Steve's Blog: Solo Bass & Beyond

Featured Artist Coalition Backs Lily. "WTF?" Says Everyone Else.

October 5th, 2009 | 57 Comments | Categories: New Music Strategies · tips for musicians |

So, after initially recognising the truth that Lily Allens position on file-sharing her pro-Mandelson notion that ‘persistent file-sharers’ should have their internet connections cut off/crippled – was nonsense, they’ve now turned round and said, “ah no, see when Lily was talking like a complete loony? yeah, we’re all about that now. Rock on, with your Machiavellian internet snooping!” Here’s a link to their statement on it.

So the group that were supposedly there to represent ‘artists’ in all this are trying to take away the best free option for artists to be discovered. To place it back in the hands of those who would charge a fortune for the service of trying to get your music out to an audience, in the hope that they’ll pay for it in the end. Those services – none of which are performance related (you don’t get a refund on a magazine ad if everyone ignores it) are the good guys, and your fans getting excited about what you do and getting their friends to listen to it is a bad idea.

I’m a big fan of some of the artists who signed the list and pretty good friends with some others – but I don’t think they could be more wrong, misguided, dim, ill-conceived, stupid, moronic, self-defeating. For example:

  • How is this monitored?
  • Have they thought about just how easy it is to hide your IP?

Have they thought about:

  • the cost of monitoring this stuff,
  • cross referencing it against lists of stuff that is actually legal to be added to file sharing sites,
  • checking the terms of any licensing agreements to make sure the tracks in question aren’t legal,
  • repairing broken metadata (will they be able to find a Billy Bragg album that I make available on bit torrent if I call it a “steve lawson demo collection”, but send an email to my mates telling them what it really is so they can grab it?)

It’s unenforceable, ludicrous, and just sets up more lines for the people who design  this software – who are WAYYYY cleverer than you – to cross. This shit is easy to get round, all you do is set yourself up as someone who’s more concerned about regulation than you are about connecting with your audience. The only people that will benefit from this are the people who run the agencies set up to monitor traffic, and the much cleverer people who will be finding ways round it.

I’ve said it before but indie artists are massively under-represented on torrenting sites. Why is that? Because people are in touch with us, and are less likely to anonymously share the music of their friends. Make friends with your audience, and this stuff evens itself out. Bit Torrent isn’t the first place people look for my music because it’s available in easier places. But if they do go there, I hope they find some and listen to me. I’d rather they listened than didn’t. And given how expensive a radio plugger would be to get my stuff out there, I’m happy to trade some ‘free publicity’ for the ‘risk’ that those people might not pay for it later.

Instead of looking at the massive opportunity that file sharing offers musicians to be discovered at ZERO cost, the FAC have backed the old school idea that has been failing artists for the last 50 years. There was no golden age, there was no time when ‘the recording industry’ was good for musicians. It has never existed, but it could now. But the FAC are too damn stupid/greedy/backwards to see it.

Dear FAC. I’m so glad I didn’t look to join you when you formed. I’d have to quit now, and tell you what a sham I think your organisation is. You muppets.

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57 Comments so far ↓

  • Gordon Rae

    Tom Alves mentioned the phrase “helps the consumer ignore the obligation to pay” which prompts me to ask – is it wrong to listen to music you haven’t paid for?

    Is it wrong to listen to music on the radio? No
    Is it wrong to listen to music on a jukebox? No
    Is it wrong to listen to music played by a DJ in a club? No
    Is it wrong to listen to music in a TV show, or a film, or a commercial? No

    The industry has worked out plenty of business models where the listener doesn’t pay for the music, but the artist (or the rights holder) still gets paid. It just needs to invent a few more.

  • Barny

    @Gordon Rae, there are parts of the industry that are developing new ways of making music available to the masses to listen to or download that make sure that the Artist gets compensated (this is my understanding of how Spotify and We7 etc work – I might be wrong)

    The problem I guess is that these routes do allow the Artist to cut out the industry middlemen who still want their slice of our pie, even when it is not theirs to have, and it is through this they maintain their control on this industry.

    And this is ultimatley what it is about, control. These people have deluded the public into believing that they know what they want to hear, and the internet and it ability to allow people to communicate directly and exchange ideas is now challenging that.

