Filesharing Part II – Are the Featured Artists Coalition missing the point?
Following on from yesterday’s post on Lily Allen, File-Sharing and the Smaller Artist here’s a further response to yesterday’s FAC meeting and it’s so called “3 strikes” rule.
Well yesterday saw the meeting we’d been looking forward to; the Featured Artists Coalition met at Air Studios to discuss the impact of file-sharing on the music industry. The FAC today released this statement:
“We the undersigned wish to express our support for Lily Allen in her campaign to alert music lovers to the threat that illegal downloading presents to our industry and to condemn the vitriol that has been directed at her in recent days.
Our meeting also voted overwhelmingly to support a three-strike sanction on those who persistently download illegal files, sanctions to consist of a warning letter, a stronger warning letter and a final sanction of the restriction of the infringer’s bandwidth to a level which would render file-sharing of media files impractical while leaving basic email and web access functional.”
I’m saddened that they’ve somewhere along the way missed the point. Artists and labels can and I argue should use the sharing of files to proliferate their work to their benefit. As mentioned in yesterday’s post, Ms Allen has used the sharing of mix-tape mp3s to promote her work (and you can’t have it both ways). Radiohead made more money from their “Pay What You Want” album than they have from all their previous releases put together. The opportunities are there.
The Allen standpoint, baldly that “file-sharing is wrong”, is not one that opponents techies, nurds and independents find complicated (though Bob Lefsetz argues artists may not be the best equipped to have this discussion), it’s fully understood. To not pay for copyrighted music without the owners’ permission, is illegal. I for one am not suggesting that to illegally download a file is morally right, however I struggle to raise a fist and exclaim “It’s Wrong!”.
The use of emotive language such as the word “piracy” however, only serves to polarise “industry” against “independent” (I realise I’m black and whiting matters somewhat there). A person emailing a file to a friend however should not carry similar associations to the actual piracy in the news. No person I’ve heard of has been killed as a result of file-sharing, and while I appreciate it’s a matter of scale, no artist has ever complained publicly about free CD’s given to reviewers and press (that invariably end up on eBay despite the “Not to be resale” disclamer). What serves the argument is expedience, and generally that of artists signed to major labels.
The FAC statement seems to come from a standpoint where file-sharing through the internet is being denounced as an evil to be stamped out, or at least curtailed. The counter argument is to use the free distribution channels now available to engage with fans, and get them to buy something from you, even if it’s not your music.
So, how have the FAC missed the point? Well I think it’s at least threefold:
Point one is simply this; file-sharing is unstoppable. Whether it be home-taping, CD copying, the copying to DVD of thousands of mp3s, hard-drive-swapping and probably the most obvious work-around for those who’ve had their three strikes… pay-as-you-go mobile-wifi dongles. Since we’ve had affordable technology enabling us to copy music, humans have shared their favourites with other people. Some people just flat don’t, or rarely pay for music and that will remain. It’s been the case since before the cassette, this will remain the case. This brings us on rather neatly to..
Point two… If music lovers like the music and/or we like the artist, we’ll pay them. I’ve bought albums a number of times from artists and bands who I love, bands who I feel a connection with, hell I’ve bought music by people whose music I’m not that keen on because I like the person. I’ve even had a copied CD from a band, gone to their and given them case in their hand rather than it go to their label. The challenge for artists and labels now is to give people a reason to buy. It could be an exclusive gig that results in an artefact after the fact [ahem – cough - plug], it could be giving people an insight to your life and recording as exemplified by Imogen Heap, it could be stunning artwork/box sets, audio books, it could be your the sharing of your knowledge and expertise, great (and hopefully ethical) T-shirts.
Anyway, I’ll put my no-money where my mouth is and invite you all to pay as little as you want for Hope and Social‘s album as you want. Host it somewhere, send it to friends… why? Because we believe music does have value, as does your time. If you love it, you’ll come to a show or come back and give us money, or you’ll tell your friends and they’ll visit our website, or you’ll talk about us, blog, tweet or bookmark us on delicious, give us a thumbs up on StumbleUpon or you’ll digg us. Attention is the commodity, sharing increases the amount of people who can dedicate their time and attention to you.
It’s not until the mainstream industry embraces that the sharing of music has been a part of culture for decades (or millennia assuming we’re including the passing on of songs through singing) that we’ll see an end to this row. It feels somewhat draconian that people may still end up prosecuted for sharing music. If it’s to do with copyright then sharing a newspaper with your household should hold the same penalty, a cover version at your local pub should be a revenue stream for the writer. Any cover version on the internet that isn’t [choke] monetised is infringing on the writers’ rights. If you lend a CD to a friend and have him or her copy it, how can this be policed? And that chap on the tube reading your copy of Q over your shoulder, three strikes then gouge his eyes out with a pen. Simples.