about this today and they only let ONE person opposed to the bill talk about it. That should give you an idea how much influence the media lobby has.

Here’s an infographic, courtesy of AmericanCensorship.org, showing


Filed under commentary, Uncategorized