    The fear of freedom for people to make choices about what they want is ultimatley what is driving this, and if people download stuff for free and ultimatley like it then very often they will buy it (not always) because most people are not stupid and do understand that what we do is (certainly for those of us without record label backing) mostly done from our own pockets so that they can continue to listen to music they like when we are not playing Live locally.

  • Nick

    Really, really interesting stuff guys. I don’t have much to add, but wondered if you’d seen Billy Bragg’s follow up comments on

    Some highlights:

    “The only way we’re going to change the way things are done is if
    artists and fans work together to build new models that give fans what
    they want and allow artists to earn a living from their recordings.
    And what do you think that the FAC is, Jon?? It’s me and my mates
    standing together as artists to tell the label that their business
    model is fucked.”

    “The reason I’m here is to explore ways that we as artists can win you
    back as customers. The great thing about the internet is that it
    allows us to talk to each other directly, without relying on edited
    media like music papers and radio and such.”

    “They [labels] presume to speak for us. When we speak for ourselves
    they run for cover – or push other artists like Lily Allen to the fore
    so she can take all the flak for them. They worked out well didn’t it?
    What happened to her was a good example of the way your community can
    bring its voice to bear. Thanks to all the negative comments posted by
    P2P users, I doubt the labels will find another artist willing to
    publicly champion their stance for a long while.”

    “I accept that FAC need to deliver a better message that clearly
    states where we stand on file-sharing, but you have to understand that
    the vast majority of artists are still wedded to the record industry
    view of downloading as a threat. There were over 60 artists in the
    room last week when we were discussing how to respond to the
    industry’s demand that the govt pass laws to suspend internet
    connections, only a dozen from the FAC. Despite evidence that
    technical sanctions will not work from several IT experts that we
    invited, the majority was clearly in favour of some kind of sanction.
    In order to try to stop disconnection, we opted for bandwidth
    squeezing as a compromise between all of our positions. Our task now
    is to convince our colleagues that there is no technical solution, but
    this will take time.”

    Follow-up post here:

  • Charlie Harris

    The business model is this: Record companies, agents, managers, etc.
    Their 15% is worth way more than everyone else’s 85%.
    And they want to keep it.

  • badlydrawnboyo

    Quick Q: are the arguments in defence of ‘illegal’ mp3 sharing equally applicable to books – pdf sharing? Given that you’re much more likely to read just the once?

  • steve

    thanks Dean – I think the surprise comes from our mistaken belief that the FAC represented something ‘new’, artists who ‘get it’. We were wrong.

    Thanks for the typo heads up, fixed :)

  • Terence Eden

    Hi Cath,

    The sites aren’t always based in this country – the ones that were based in the UK *have* been shut down.

    How do you shut down a site based in say, Antigua, which has a mandate from the WTO to break the USA’s intellectual property laws?

    You could try to block the site from the UK – but there are many easy ways around that.

    It’s a bit like saying “can’t we just shut down the printing presses?” It would be hugely difficult and counter-productive.


  • steve

    mainly because most of them aren’t ‘sites’, they are completely decentralised networks. Most of what get described as ‘file sharing sites’ are actually just search engines displaying info about P2P traffic.

    Have a read of the wikipedia entry on BitTorrent for more info on that.

    The issue is a bit bigger than who to police though – firstly it’s ‘why police at all?’ secondly it’s ‘what are the reasons for torrenting, how can they be good for artists, and how is the free transfer of music from fan to fan better or worse than what actually happened to artists under the system that people want us to hold on to.

    that iTunes is still in business says that people are still buying music. Fairly low res music, at a high price. Why is that? In those reasons lie a whole load of wisdom :)

    I have people buying music from my site every week that they could get for free elsewhere. Why is that? Another one with a host of illuminating answers :)

  • steve

    there’s loads of software out there that’ll mask ip addresses, or route it through an overseas one that’s not shut-downable from the UK. For about £15 a month, if I remember rightly :)

    So they’ll win BIG if this deal goes through – it’ll be like getting a spotify premium account, only for bit torrent 😉

  • Mike Arthur

    You can’t mask IP addresses with P2P connections. It simply can’t be done. Anyone who claims to do so otherwise is a liar and doesn’t understand basic TCP/IP networking. Also, to get to the overseas place that can’t be shut down you need to access it by their IP address, easily traceable by your ISP.

