Moses Avalon is one of the nation’s leading music-business consultants and artists’-rights advocates and is the author of a top-selling music business reference, Confessions of a Record Producer. More of his articles can be found at www.mosesavalon.com.
With piracy affecting all areas of commerce, why does it seem like only the music biz is whining? Well, because the mainstream media is only “reporting” about them and ignoring the massive extra-music industry support for SOPA. But why? Is SOPA really such a huge threat to media outlets’ revenue that they would sell out on a bill that is designed to keep themselves alive?
The other day I read a story about how the E-book trade is being rifled by piracy. The journalist postulated that the reason pirates have been ripping and burning E-books is because the public doesn’t want to pay the “high price” offered by Kindle, Nook, Kobo, etc. A reader posting in the comments section sympathized, hoping that the “fledgling” E-book trade would not be too badly hurt by piracy. Then a lawyer for a website that sells counterfeit designer handbags and is presently under indictment was quoted. He defended his client with intimations that the world is entitled to designer style without paying designer prices.
High prices causing piracy? Entitlement to quality goods and services? It all started to sound familiar. Where had I heard these defenses to theft before?
That’s it!! The music business! According to just about every paper and blogger, those bastards are charging $15 for one song. No, wait, it was $15 for 12-15 songs, but only one song is good, right? No, wait, it’s the record company’s greed that makes artists release only one good song on an album. Wait, I’m starting to get confused again, because someone smart once taught me that theft had little to do with the quality of content; people steal bad records too, right? (Britney Spears was one of the most illegally downloaded artists at one time.)
I thought theft was caused by a person not wanting to pay for something they perceive they have a need for, or a right to. Yeah, that rings true.
Now, can you imagine these same absurd arguments of “high price = theft” being printed about any other industry but music?
– People are stealing food because the price is too high; when you think about all the food you throw out, or decide you don’t like, after you buy it, it’s a rip-off.
– People are stealing movies because studios/theaters charge over $10 for a two-hour experience, but there are usually only a few really good scenes in the movie, so it’s a rip-off.
– And books…don’t get me started. How can you justify charging $10 for an E-book containing 50,000 words when I only have time to read about half of them? And let’s be honest: I’m only going to like about one-tenth of the book anyway. I mean, the Steve Jobs book didn’t have any pages that I’ll to want to re-read or experience over and over again like my porn and pulp novels, my Godfather DVD, or…my entire music collection.
Yet the mainstream press (and thus the public) seems far more sympathetic to the plight of most every other trade supporting SOPA than it ever has been to the record companies and their stable of artists. Why? The answer is simple, but not very uplifting.
Even though SOPA (which I’ll get to in a minute) will benefit all forms of media and intellectual property, the mainstream press cannot seem to get past its hate of the music trade and the journalists who “work” in it, to report on this very important bill accurately.
All you read is how the RIAA, the NMPA, and the MPAA are sponsoring SOPA with unprecedented amounts of lobbying, but little to nothing about others backing the bill: the pharmaceutical trade, designer clothing, major law firms representing big brands of all types, and even an Internet-centered business, GoDaddy (until they were bullied into changing their stand by tech companies — a virtual blackmail campaign that seems to have backfired in GoDaddy’s favor.)
Why do the papers hate us so much that they would shoot themselves in the foot, journalism-wise?
Let’s take one at a time:
News media institutions hate major record labels for one simple reason: they buy virtually no advertising in newspapers or even on TV, like they did in the good old days. Yet despite the horrendous rape of their inventory, they have survived the Internet transition better than the print news business and all without any help from them as an advertising platform and with their journalists pissing on our head the whole while.
Mainstream journalists despise music “journalists” because to a hard-boiled investigative reporter who meets sources in back alleys to get a scoop, music journalism seems like an overpaid high-school-newspaper beat: going to concerts, hanging out with musicians, and getting your ass kissed in exchange for a decent write-up.
Yep, if I were a New York Times reporter making something south of $80K a year, I’d have nothing but contempt for their cooler-than-thou back-stage passes, designer swag bags, and gifts from PR firms.
So everybody in the media biz hates us, but they love our product enough to promote its theft under the bumper sticker “information should be free.”
When it comes to SOPA, geeks can sometimes be pretty dumb
I sat next to a 20-something, “SOPA is evil,” tech-employed hipster the other night at a poker table. He thought that information should be free.
He was repeating the standard propaganda you read in all tech rags, how SOPA is censorship and will destroy the Internet. I managed not to puke on him but did politely ask, “Help me understand your view point, ’cause I don’t know much about this stuff. If information should be free, then why should I be paying ISPs for data charges?” He stumbled, “That’s different. You’re dealing with lots of technology and infrastructure.”
Yep, that’s different, I guess, than spending hundreds of hours getting a song just right.
Anyone who thinks that SOPA, which simply gives content providers a slightly bigger stick when seeking court injunctions to defend their property, will destroy the Internet, well…I think we can guess what that person is using the internet for. I’ve questioned many a person-on-the-street about SOPA. Without exception, all who oppose it have not read the bill itself. (You can read it here.)
If they did, they would see the bill clearly states that blocking counterfeit sites is only something an ISP is required to do if it’s “technically feasible” and reasonable. (Bottom of page 19 of the bill.) This still leaves ISPs with an enormous amount of wriggle room.
SOPA does have its problems, most of which will ironed out in the next draft. But when it passes (and it’s a safe bet that it will), it will not destroy the Internet or free speech any more or less than FCC regulation has “destroyed” cable TV or radio. History has proven that a little bit of regulation changes very little. Humans find a way to say what they want.
What SOPA will do is cost ISPs a lot of cash to be compliant, which means that this is not a philosophical argument but a financial one.
The rest of the “censorship” claims are window dressing. What the tech-biased, music-biz-hating media, pandering to their advertising clients, don’t want you to know is that most people do not use the Internet to find/steal/share entertainment content illegally or legally. According to studies, most people use the ‘net mostly for:
2) Finding restaurants
3) Finding dates, their friends, and finally…
4) Cloud storage
The boring truth
And that is what the ISPs are really, secretly afraid of and why they are fighting SOPA, ACTA, et al with threats, boycotts, and thuggery instead of logical arguments.
It’s not because the Internet will end if they have to take a little bit of responsibility re: piracy. It’s because if laws make ISPs liable for piracy and they are forced to filter many P2P sites and forgo profits from advertizing such sites, then it will reveal to the public what the Internet really is to most of us: a communication service. A simple, electronic, high-tech yellow pages and Post Office replacement. Not the sexy entertainment hub and you-can-get-anything-your-heart-desires dream-box that the Valley lords wish it to be.
And if that happens, then the tech gods will have to come to grips with the fact that they are not the new Les Paul. They are just the new Thomas Edison.
Why they are not happy with that probably goes back to a junior-high-school trauma about losing a chick to a jock or a musician.
Sorry, Valley lords, I know you want to be cool like us. But you are not. You’re cool in your own way, and this year Congress will prove it to you.
See you in court.
PS: If you’re new to the SOPA debate, here’s a pretty balanced (lightly anti-leaning) CNET piece that explains the issues with some great links.
And here is a great piece by very a clear thinker, Chris Castel, on a recent debate regarding pirating or “rough sites,” as they are referred to in this debate.
And for a truly absurd “conspiracy theory” about how media companies want people to steal their inventory, read this one on, of all places, Forbes. (Shame.)