Monday, June 14, 2010

feelin' good was good enough for me - r&w talk music & movies

Reader - Hey Writer, do you know anything about music or movies?

– 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?

– 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.

– 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?

– 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.

– 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.

– And he made money from that?

Reader – No, he made money from album sales and contracts with established record companies.

– 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.**

– What’s that now?

WriterNow 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

Bookmark and Share


Pieter Hulshoff said...

A funny read for sure, but what are you trying to say here, John? :)

John said...


I thought it was obvious. I'm saying:

...why don't you come to your senses?
You been out ridin' fences for so long now
Oh, you're a hard one
I know that you got your reasons
These things that are pleasin' you
Can hurt you somehow

Darryl said...

... and Bill C-32 is the Queen of Diamonds :-)

Pieter Hulshoff said...

No John, it is not obvious what you're trying to say.

Are you trying to say there are people out there who think they should get everything for free? (You'd be right.)

Are you trying to say I am one of those people? (You'd be wrong; I do however believe that legalizing non-commercial copying for your own personal use in return for a levy or other payment system is a better solution to the current situation than trying to sue your fans.)

Are you trying to say most people out there think this way? (You'd be wrong.)

Are you saying there are people out there who think they own a song once they've paid for it. (You'd probably be right.)

Are you saying I am one of those people? (You'd be partially right. I believe that when I buy a cd, I can listen to it on any machine I own, and convert it to any format I need to in order to play it on those machines. I do not believe I'm also entitled to freely get the super audiocd version of it nor that I should be able to download it for free from iTunes. I also do not believe that I own a song just because I paid for a concert.)

Are you trying to say most people out there think this way? (You'd probably be wrong.)

Are you trying to say C-32 will help prevent people who think this way from acting this way? (You'd be wrong.)

So again: No John, I honestly do not find it obvious what you're trying to say, and I find you quoting Desperado on me simply insulting. I do not support copyright infringement.

John said...


I appreciate how you fellows are politely taking turns being outraged and insulted by my blog postings. Civility is at the core of this discussion, isn't it?

I'm not sure why you read yourself into so much of what I was talking about (with myself). I guess that's a question only you can answer (to yourself).

You, Darryl, Russell, and others elsewhere sure do enjoy reminding me that the digital lock or even the law that cannot be quickly broken is impossible to invent. I suppose I should tire of telling you I don't care, but maybe I see it as my job these days.

What lock exists that can't be broken? What law exists that won't be broken? Laws and locks are blunt instrument by their nature. What they cannot prevent, they can often punish. What they cannot prevent and don't particularly care about, they tend to ignore.

I am NOT asking for an unbreakable law, but you seem to be asking for a law so subtle it anticipates and has an answer for all consequent and subsequent behaviour. I invite you to give me an example of just such a law.

Any copyright adjustment will have to err on one side or another. You seem to think C-32 errs on the side of content creators. I disagree. I think it introduces a whole host of new exceptions without providing any compensatory mechanism for creator value.

And so it goes. In the meantime, I'm enjoying talking to myself, so I believe I will continue.

Darryl said...

"You seem to think C-32 errs on the side of content creators."

Actually I don't. I think it errs on the side of large corporations who, with either large portfolios of content, proprietary DRM software, or large distribution channels for hardware devices, or some combination of all three, will be able to maintain their control of content distribution channels that would otherwise be cheap and efficient for creators and consumers alike.

You are absolutely right that it does not matter that the locks do not work. The goal of the locks is not to prevent piracy, but to control access for everyone else. If the lobbyists and politicians pushing for this legislation were honest about that, then this legislation would be dead already.

The pirates couldn't care less about this Bill. They will continue doing what they have always done. What should be concerning you about this however, but oddly isn't, is that it will result in creating even more pirates. Something, I would have thought you were against.

Pieter Hulshoff said...

Dear John,

I didn't really apply anything on myself until you quoted Desperado in direct reaction to me, at which time I think I had a valid reason to feel insulted. In the mean time, I'm still not 100% sure what the original post was meant to portray.

"I am NOT asking for an unbreakable law"
No, you're asking for a law to make certain acts illegal, but every example you give is of something that is already illegal under copyright law. My problem is that you're making it illegal for me to create certain software, just to make something illegal that is already illegal.

C-32 would indeed have been a very good thing for consumers without the anti-circumvention laws. Now, all those exceptions you talk about are moot since there's hardly any digital material available without locks these days. If you'd like to see more provisions protecting creators, especially from production companies, I and many with me would certainly support you.