    Basically unless you are using an encrypted VPN for everything then you can be traced. Even then it’s possible to detect P2P data transmission.

  • steve

    Hi Vijay, I’ve said before here that the most powerful currency online is gratitude. That for most of us, the music we love is worth WAY more than the £10 we used to have to pay for it on CD. There are albums I’ve bought as presents, bands I’ve spent a fortune on with tickets, t-shirts, DVDs, whatever. Almost always they are artists I’ve had some contact with that I now feel grateful to. I feel personally connected with.

    If the big fear here is an aspirational one – that we might end up with 100,000 people will be listening to our stuff without us making money – that, as I’ve said before would be an AWESOME problem to have! I can’t think of many business problems I’d more like to have to solve than having 100,000 users that cost me nothing, and the issue of how to turn that into something I can get some value from… :)

    Creative Commons/GPL offer a lot of great solutions for musicians. It’ll be interesting to see where people go with that in the future.

    thanks very much for commenting! :)

  • steve

    it was the VPN tunneling option that I’d seen – – could you detect *what* was being transmitted when you detected P2P data? If not, it seems like the legislation is about ‘illegal P2P traffic’ rather than legal stuff… or are they just stopping all P2P stuff??? that would seem insane…

  • Mike Arthur

    You couldn’t detect what is being detected but chances are high if you are using a international proxy and downloading huge amounts of data then you are doing something illegal. It won’t take too long for sites like this to get shut down, if nothing else because it’s a “security risk”.

  • Mike Arthur

    Er, can’t detect what is being transferred, even.

  • steve

    @mike …unless it becomes the standard thing that people do who want to say EFF YOU to the watchers… it’s tricky to accuse a million people of being up to no good in that way, and even harder to prosecute…

    And then what next? you geeks are far smarter than the government or musicians. Better to work together, methinks :)

  • steve

    Tom – brilliant observations. I’m most grateful to you for taking the time to post here. I love the way your mind works, and your perspective from the world of orchestral/chamber music is a vital one that I continually overlook, and really ought to do more research into! Thanks

    So, bottom line, would I be happy for you to upload my stuff? Answer, yes. For a number of reasons. One, the only thing worse than being listened to for free, is not being listened to for free – so if people are looking for me there, then that’s magic. Secondly, the point at which people assume I’m worth torrenting is actually a career bench-mark. They may have missed it by a mile, but it’s a triumph of marketing that someone would assume there was a big enough market for what I do to make it available. Thirdly, anyone who likes what they hear who looks online for more info is going to fine me. Not a page about me by a label, or even a fan site, but me. They can then email me, comment here, talk to me, tell people about me, send their friends to me. I’m where the buck stops. The shared file becomes the beginning of a journey not the end.

    Some people still love physical CDs. That’s great, I’ll keep making Cds for them for now. LOTS of people love to buy downloads direct from the artist – I wonder how many of the artists in the FAC are innovating in the area of downloads and gig sales (Howard Jones was one of the first to sell gigs at the end of the gig – massive kudos to him for working on that idea. I really hope it worked well for him and helped to make touring viable.)

    There are so many different variables at work here, and so many ways that audiences keep demonstrating they are happy to pay music to musicians they care about.

    Bad music isn’t worth anything. Musicians who make bad music don’t have any reason to expect to make a living from it – but ‘bad’ is entirely subjective. How can we measure value like that? we can’t. If we focus on making the best music we possibly can, and then find the people who like it, talk to them about it, and invite them to be a part of the process of it existing, we’ll do fine.

    Thanks so much Tom – great thoughts, great questions, much need insights.

