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Are you sure the music you’re downloading isn’t hurting the musicians?

I’m reading a book now called Hip Hop Matters by S. Craig Watkins. I came across a certain part about Master P that got me thinking. I don’t really want to retype that passage, so I copied and pasted a similar blurb from this online article: Master P: Hip-Hop Mogul Reveals – interview with the singer – Interview.

What Master P did finally agree upon made rap music history and made him a millionaire. A true rap pioneer, Master P agreed to a deal where Priority Records would be given 15 percent of the profits for distribution, while 85 percent of the money would go to No Limit. He also has complete ownership of the master recordings that will allow No Limit to profit from future sales such as catalogs and reissues. He negotiated No Limit movies the same way. He worked out a distribution deal with Miramax Films. He pays them a percentage to distribute, but he owns his movies, which include I Got The Hook-Up, Foolish and Hot Boyz.

One frequent defense of illegal music downloads is a self-righteous stick-it-to-the-man justification of “Well, the artist doesn’t even see any of the profits from album’s sales. All of that goes to greedy corporations.” So instead of giving the artist pennies and the corporations dollars, you’d rather give the artist nothing. Okay. But what about people like Master P? Master P gets $.85 on the dollar and owns the master recordings of his songs. And he’s not alone.

Paul Anka—the author of “My Way” (which Frank Sinatra made famous) and singer-songwriter of hits like “Puppy Love” and “Put Your Head on My Shoulder”—also bought the masters of all his songs. He managed to negotiate them out from “the greedy corporations” and made himself a very rich man.

Ani DiFranco is an independent musician who made it big on her own label, Righteous Babe Records. While her overall sales may not match top-40 pop musicians, no greedy corporation is skimming her profits off the top. She is the corporation.

All of this wouldn’t be a problem in the pirates’ defense, except that I have never in the many online discussions of this topic seen any pirate say, “I carefully research to make sure I’m downloading only music from artists who are getting screwed over by greedy corporations. I definitely buy the albums of artists who reap most of the profits.” Not seldom. Never. So if you’re a music pirate, please stick to the other defenses, or just stop with the defenses altogether and admit you’re doing something illegal and possibly wrong. But please don’t spout any more bull about the artists not getting the profits unless you’re also going to say you research very carefully on which artists get screwed and which don’t.

15 replies on “Are you sure the music you’re downloading isn’t hurting the musicians?”

As a part time recording musician I can only agree. Most of my releases are on small indie labels, sometimes run by one or two people simply for the love of music. In these cases there’s no man to stick it to.

I remember once listening to Iván Noble’s comments on having the “honor” of being the most pirated argentinian musician. Someone jokingly tried to sell him a pirated copy of his latest album for $5 (ARG, that’s less than 1,50 USD). He said something to the effect of “Cool, that’s less than what I’m paid for selling a real one”.

I’ll pay for my music the day the government stops charging “piracy taxes” on blank media, when musicians’ associations stop charging people for listening to radio in public (no, I’m not kidding, it happens to store owners) or for public performances of music in the public domain. And I’ll go back to buying legal movies when they’re affordable (Blockbuster sells their heavily used DVDs for four to eight times the price of a pirated copy) and require no hacks to run on Linux (pirated DVDs will play perfectly on Linux, and I’d expect the same thing from legally bought movies… my movie, my hardware, my OS, I shouldn’t be prevented from watching them)

As a recording songwriter who makes a living based on the songs I sell, It’s a daily battle fighting the folks who feel like music should be free, as should my performances, Listening to music on the radio is a form of marketing to promote the product for sale, as are the movie trailers to films; You don’t question paying the $10 to see a movie, or rent the dvd that my song is featured in and your $1 rental fee, or $10 movie ticket fee that my song is featured in, why is it wrong to expect there to be a value associated with my performance or cd that I am selling? Those of you that expect your music for free, support your songwriters and musicians then and tell your employer to stop providing you with a paycheck, that’s what your asking us to do by not supporting the independent artists that create the music you enjoy listening to.
Hey a girls gotta eat and pay her bills too!


