On file sharing - David Lowery's open letter to NPR intern Emily White

The file sharing debate often generates more heat than light, but this open letter from Cracker's David Lowery is worth reading. 

I don't agree with him 100%, but I certainly agree with the essence. Most of the arguments in favor of peer-to-peer music distribution are self-serving nonsense. Was the music industry slow to react to online distribution of music? Do copyright owners continue to get it wrong? Is Apple gouging both consumers and content providers? Is file sharing impossible to stop? Yes, yes, yes and yes.

Deciding on music as a career doesn't entitle you to a living. But if you are a successful musician and there are hundreds of thousands of people hearing and enjoying your music and you get no financial return, there is something very wrong.

Emily White's NPR blog post is here.

Industry veteran / iconoclast Bob Lefsetz weighs in here. My problem with Lefsetz is the disconnect between his pragmatic view (that the world has changed and you'd better change with it) and the ethics of file-sharing. 

Personally, I can't escape the conclusion that someone who admits to having 11,000 songs - while paying for less than 20 CDs - has been caught stealing.

What do you think?

Tags: file sharing

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They make mistakes (as do hmv, play and iTunes).  Mostly they screw up on box sets and deluxe editions(physical and download).  New releases for $2.99 makes sense as the label gets chart traction.  I've had instances of HMV and Amazon trying to renege on sales (the former even tried sending the wrong item once - deliberately).  The people most likely to pounce on the mispricings are likely already Amazon customers anyway.  Usually I find about these things because it shows up on the recommended or they e-mail me about it.

This is good ... [Insert smiley emoticon here ...]  The Entire David Lowery Debate In One Spotify Playlist

There is one area where music can't be pirated and that's vinyl. I don't think for a minute that the world is going to all go back to vinyl, but perhaps the folks in the business should push for higher fidelity on the reproduction side of things such that only the "best" sound reproduction equipment can play the higher fidelity music. There are a good many people who say that MP3's are inferior to the best analog and digital have to offer.  Right now the "best" reproduction equipment is priced out of the hands of the most  ultimate consumers.

For instance, made in the US are: http://www.vpiindustries.com/main-collection.htm



Huh? In case you hadn't heard, vinyl is easily pirated. And is. Lots of players on the market.

That thing won't bring the performer(s) into your room, or at least it won't bring a convincing facsimile of the performers into your room. A great hight fidelity setup will do that. And it's not that hard to do, sometimes strangely, but the best equipment will set the performers in front of you with a full 3-d illusion of the performer(s)  being there.  .You might have to do the DIY route and go to Pluto to get there, but it can' be done:


Here's the proof. There is absolutely no doubt that vinyl sounds better than CD.

Somebody was trying to tell me that CDs are better than vinyl because they don't have any surface noise. I said, "Listen, mate, *life* has surface noise." - John Peel

It's a memorable quote, and John Peel is a god to me. But I don't buy it for a second. Right now I'm listening to Sandy Denny singing "Who Knows Where The Time Goes". Just Sandy accompanying herself on acoustic guitar. Free of annoying, distracting surface noise. Recorded 9/11/73, at the BBC. The program was "Sounds of the Seventies", hosted by John Peel.

I had read the David Lowery piece before but not seen the Bob Lefsetz rebuttal until now.  As one of my colleagues once remarked about the state of Internet technological changes: "It's like trying to drink from a fire-hose."   

To say that things are changing is an understatement of gigantic proportion.   But to say that due to changes, artists should not be paid for their work is just wrong.  

How they get paid is and always has been subject to change but we can't reinvent "fairness" to suit ourselves because the opportunity presents itself.

Breaking into a warehouse in the dead of night with no one around and stealing the place blind is still stealing.  Just because no one saw and you didn't get caught doesn't change the wrong to right.

Right is right and wrong is wrong and you can't shade either like you would a canvas with a brush.

I was extremely surprised that NPR would allow Emily to publish her piece as it did seem to be a glorified admission of guilt.   I'm sure that due to Emily's age, she doesn't see it that way.  Today's teens and young adults have grown up with some sort of file sharing opportunity.   She's learned her own code of ethics from the limited life experiences she's had.   Somehow, in her world, she's learned that taking candy from a store without paying for it is wrong but taking music from an artist is acceptable. 


I think two themes emerged from this discussion - the ethics of file sharing and the reality that technology has irrevocably changed the way music is consumed. Nobody here thinks stealing music outright is OK. The reality is that, as of today, many people can legally consume as much music as they want for, say $12 dollars a month. (Spotify Premium is $11.99.) Part of Lowery's argument is that the cost of Spotify is largely set by the alternative, which is P2P file sharing. I don't think that's entirely true, but it seems obvious that the creators of music do not get a fair return, just as farmers don't get a fair return for produce that goes to market. They are out-muscled by bigger players in the supply chain. Apple, Spotify (and Facebook), the phone and cable companies - they are doing OK.  

I think there are a few more realities that you can add to your list:

-Whether a particular behavior or action is legal or not, people will still do it. 

-"A fair return" is highly subjective, and is akin to the "almost pregnant" line of thought. Supply and demand, along with market conditions, set the prices. You may think they are too low (or too high), but they are what they are. If you don't like them, you can opt out or change your business strategy. For example, a farmer might switch from wheat to barley if he/she believes that it offers a better return on investment. Or they can sell their land to a developer so that Walmart can build a new store.

-I don't buy "Lowery's argument is that the cost of Spotify is largely set by the alternative, which is P2P file sharing". Has he ever heard of radio, television and internet providers such as You Tube (or even No Depression)? Musical content is legally delivered to the consumer any number of ways. If anything, a strong case could be made that Spotify is a solution and not a problem. While illegal downloading is a market condition that contributes to driving the price that Spotify or any other music delivery systems use to benchmark value, it's a gross overstatement to believe it's the main factor.  

-Finally...big fish eat little fish. (And I can't believe I'm back into this forum again....forgive me.)

Yeah, I don't think Lowery gets Spotify. As Kyla pointed out, it's more like radio than iTunes. But it's really somewhere in between. I just started using Spotify and - thus far - I probably spend 50% of my time listening to music I already own on CD, and 50% sampling new stuff. I haven't downloaded anything for "offline" listening. In theory, at least, artists are getting EXTRA pennies from me (or would be if they were still with us).

>> Whether a particular behavior or action is legal or not, people will still do it. 


Some people will. My point in starting this thread was that individuals can make a moral choice about how they behave, and each individual makes a difference.  I don't think heavy handed FBI warnings work with anyone, but peer pressure does. Well, it worked on me.



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Created by No Depression Feb 17, 2009 at 9:06pm. Last updated by No Depression Sep 24, 2012.