  • steve


    I think your use of the phrase ‘these people’ needs unpacking. Just because a cause is in line with part of the thinking of a bunch of people who ‘want something for nothing’, I don’t think that negates the thinking…

    The phrase ‘freetard’ gets bandied around (not by you) but I don’t think most of the people engaged in this discussion are actually coming from that perspective. The freetards just shout louder because they feel like they have some kind of ideology behind their thinking – however untenable that ideology may be…

    Many more would align themselves with your very succinctly put point about governments getting involved in surveillance at the bidding of industry, and still many more, I would imagine, who recognise that the ‘problem’ as outlined by the music industry has only ever actually been a problem for the very small percentage of people who were already making huge amounts of cash from music.

    For the rest of us, this is a chance to give up on a system that lets others speculate wildly with our money with impunity all because this is our ‘chance at the big time’, but then it’s too late when we finally realise that the carrot dangled before us is a turd painted orange.

    The software industry is another interesting test case in all this, as there are now myriad models for making money from software – the most lucrative these days being, ironically, the DRM-frenzy of platform specific app-stores that most people seem quite happy to buy into… Clearly that’s a model that failed miserably for music, but works for some software. So there’s nuance to this that needs exploring…

  • Mike Arthur

    Oh, I would totally agree, none of the commenters here are “freetards”, I hope that didn’t come off that that was the intention. However, some of the circles I move in mean I come across those sort of people often and they irritate me greatly.

    I totally agree that industry shouldn’t be passing new laws that infringe on civil liberties just to keep their profits at the same level.

    I also agree that this is more about people wanting to be incredibly wealthy than actually thinking this will somehow cause the destruction of all music.

    I think the problem I and most people have with this is the government intervening. I don’t care as much if bands stop me getting access to their music but when it means my government is tapping my communications or cut off people’s internet for a minor crime this is unacceptable. However, welcome to the 21st century dystopia. I don’t think this capitalist dream will come to an end any time soon unfortunately.

  • steve

    HI Chris,

    good question. I guess I’ll have to say ‘no’ it’s not straight up morally wrong. I think the moral/ethical question lies in our relationship with music/art as a whole – and the desire of the musician to not be shared, if it stems from their own feeling that ‘no-one should be able to get hold of my music without paying for it’ would, it seems to me, stem from a misunderstanding of how music discovery has always worked. It’s true that back before the days of P2P/streaming/online listening/spotify etc. a lot of us would buy records we’d never heard. Or ones where we’d only heard the single on the radio. But as a result, most people had woefully narrowly defined music collections – defined by the radio/TV/magazine mediators that they chose to get their music info from. Those mediators cost massive amounts of money, and distribution was also a really expensive game to get into, so new/lesser known artists wanting to price their music competitively had to put it out at virtually no profit if they intended to sell ‘enough to make any sensible money on’, or they were happy to sell a few hundred copies of an album, and made music for the love of it.

    Now, that’s not the case – we don’t need to be limited by the cost of marketing. People can find our music without us having to spend massive amounts of money convincing the media middle men that they need to play it/write about us/put us on TV. We can let our fans do it, and the better we resource them to do it, the better a job they are going to do.

    I totally understand why a musician would be scared of their work ending up on P2P services – it goes totally against everything we’ve ever been told by the machine of an industry that says that the way you make money from music is by making people pay you for a physical copy just so they can listen to it. But the real value in music was never in the 50p the artist made off an album sale – percentage wise, the number of bands that would ever make enough to live on from that was always SO small as to render the entire project a failure for the careers of musicians across the country. Now we have the chance to have music discovered in a much less mediated way, in a way, in a more meritocratic way, in a more nuanced way. You no longer need to be media friendly, and have enough cash spent on you to pop above the radar. instead you can be fan friendly, interesting, personal, human and generous, and your fans then have the option to rise to that and help you out. For them to also be generous to you out of gratitude for the music. The value of music has always been more than the royalty on a CD, and the rest of the money that was spent to get people to listen to it was at best a necessary waste, and at worst part of a plot to use musicians as a cash cow while keeping them in the dark about what was really going on.

    That’s all changed, thank God. I think the survey that showed that those who download the most also spend the most on music was a really enlightening one. Music is part of the fabric of our lives, and the people who would pay for it anyway are more than aware of the need to seed money back into the music economy. Previously that seeding was massively stacked in the favour of artists who’ve already made it – in the same way that money gravitates to those who already have it, money in music sticks to the famous. It’s not like that now. And we can go with it and love it, or fight it and lose.

