National Day of Sharing May Take Your Stuff
COLUMN: If you want to hear new music in the future, good luck. Musicians and songwriters are being pushed out of the marketplace. Take a look at this simple but unassailable logic: “When you turn on your tap, water comes out and you’re billed for it. When you turn on your computer, music comes out and you’re not billed for it. That has to change or the music industry is essentially the same as the Titanic.”
The speaker is Richard Gibbs, composer of music and soundtracks for motion pictures (“Queen of the Damned,” “28 Days,” “Say Anything…”) and television (“Battlestar Galactica,” “The Simpsons”).
Gibbs appeared on a lively panel at the California Copyright Conference (CCC) monthly meeting in Los Angeles, and while the main topic was about placing music in film and TV, the event often took a couple of sharp turns into another issue, namely methods for resurrecting what some see as an industry in jeopardy.
The most entertaining idea was Gibbs’ suggestion of a “Day of Sharing – where we ALL share the fruits of each others’ labors. Every musician and every human who supports this cause will, on this day, ‘share’ whatever they like. Order your favorite meal from your local bistro, eat it, and walk out. Test drive a car and simply keep driving. Fill your pockets with candy from the 7-11 . . .
“Don’t forget to thank the proprietors for sharing, though, and let them know that you like the Snickers bar and that next time you might just pay for it out of kindness and generosity. And just in case you are beginning to feel a little guilty,” Gibbs adds, “warm the cockles of your heart by thinking of all of those wonderful pieces of music that you helped to create that are residing in the restaurant owner’s iPod and his kids’ iPods, the gas station owner’s laptop – think of all that beautiful sharing YOU have already done.”
While Gibbs’ suggestion is satirical, legal experts agree that he makes a valid point. “Copyright protection was considered so important, the founding fathers wrote it into the Constitution,” notes Cheryl Hodgson, president of the CCC. “The lobbying by special interests in technology over the last 20 years has finally taken its toll. The slow erosion of rights of all authors has finally reached a critical juncture. The shift in consciousness to one of ‘entitlement’ to free music began with illegal downloads but is now seen in other aspects of our society,” Hodgson states.
Criminal Acts in Your Home
Estimates of music piracy vary depending on who’s doing the measuring, but most calculations I’ve seen put the percentage of illegally downloaded music at well above 80%. A recent NPR story stated that 95% of all digitally downloaded music is pirated. Gibbs feels it is closer to 97%. Whatever the figure, piracy means the slow death of music distribution and the drying up of commerce for songwriters and musicians. And the criminals are everywhere from Silicon Valley to inside your house.
“Music and entertainment are not going away,” Gibbs admits, pointing out that “the average kid has twenty times the number of songs on his iPod than that same kid would have had in his CD collection ten years ago. They just aren’t paying for it.”
The blame for this is often laid on the doorstep of the major record labels. True, they have displayed many faults over the years. Greed, for example. As in selling a $16 compact disc containing two good songs, which they did repeatedly except when they were selling an $18 compact disc containing one good song.
The major labels were also quite fond of finding, shaping, controlling, and foisting onto the public ever younger and ever less talented people who pretended to be musicians despite their inability to write, compose, sing or play an instrument.
As onerous as these practices are, the majors are not the culprits for the crisis in the music industry. It’s the manufacturers of hardware and software who have successfully lobbied Congress to prevent songwriters and composers from getting paid. Well, they don’t call it that, but that’s the result of policies that do not compel Internet service providers (ISPs) to build-in fees for music the same way restaurants, stores, and bars do.
For those of you who are not in the music business, let me explain that last point. When you go into a public establishment that uses music, one of their costs of doing business is paying for the performance of music. Performing rights organizations (PROs) such as BMI, ASCAP and SESAC collect money for the public performances of their members’ music on network television, cable and satellite TV broadcasts, use in nightclubs, stores, restaurants and other public performances. But this does not happen with music and electronic devices. And corporations are just fine with this, a situation that is leading to the destruction of a creator’s copyright.
“Imagine what kind of world we would live in if the basic human right to benefit from one’s own labor were suddenly taken away,” writes Tess Taylor, president of the National Association of Record Industry Professionals (NARIP). “Contemplate for a moment how any of us would react if our individual ingenuity, productivity, perseverance, and investment; our labor, ideas, property and other contributions were, to our exclusion, made instantly and freely available to others.” But that’s exactly what the consumer electronics industry is doing, in conjunction with the telecommunications firms (telcos) which include cellular phone companies and cell phone manufacturers.