Tamra: I never said you weren’t entitled to being paid. In particular, I’ve never heard ANYONE ever say that live performances should be for free (actually, it’s a part of a common argument: “I don’t pay for music but I support artists by attending their performances”).

Again, I don’t feel I’m conning artists more than artists are conning me for trying consider radio a “public display”.

Is it unethical to download music when you cannot legally buy it in the part of the world you live in and it’s just not available in any form you want?

I think more than being unethical, people download music because it’s plain damn convenient. Also record companies and artists can encourage people buying music by reducing prices, not by getting more greedy.

Piracy is an economic issue. Not a bloody moral one. People who moralize on piracy get on my nerves very quickly because they’re probably the ones downloading music on the sly and not telling anybody about it.

Consider that aspect as well and factor it into your arguments as well.

Even Jean Valjean may be justified in stealing a loaf of bread, but he still knows it’s stealing.

Piracy may be a symptom of economic issues, but it is still wrong. Gang violence may be a symptom of economic issues, but it is still violence.

Maybe some people can’t afford to buy music legally, but there are certainly huge demographic chunks who can afford an album CD or iTunes song and yet choose to download songs illegally.

Even if you believe that there is economic injustice regarding music distribution, downloading music illegally just gives the music industry more fodder for imposing DRM. It does not do anything to right wrongs. It maintains the status quo. Artists do not suddenly get a better cut of the profits because some college student is downloading MP3s en masse without paying for them.

But what I hate is comparing music downloading with gang violence. Now that is taking it too far.

I do buy a lot of stuff legally and at the same time it doesn’t make me bad if I download a few songs off the internet which I probably cannot get by other means.

Piracy is not a moral issue in my book – period. no argument will convince me otherwise. It’s a load of bull to equate piracy with stealing.

Piracy is copyright infringement. It might technically be a crime, but you can never convince me that it’s similar to other crimes.

I do buy a lot of stuff legally and at the same time it doesn’t make me bad if I download a few songs off the internet which I probably cannot get by other means.

Hari, that’s perfectly fine. If they cannot be bought by other means and are only a few–whatever. After all, the RIAA never complained about people making mix tapes back in the day. But people making almost their entire music collection out of illegally downloaded MP3s and then claiming it doesn’t hurt the musical artists is just pure horse’s dung.

As for the gang violence, I definitely was using an extreme example of the what I view as a similar principle, but I think we may just have to agree to disagree.

> As for the gang violence, I definitely was using an extreme example of the what I view as a similar principle, but I think we may just have to agree to disagree.

I disagree that the principles are similar. So yes, we disagree on that aspect.

Piracy can never be dealt with in a punitive manner. The best solution to piracy is to be reasonable with CD / DVD pricing and make music affordable and easily accessible through legal channels.

In India, Moserbaer are making an interesting experiment by selling cheap legal VCDs and DVDs of movies (sold at Rs. 28 and Rs. 34 each instead of hundreds of rupees). I think that experiment is well worth emulating in the West. In India, piracy is definitely a problem (particularly in the movie industry) and the industry is tackling it in a different way after trying hard to appeal to the morals of the public (which just doesn’t work).

The best solution is to dump the moral/ethical stance and to think in terms of economic solutions. Ultimately the industry will come around to it. They have no choice because piracy is NOT a crime in the traditionally accepted sense of the word and will never be.

Another argument I can use for the casual pirate (not the professional ones who sell pirated stuff — (which I consider a crime) — but the average internet user) is that a lot of music that is legally sold is limited in collection. In fact, in many cases, older music and off-beat music might *not* even be available through legal/traditional channels and the only way to get some old movie/music might be to download it.

Let us first define who is a “pirate”: a person who downloads music from the internet because it’s the only convenient option for him or the professional pirate who sells illegal CDs and DVDs and makes a living out of it?