  • Chris Bestwick

    Hi Steve

    I understand and appreciate all the arguments you’re making in favour of filesharing:

    it keeps down marketing costs;
    it helps new bands;
    it can help established bands too;
    it’s part of a new, better way of music discovery;
    it helps speed up the erosion of an old, bad model;
    fighting it is technically impossible and the attempts to do so cause more harm than good.

    I’m not clear though what you mean when you say “the moral/ethical question lies in our relationship with music/art as a whole”.

    You seem to be saying that the moral quality of the act of someone sharing music against an artist’s wishes depends entirely upon the motivation of the artist for not wanting their music shared. If this motivation is “no-one should be able to get hold of my music without paying for it” then you think the act of sharing isn’t morally wrong.

    I’m not sure if you’re saying that this is because a) the artist is suffering from some kind of “false consciousness” where what they think is in their best interests actually isn’t (i.e. they don’t actually lose money in the long-term), or b) the benefits of filesharing to music culture in general outweigh the genuine losses to them as an individual (i.e. they do lose money, even in the long-term, but the general cultural benefits outweigh this loss).

    What if the reason for the artist not sharing is not money related? Does downloading then become immoral? What if the artist plans to give away the music directly, for example after a performance and it’s an important part of the whole project that the listener sees the performance too? Or what if it’s a tape of a Keith Jarrett concert, made against his express wishes? Do these cases affect the morality of the sharing act?

    Perhaps of more relevance to us indie people, what if I want to give my music away for free, but from my own site? If I say to you specifically, “Steve, please don’t download this from Pirate Bay”, but you do, is your act entirely morally neutral?

    I’m not trying to become too hair-splittingly Jesuitical, (honest :) ), just trying to say that if we make the rightness or wrongness of downloading dependent upon artists’ motivations for asking us not to we can get in a moral mess. It seems much easier to just say, if someone asks us not to download their music, for whatever reason, then we shouldn’t.

    I can’t see how accepting this point has any negative affect on most of the arguments in favour of file sharing, except for “erosion of the bad model” argument. On the contrary, by not downloading music that artists don’t want downloaded we defuse the record company and established artists’ arguments and leave filesharing as a useful tool for all the people who want to benefit from it, which in turn benefits the culture as a whole.

  • steve

    Hi Chris,

    I don’t think this is hair-splitting at all. I think you’re asking really vital questions. So thanks very much! :)

    OK, so if we bring this down to a relationship between an artist and their audience member, and you (the artist) have asked me (the fan) not to put your stuff up on a fire sharing site, I’m really likely to comply with that. I might come and chat with you (if you make a space available to do that) about how that works, but given that I feel some relationship with you, I’m far more inclined to take what you say for what it is a – a request to me, personally. That relationship is, I think, key to understanding where people’s perceptions of value lie in all this. If Elton John said to me ‘steve don’t share my music on bit torrent’, I’d say ‘OK, but a million other people who don’t give a shit already are… soz.’

    So there is an economy of scale that works here – the internet is, it seems, far more sensitive to scale than you might first imagine. The place where this has failed, often, is the MP3 blog world – I had a jazz guitarist friend who a week after his album came out, had someone giving it away on a blog in Amsterdam. not even ‘sharing it with friends’ but attaching it to his own public personae. So making a fairly major kudos-gain with his audience at the expense of my friend’s record. This friend of mine contacted the guy and said ‘dude, c’mon, gimme a break – I need a few week’s grace to sell some CDs before shit like this starts happening’, and the guy, from what I remember took it down for about a week… I guess this is right at the heart of your question, in that it was in response to a direct request that he said ‘I don’t give a shit’, whilst pitching himself as being some kind of figurehead in the jazz guitar promoting market. I’d have had LESS problem with him putting it on bit torrent, TBH.