Taylor suggests considering “free” music as analogous to a trip to an amusement park: “A popular destination point like Disneyland would not have the right to charge admission. Does that mean you can go to Disneyland for free? Not exactly,” Taylor notes. “To get there, you’ll have take a private road that the telcos and consumer electronics industries control – and at the toll gate you’ll be forced to pay whatever they demand.”
Another example might be to think of songwriters as the bakers of bread and the big corporations as the owners of delivery trucks. Compensation would be made for the delivery but not for anything else. Or, as Taylor puts it, “the baker of the bread is paid nothing but the delivery boy charges what he likes and keeps all the money.”
Wait, I hear you say, it’s just a few songwriters, right? Wrong. Once you give up the idea of copyright protection for creators, you’re going off the edge of an icy road and spiraling downward to something darker. As Taylor points out, under this approach “…novelists, investigative reporters, journalists, documentary and theatrical filmmakers, screenwriters, photographers and cinematographers, recording artists, songwriters, producers, poets and painters, doctors and scientists, cancer researchers, bio-geneticists, climatologists, architects and engineers, designers, and others – those who make among the greatest contributions to society – are expressly deprived of the right to own the results and proceeds of their creative work.” Because anything that can be digitized is subject to being “shared.”
So how do we change this condition that is weakening copyright laws, promoting unfair business practices and taking food out of the mouths of creators and their families?
Calling for a Cure
“Monetizing the Internet is not all that difficult to do from a technical and logistical standpoint,” Gibbs says. “The problem is that we need union leaders with the political backbone and savvy to force legislation through that will protect and enhance all of the entertainment industry – indeed, all intellectual property rights.”
One solution proposed by Gibbs and others would be for all ISPs to charge a mandatory monthly fee for unlimited downloads. From a music publishing standpoint, I don’t care if the ISPs collect the money or if the PROs are allowed to do it, but something needs to be done to end the nearly ubiquitous theft of music.
Consider the root cause of the trouble. Why is the flow of appropriated music allowed to continue unchecked? Gibbs points out that “There are very intelligent people fighting for the other side, pushing for free dissemination of information of all sorts on the Web. Their argument seems to be that the Internet and free downloads are suddenly some kind of God-given right.”
The telcos and electronics companies are multi-billion dollar industries (which dwarf the record and music publishing industries) and have highly paid lobbyists arguing their position in Washington. Many believe they provide the funding for firms that regularly address the public, such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation, to shape opinion in such a way that wealthy companies get more wealth while songwriters and composers get nothing.
Two things are needed: legislation to protect intellectual property; and public understanding of the dilemma. Legislation will only occur if members of Congress suddenly develop guts, or if they are lobbied by people other than the hardware and software industries.
Follow the Dollars
Take a look at who’s making money from the use of other people’s creations. “The ISPs, for starters, are cleaning up while charging monthly fees for access to services that allow people to pirate music at will,” Gibbs notes. “According to one survey I read there are approximately 91.7 million monthly subscribers in the U.S. alone paying monthly fees to their ISPs. And that survey did not even include universities and government institutions. The ISPs are, in turn, leasing their bandwidth from even larger and more profitable companies.” Those firms are very profitable in large part by using music and other valuable content they have not licensed. As one independent artist put is, “This leaves U.S. songwriters and music publishers between a rock-and-roll and a hard-wired place.”
Gibbs notes that “Our fight is not with the public – it is with the corporations that are making money hand over fist by the sweat off our furrowed brows and it is with the government that allows it to happen.” Gibbs states that the music industry “should be leading the fight, by every means necessary, to establish a new view of file-sharing – a misnomer if ever there was one (how about ‘file-stealing’ instead?).”
You Can be Part of the Solution
Thievery. Larceny. Robbery. Corporations shifting money from creators into their own pockets. Lobbying organizations rigging laws against the little guy. This can continue or you can help stop it. Yes, you. You can help bring about positive change with just a few clicks on your computer keyboard. The same computer that may be busy streaming and storing illegally “shared” music. The same computer that may soon be busy streaming and storing illegally “shared” motion pictures.
You can let your Congressperson know that major corporations should not be allowed to take money from those who own copyrighted works. Yes, I know, I know, the name of your Congressperson is right on the tip of your tongue. Here’s where to get the name:
*You can get in touch with Cheryl Hodgson at www.hodgson-law.com
*The many activities of the National Association of Record Industry Professionals are found at www.narip.com
*To learn more about the CCC, visit them online at www.theccc.org
*You can contribute to the Richard Gibbs defense fund at www.richardgibbsmusic.com