Reader - Hey Writer, do you know anything about music or movies?
Writer – I know what I like. I was listening to some Ron Sexsmith on my iPod in the car on the way home tonight. Fantastic Canadian singer songwriter. I saw him play Central Park in New York on Canada Day once. Unbelievable.
Oh, and we rented the Fantastic Mr. Fox for our family movie night last Saturday. Brilliant animation. The kids loved it. I think I might have to buy it now.
Reader – Buy it? Why didn’t you just take a “back-up” copy of the rental?
Writer – Reader… need I remind you how we feel about copyright infringement?
Reader – What? Did the dude at Blockbuster tell you explicitly you weren’t supposed to make a copy? Was it written anywhere on your bill? Maybe they don’t mind of you make a copy of their movies. Think about it. It’s like free advertisement for their movie rental service – you make a copy, show it to your friends a few times, maybe give them some copies of your copy – you know, sharing… we all love sharing, right? – and then your friends know they can get great movies at Blockbuster.
Writer – Yeah… except what about that copyright notice at the beginning of the movie. You know, the one that mentions the FBI?
Reader – The FBI is American. What do you care? Besides, do you think anyone in Hollywood is suffering from file-sharing of movies? Have you seen Julia Roberts at the Goodwill shopping for clothes lately?
Writer – Um, well, I’ve actually worked in the film industry, and its mostly full of regular people like you and me, just trying to make a regular living.
Reader – Have you worked in music?
Writer – I have not.
Reader – So there you go.
Writer – What’s your point?
Reader – Well, I’ve heard a lot of musicians say that file-sharing helps them grow their audience.
Writer – I’m sure it does.
Reader – Well, isn’t that the point of being a musician? Having an audience – preferably a big audience?
Writer – I don’t know. I imagine the point of being a musician is to make music. The audience may be a close second, but it’s not first. I know that I write books for myself first, and for the readers second. If I don’t like the thing, what chance do I have of interesting anyone else?
Reader – Yeah, but when it comes time to sell the music, or the books, isn’t it better to have a large number of people interested than a small number?
Writer – What are you saying about my books?
Reader – Dude, it’s not ALWAYS about you, alright?
Let's say a musician is ready to sell an album. Let’s say Ron Sexsmith is ready to sell an album. Doesn’t he want a lot of people knowing about the album and liking his music already?
Writer – Goes without saying.
Reader – So, how can file-sharing be bad? File-sharing battles obscurity. It spreads the word. It builds subcultures of interest.
Writer – Man, that sounds fantastic. How much does it cost?
Reader – Well, that’s the gravy. It doesn’t cost anything. All you need is a computer, and Internet connection and access to a torrent site, and then you can have Sexsmith’s next album for, like, nothing.
Writer – So I pay the computer company and the Internet provider. Plus, I represent eyes for the advertisers on the torrent site, so the torrent guys make a bunch of money from me. This all sounds fantastic for the new knowledge economy. How much does Ron Sexsmith make from all that?
Reader – Who’s that now?
Writer – Ron Sexsmith, the artist – the guy whose music I’m grabbing in a torrent. What’s his cut?
Brief artistic break – here’s a video of Ron Sexsmith and Don Kerr playing a lovely song called Listen. If you watch far enough into it you’ll see a friend of mine - Canadian writer Claudia Dey - ride by on her bicycle, and you’ll also see Toronto Island’s haunted Gibraltar Point lighthouse. Thanks Ron, Don and Claudia – just beautiful. I’m going to go buy that song right now.
Writer – So, if I’m grabbing the song in a torrent, how does Sexsmith get paid?
Reader – Oh... well... he gets paid in, um, increased visibility and lack of obscurity.
Writer – And what’s that worth these days?
Reader – Um, I don’t know, look at Justin Bieber.
Writer --- Who’s that now?
Reader – Canadian singer – got famous over the YouTubes.
Writer – And he made money from that?
Reader – No, he made money from album sales and contracts with established record companies.
Writer – I see. So Ron Sexsmith, a famous Canadian singer-songwriter should be happy to have his album taken for free on torrent sites because that will make him as famous as Justin Bieber and then maybe he’ll get a better recording contract with an established label?
Reader – Exactly.
Writer – And when I eventually buy his album because… um... I am tired of listening to the free version… I should break the nasty DRM on it, so that I can make a back-up copy.
Reader – Yes, in case your kid scratches the disk.
Writer – Because… when I scratched my dad’s vinyl Beatle’s album, the record store gave him a replacement copy?
Reader – Wow, really, did that actually happen?
Writer – No, that never, really, actually happened.
Reader – Don't be so uptight - it’s user rights man. It’s all about freedom.
Writer – Reader, freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose. And nothing, don’t mean nothing, honey, if it ain’t free.*
Reader – Now you’re talking. Me and Bobby McGee.
Writer – Yeah. And - little known fact - that song was about downloading!
Reader – Sort of. It was about … you know… feelin’ good... and that's what you want your fans to do, right? You don't want to weigh them down with all these heavy corporate rules, do you?
Writer – Are you saying that artists, say Janis Joplin, or Pink (both of whom do great versions of Bobby McGee) expecting to be paid fairly for their art are attacking consumer freedom?
Reader – No. Duh. I’m saying a musician expecting to be paid twice for the same song is attacking consumer freedom. Look Dude, once I’ve bought Sexsmith’s song, it belongs to me.
Writer – Except, you got it for free on a torrent site?
Reader – You know what I mean.
Writer – So, how 'bout this - if you pay to get into a Sexsmith concert, and he plays a bunch of songs, do you own all those songs?
Reader – I guess I do. That’s freedom, my friend.
Writer – Freedom? Oh, freedom. Well, that’s just some people talking.**
Reader – What’s that now?
Writer – Now it seems to me some fine things
have been laid upon your table,
but you only want the ones
that you can’t get.
*Me and Bobby McGee, written by Kris Kristofferson
** Desperado, written by Don Henley and Glenn Frey