    The tricky thing with regards to the bigger question here is whether ‘steps should be taken’ to stop him doing it. Given that he was out and proud, I wouldn’t have a problem with an ISP saying that the site itself was in breach of their T&Cs. Beyond that, the best course that my buddy could take would be to get in touch with, and stay in touch with, as many of his audience as he can – if he pre-sells the physical copies of his CDs to people who want them, then there’s no way it’s going to be out there to download before they get it unless he lets it go. Presell, when you’ve got enough to make back what you need, send ’em out. Then carry on talking to you audience so they come to you as their first port of call. If you use something like Bandcamp to sell your music, you give those who care a chance to pay more as well as less than ‘the asking price’ for your music. Host a discussion on your site about where the value lies in music. I’m constantly challenged to rethink this stuff thanks to the conversations we have here.

    The Keith Jarrett argument is also an interesting one, and I’m still not sure whether live performers just need to ‘deal with it’ and put up with all this stuff out there, or whether there is some ‘rights’ issue at stake (in the bigger-than-legal meaning) – What’s his complaint? That the experience needs to be hi-def or he’s being misrepresented? Surely anyone whose ears are worth courting will know that, and will then go and buy the hi-def version based on having got excited about the bootleg. But that notion he’d never allow his music to be on the radio, or for MP3 copies to be sold, given the stats on what kind of systems ‘most’ radio and internet listening happens on. A low res bootleg on a good system is probably going to sound a lot better than his top quality audio through my laptop speakers… The control issue is one that we as artists need to be thinking about, because the next question is ‘are our moral rights undermined if our requests and expectations are entirely unrealistic, and counter to the impulses that our artistic endeavors stir up in our audience. Namely – if we want our audience to get excited about us and tell their friends, can we realistically then expect them not to use whatever means they can to tell that story? I LOVE showing people photos of great events in my life. Even more so video. I like making audio available of my own gigs, inviting people relive something of the experience. I want my audience to do the same thing, and I credit them with enough intelligence to be able to tell the difference between a live bootleg and the finished product. And if they can’t, I’ll happily tell all those who are listening how I see it. And because I make myself approachable to pretty much anyone who’s interested in what I’m doing, they’re likely to come to me first.

    So, yes, in short (short? ha!) I think you’re right, those kind of requests *should* be listened to. But the reality is that they will be listened to not on their moral/ethical merits but on the closeness of artist and listener. Cos we’re happy to help our friends out. This way sustainability lies :)

  • Mike Arthur

    Hmm, the slight problem I see on your reasoning here is that surely the first person to share Elton John’s music on BitTorrent, despite Elton John not wanting to WAS doing something wrong?

    Or (to be unnecessarily harsh on your argument) is it ok to share the music of people who don’t talk explicitly to their listeners on the internet?

  • Chris Bestwick

    It sounds now like you’re saying that the morality of downloading depends on a number of things, including:

    1) The way/manner in which the artist has asked that you don’t share the music
    2) The nature of the relationship you have with the artist
    3) Whether a certain number of people have already disregarded the artist’s wishes
    4) The extent to which the artist is a member of a corrupt industry (I’m assuming you think this can be a matter of degree, or do you think anyone signed to any label, no matter what size is equally tainted?)
    5) How much money they’ve already made

    I think you’ll end up with a very complicated formula for deciding the rightness of your actions! :)

    I think I’m a bit less morally relativistic on this issue than you, Steve. I don’t think morality is scaleable – either something’s moral or it isn’t. It’s in this way that morality is different from the law, which can become unenforceable past a certain point – precisely the situation we’re in now with filesharing.

    If we act morally, and define that simply as acting in accordance with an artist’s wishes, we take away the authorities’ justification for trying to enforce an unenforceable law, with all the bad consequences we’re keen to avoid, while at the same time in no way diminishing the arguments in favour of the benefits of filesharing for those of us who want to share.

    This discussion’s getting to the point where it would make a good edition of Moral Maze :)

  • steve

    I think the tricky thing with your list of 5, Chris, is that they aren’t exclusively moral questions – there are a range of relationships at play, between people, entities, businesses, cultures… I don’t think it’s morally relative, I just think it’s too complex to be metric.

    I also think that if you create an expectation within an audience that a certain kind of action is in your favour, and they then transfer that action to a different environment that they understand better than you, you can end up criticizing their actions, when in fact they are doing what you asked them to do in the first place, they’re just doing it in a way that you misconstrue as damaging because you don’t exist within that ecosystem, so don’t know where the value lies.

