Friday, January 11, 2008

blame the artist

While a number of creative folks are being celebrated by the consumers-first Fair Copyright crowd for advocating and experimenting with alternative and new business models for audience building and distribution -- think the oft-quoted-on-copyright Barenaked Ladies and Cory Doctorow -- it would appear that celebrating the artist has its limits. Apparently, we only celebrate those artists who never express any doubt or worry about the future of their creative industry. Apparently, we only celebrate those artists who say exactly what we want them to say (and who don't expect to make very much money).

When they do worry, or count their money, as musician Trent Reznor recently dared to do in an interview with cnet news:

Why Won't People Pay $5

the consumers-first crowd questions not only their commitment to fair copyright, but their talent and intelligence as well. Here's a representative sampling of some of the comments following the Reznor interview:

"Thanks for thinking that your (sic) legendary and we should all pay a tax for the garbage you produce."

"Trent. Consider the content, not the price, as the true reason it didn't sell as well as you thought. Who the hell is Saul Williams????? There's your problem right there!"

"What about the thousands of people that have never downloaded a song (I am in that category) but prefer to buy the CD and rip it? Why should we pay a "tax" to benefit the recording industry, or musicians that I do not listen to?"

Keep in mind that these comments are directed at an artist who happily chose to experiment with the anti-label, anti-corporate, free on the Internet model. Now, not everyone who commented was this harsh, but the comments section as a whole does reveal a significant disdain for Reznor's concerns. And just what were his concerns?

In the interview he says (emphasis mine):

... I think music should be looked at as free. It basically is. The toothpaste is out of the tube and a whole generation of people is accustomed to music being that way. There's a perception that you don't pay for music when you hear it on the radio or MySpace.

... In my mind, I think if there was an ISP tax of some sort, we can say to the consumer, "All music is now available and able to be downloaded and put in your car and put in your iPod and put up your a-- if you want, and it's $5 on your cable bill or ISP bill."

Does Stephen Page of the Barenaked Ladies ever lie in bed at night and worry even a little bit about how he -- or better yet, other, lesser known, perhaps just-starting-out musicians -- will survive, professionally, in a marketplace that shows increasing unconcern for his livelihood?

I wonder.

If he does, he's one smart dude because he's not talking about those worries out loud.


Unknown said...

I was impressed with Reznor in the interview. Given his openness and candor, I too was dismayed by some of the negative responses.

The main problem with the comments you cite is that they're rude. In substance, they boil down to criticism of the music and an unwillingness to institute a levy for music they don't want. These are reasonable points of view. Personally, I think the levy idea is worth pursuing, even though I have little desire to acquire music.

In any case, I think it's quite unfair of you to link proponents of fair copyright to a random bunch on online yahoos who lack communication skills and manners. (This is the Internet - you can find offensive and incoherent commentary for any point of view you chose.)

Neither is it correct to polarize the matter of copyright by characterizing the "Fair Copyright crowd" as "consumers-first". Plenty of us are creators. All of us are citizens. Consumers benefit when artists have the freedom and incentive to create. Truly fair copyright benefits all these groups.

Anonymous said...

My guess would be that that third quote (about why should people who don't download pay a tax) was a response to the part that you've quoted where Reznor suggests something like the Songwriter's proposal, rather than a response to the "why didn't many people want to pay the $5 for the album ?" that you seem to think it is.

John said...


I think you and I both know I could have pulled those comments, or ones just like them, from the Fair Copyright group itself. The Songwriters proposal received much the same response. If you don't like your cause being co-opted by proponents of unreasonable opinions, do something about it.

I openly and regularly say I think suing customers is a dumb business model, around tables where that opinion might start a yelly fight among people whose actual livelihoods are on the line. I try to start from a position that has discarded the extremism of strong copyright. I don't see that from the other side.

The Fair Copyright group defines itself as consumers-first. That is the primary (not only, but primary) vein of concern on the site, which is why I stay on it and try to voice a reasoned concerned-artist opinion. This is about iPods and time-shifting, but that's not all it's about, and there are some disrespectful (for professional creativity) rows being hoed that are not being responsibly addressed by the consumers-first focus.

That's enough damage to my "no-arguing" resolution for one week. Blissful silence.

Unknown said...

"If you don't like your cause being co-opted by proponents of unreasonable opinions, do something about it."

I'm afraid that's not what I said. I said the remarks are "reasonable points of view." I think we agree that the comments are very rude, but I'm not sure what you find unreasonable about the substance of the opinions you quoted.

The Fair Copyright for Canadians group (if that is who you meant when you said "crowd") is a broad tent, not a coherent lobby. It seems to me that virtually everyone agrees on only a few points: anticircumvention laws are undesirable, various kinds of shifting should be permitted, and for-profit piracy is unacceptable. Beyond that, there is debate (with 37,000 people you can find any opinion you like). To work this out, we need consultation - something you and I both support.

There's a problem when we try to fit this argument into simple groups and sides. This isn't left vs right, artists vs consumers, or even big business vs entrepreneurs. It's complicated and messy, but win-win positions do exist: that's the justification for copyright. Polarization doesn't help. Any attempt to pigeonhole people or arguments, or to focus on whose supposed allies dissed whom, risks hijacking the discussion and losing touch with the specific issues and positions that really matter.

Unknown said...

Upon rereading the comments in question, I want to moderate what I just posted. I'm afraid it appears too much like a defence of the comments in question.

The first two comments you quoted are, quite simply, offensive. If it was up to me I would probably block them. I wouldn't want them representing me. As far as I'm concerned, they don't. Nor, from what I have seen on the Fair Copyright for Canadians group, are they representative of the population there, who I find are on the whole fairly polite for an unmoderated open group on the Internet. (I'm sure, as you say, you could find something similar if you look hard enough). To the extent that the comments you quote are offensive and rude, I don't appreciate being associated with them.

The "reasonable points of view" are opposition to the tax and a dislike for Mr Reznor's music. The question of the tax is one to take seriously. Taste in music is neither here nor there.