My other issue with your viewpoint is that artists aren’t exactly starving either, so you cannot expect me to have any sympathy for them and therefore I have chosen not to go into that aspect of it in detail. People who download music regularly aren’t the type who buy CDs in any case, so it’s not as though they’ve lost a customer through piracy when that person is not a potential customer in any case.

I think it’s easy to become polarized on this topic and make it downloading is wrong vs. RIAA/”the establishment” is unjust/evil.

a) is it illegal? Yes.

On the same token, it’s illegal to take a bath on the main street of Amarillo during business hours, or to tie an alagator to a fire hydrant in Michigan. We already pay a fee on devices that can record this and the media on which it is recorded. The law feels just as arbitrary to most as these silly, still on-the-books laws. If the law isn’t respectible or understandable, it’s not going to be followed, whether that’s right or wrong, it’s true.

b) is it wrong? This depends on the morality of your community, really. I don’t believe any moral concept can be taken as absolute, that it is all relative to the community, but even if you want to argue one “correct” morality, saying illegal music downloading is one of these tennets would be a stretch for most.

c) is there harm being done? That depends. Would I have bought the music anyway? If not, then there’s no damage. Someone may have gotten something they are not entitled to, but the parties involved did not actually incur any additional cost from the action, and the revenue was not going to be gained anyway.

If you would have bought the music if it hadn’t been freely available, shame on you. And don’t hide behind the sheild of “oh I wouldn’t have bought it.” You know you’re buying habits.

I had never bought a CD and only one tape before the boom of downloading music. Since then I’ve probably bought a half dozen. Not an amazing upswing, but illustrative that it is possible for downloading to be a good thing.

(btw) Paul Anka might have written the English words of My Way, but the original song was a French chanson called “Comme d’habitude” I think. Don’t know who wrote it though.

I think the problem is more fundamental than what most people argue about; whether “piracy” is “stealing”, or “wrong” is a valid discussion to have, but I think it misses the root of the matter. Intellectual property was an artificial construct designed to protect creators’ rights, in order to stimulate creation. (CC aside, for most artists, no money == no music, etc.) I think it’s fair to say that at this point, the System is broken. Rather than protecting artists’ abilities to create, it’s largely about profit. What cut of that the artists are getting isn’t really the point. Now, I’m not endorsing “piracy”, but I think it’s important to see it as a reaction, not just a “huge outbreak in crime that must be stopped at all costs”, as the Industry tends to portray it. I don’t fully know where I stand on the issue morally, but it seems to me that a large portion of those who engage in infringement do it because it’s the most convenient way. Take video games for example: while Joe is busy negotiating with the company because the DRM decided that he couldn’t possibly have two /physical/ optical drives, Sally is happily playing her *illegal* copy of the game, with no restrictions, no phoning home, and no hassle. Looking at it that way, Joe doesn’t have much incentive to buy the game. Now, that’s not to say that one would be /morally right/ in doing that, necessarily, but the problem is that “The Pirates” often end up providing something of /higher value/ than the company providing it, whether that be through lower (or zero) cost, or just through lack of hassle. As I see it, (large-scale) piracy exists because people are unhappy with the system, not because these people are inherently *bad*. In fact, the Industry is actually /perpetuating/ the problem by their futile actions against it. The Internet is the world’s most efficient copying and distribution mechanism, and if the Industry could find a way of /using/ that, instead of fighting its very nature, and eliminate some of the valid grievances people have against them (e.g. high prices, DRM), I submit that the situation would improve, at least somewhat. People are going to copy music. Period. There’s no successful way to completely eliminate that; what the Industry needs to do is give people /less incentive/ to copy it, I have friends with large music libraries, most of which has not been payed for – however, I’ve also known them to download an album/movie, listen to it, and then go and buy a physical copy that sits on their shelf unopened. People /want/ to support the artists… they just don’t like jumping through hoops to do so. In conclusion, think what’s primarily at stake is the motives, not the actions of the so-called “pirates”. They may not be doing the right thing, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have a valid point. Sooner or later, the Industry is going to have to wake up and realize that.

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