    On specifics, no I don’t think all recording deals are equally bad. I just think that given what’s possible now, a label needs to work flippin’ hard to justify its existence, and the stuff that Robert Fripp’s been saying for years about the inequity in the traditional financial arrangement between artist and label has been proved time and time again.

    If an artist chooses to go into that relationship, with their eyes open, that’s totally up to them, and I don’t think in any absolute way negates their right to a moral take on this. But if your label are acting in a way that is commensurate with file sharing (ie, giving out your CDs in their thousands to mates in the industry, which them crop up on Ebay because the bloke who got it in the mail has no vested interest in doing anything with it, and the label has taken a completely scatter-shot approach to ‘getting it out there’, assuming that magazines are on your side) then it’s a much tougher sell to say ‘I really value my art, please don’t share it with other people who really want to listen to it’ given that the artist has been PAYING for it to be shared with people who DON’T want to listen to it.

    Working in a broken industry isn’t in and of itself a morally bankrupt action, but it does make it much harder to explain how when two things have apparent moral equivalency in the terms defined by the artist, one is OK because it’s the label doing it and charging the artist, but one isn’t because it’s fans and it’s not costing anyone anything…

  • Mike Arthur

    Yes, I’d say it probably is stupid and young tech-savvy artists are stupid for not doing so. With older technophobes this line gets blurred a bit IMO.

    I don’t think it’s reasonable to say you should only expect your fans to pay you for your music when you ask them to. By that logic it’s ok to sit and read a book in it’s entirety in a bookshop until you are asked to stop?

    Essentially I think with both models pretty much everyone except the exceptionally ignorant knows that they are getting something for nothing, a product that the creator wants paid for. Great points about this product being handed to magazines/industry insiders, that’s a stupid double-standard but I don’t think it morally making P2P filesharing of copyrighted works justifiable.

    The problem is when you say this does become legally justifiable and you won’t even try to prosecute or enforce your copyrights any more then you cause problems in other industries e.g. books getting republished in their entirety online, all software requiring DRM or be copied into oblivion, games moving over to DRMd platforms (e.g. consoles). I honestly think the fact that most people know it’s a bit wrong is the only thing stopping complete anarchy in regards to copyrighted materials. People still pay for stuff now, I’m not sure they would if the government said “oh, it’s ok to download/upload copyrighted stuff, we don’t really mind”.

  • steve

    By that logic it’s ok to sit and read a book in it’s entirety in a bookshop until you are asked to stop?

    …if you go into Borders it is. They allow people to do that, knowing that people who spend a lot of time in bookshops are more likely to spend money on books. They’ve looked at the stats and said ‘OK, it seems nuts to let people read books that are for sale, but we make more on extra sales that we lose on soiled books, so we’ll do it’. and there’s nothing an author can do to stop Borders from doing that – they don’t have a list of ‘books you can’t read in the coffee shop because the author doesn’t want you to’…

    See, this is where it gets really murky 😉

  • Mike Arthur

    Sure, that’s fine with Borders, just like it’s fine with artists that say it’s ok to share their stuff on P2P networks.

    The question is does the fact that Borders do it make it ok to do so in Waterstones? I’d argue not, I’m wary of making a rule out of the exception.

  • steve

    I wonder how many publishers give their authors the choice to opt out of Borders due to policy. Or any other chain.

    I think the moral discussion is vital, but I think the bigger issue is for artists to see that their moral concerns about downloading are way smaller than the ones that need to be addressed in the system that they are defending as the alternative.

    Bringing it back to the FAC, they represent almost exclusively signed artists. Signed to some kind of deal or other. People beholden to the machine. They are explicitly saying that things were better 10 years ago than they are now for artists, and that it’s getting worst. And that’s utter BS. Pure unadulterated nonsense.

    I love the discussion we’re having, and I hope we continue to wrestle with this, but in the framing of this debate, we’re applying a level of moral questioning to the file-sharing ecosystem that isn’t there for labels. Their arguments in favour of their methods are pragmatic. They argue that it works, and point to the success stories. They don’t and can’t defend the system as a discovery method to rival the web – at least not unless they’re mendacious as well as dim.

    Online music discovery culture has just way more pragmatic and practical arguments in its favour. It risks less, the potential for discovery is equal parts meritocratic and serendipitous and it encourages people to be good citizens, to be engaged and involved with the people who experience their art. The bigger moral issues which are vital and real, still have to meet these practical ones about ‘what the alternatives are right now and who they are good for’ head on…

  • steve

    thanks for the link – it does show just how many sticky areas there would be, as well as the tell-tale line about how other countries had tried it and failed… useful stuff. :)

  • steve

    and that, my friend, is the truth.


  • steve

    The best comment I heard on this came from Neil Gaiman quoting Douglas Adams who said that ‘Nothing is as good at being a book as a book is’ – no digital format will ever map the tactile experience and low-cost sharability of a book. It’s just the perfect format.

    With music, that’s not the case – CDs are just clumsy data carriers. The data is all that matters. once the CD is in the machine, the machine is just reading it and playing it via the speakers. Books are about more than that, the interface is different.

    Also, because of the ‘one time read’ aspect, books have ALWAYS been a sharing medium. Another great vox-pop that Neil did when he spoke to the Open Rights Group was to ask how many people discovered their favourite author by buying a book of theirs? pretty much no-one put their hand up. Book sharing has always been the discovery method.

    Kindles are just a bit bulky and clumsy compared to books and break if you sit on them. Plus they’re fixed width so crap for propping up table legs :)

  • badlydrawnboyo

    Kudos for the Adams reference — tho, truth is, if he’d seen a Kindle or a Sony eReader he’d have been frothing at the nipple, gadgettechfreak that he was. Those things really are good.

    Also, booksharing is the equivalent to hometaping, not internet piracy, surely? If you can get pdfs onto a Kindle (and that’s how you read), you’re talking about sharing books hundred of thousands of times. If you’re a musician, that’s great, people will come see you live. Trust me, book author tours don’t add the same value.

    The one option would be, I guess, to give every book away free on the Internet, but pack it with advertising — newspaper publishing already works that way, often. But an author might get very upset about who s/he’s being asked to (tacitly) endorse.

    Truth be told, I know I’ll get a better pieces out of writers if they’re paid (whether immediately or because we’re drawing attention to other product they have). Or I’ll get better writers. Very occasionally you’ll get someone who’s very committed to our product, or wants very much to communicate with our audience — the chances are about as high as the average blog post being read by a thousand readers. So how will I pay them if people aren’t paying to read them? What’ll happen to books is what’s happening to local newspapers — regurgitated opinion shit with no resources for reporters who understand the community.

    That’s to say, I can’t answer for music — your arguments seem to add up. But newspapers are already worse then they were (and what’s being lost isn’t being replaced online). I hate the thought that books are next.

  • steve

    The other Gaiman quote that I now use all the time was that he said ‘what authors have to fear is not piracy but obscurity’.

    And so to answer your point about cash, I always look at what happens to ‘most’ authors (or musicians etc.) and most books don’t make lots of money. People write books for myriad reasons, few of them are written because the author is sure to make a mint off it. Those are the rock stars, the statistical blip.

    So the value in the web is exposure and audience and connection and dissemination and discovery without the random spend of a marketing budget, just the same as it is in music…

    I really don’t think advertising is the way forward. There are definitely revenue sharing models that will work, as soon as we start to see/measure the value in audience sharing, and come up with a good way of relating products, ideas, entities (web collectives, if you will), but advertising transfered from mags/news to the web is pretty damned clumsy. Just try reading the thoughts of anyone who’s managed to make a living out of it – what they describe is very rarely anything like a life I’d want to lead…

  • Tom Alves

    As a slight tangent I remember a few years back Stephen King tried to publish a book solely on the net. The idea was that people would pay a small fee per chapter. It failed horribly because as soon as work got to the net it was spread amongst fans via other sites, who were then able to bypass Stephen King & his request for payment.

  • steve

    Nick, thanks so much for posting that – really important contextual stuff for what’s going on. Maybe Billy is smarter on this than I gave him credit for 😉