12 years after Napster…are we any closer to ending piracy?
On May 28th a musician I enjoy listening to, who recently released what I believe to be the best album of their career that has just started to gain some traction in press and blogs, posted this short note on Facebook:
It’s official. My album is now rampantly available for free everywhere on the web. It would be easier for musicians to make a living if folks didn’t copy cds and put them all over the internet to download for free. That’s called stealing and it robs us of our livelihood. It puts musicians out of work, and will destroy indie music entirely.
I’m choosing not to mention their name, because the artist isn’t the story. But the plea to stop downloading without compensation is what this is about. And it troubled me. This artist is trying to build a career, mostly through extensive touring and crowd source funding, and needs and expects to be compensated for their work. In a personal way, I was touched by what I felt was their sense of betrayal. So I decided to write to them, to share some of my own pain and also perhaps spin a little ray hope hope that all was not lost. I’ll reprint it here:
You don’t know me but I’m a fan of your music. I’m one of the feature contributors over at the No Depression site and I also spent thirty-five years toiling in the music business on the sales and marketing side. I lost my gig about three and a half years ago, not directly because of file sharing but obviously it had an impact as sales have declined and stores have closed. So I saw your post the other day and felt I should reach out.
To create something and have it stolen without compensation must hurt deeply, and I hope that one day there will be a paradigm shift that will take us to a better place than where we are today for artists such as yourself. In the meantime, to help ease the pain a little, you might want to consider this. While your album is out there and readily available as you noted, it is most likely being downloaded by people who have never heard your music before, since your fans and those who attend your performances have already (or will in the future) be more inclined to pay for it.
The challenge for you, and the possible win, is gaining new fans through these downloads and converting them to paying future customers. Maybe they will hear the record, visit your website and choose to invest via Kickstarter on your next album. Or perhaps now that they know who you are they’ll show up at a gig and buy a ticket, an older CD or whatever else you may have on your merch table.
While this isn’t meant to defend illegal file sharing in any way, I just wanted to share that there might be a positive result that comes out of it. People won’t stop downloading, it’s a bell that can’t be un-rung. But I hope that the industry such as it is will develop new and better ways to deliver music that will make consumers feel like there’s value for their consumption and that artists,songwriters and producers can be compensated for their work. Anyway…I wish you much success and I love all of your work.
Keep on keepin’ on.
I received no response which led me to think that either I really pissed them off, they don’t bother to read unsolicited fan messages or they were just too plain busy. A few weeks later though, this artist started doing a “Friday Freebie”, where they stream one track from their album each week. Not exactly giving it away, but offering exposure.
Tonight as I was reading the news, I found the following notice on Billboad magazine’s site, with a link to CNET. And I think it’s huge news.
The beginning of the end for the Napster generation? Maybe, maybe not. Technology is funny, almost like a tube of toothpaste. You squeeze one end, and never know what’s gonna happen at the other end. But in case you haven’t heard, here it is:
After years of negotiations, a group of bandwidth providers that includes AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon are closer than ever to striking a deal with media and entertainment companies that would call for them to establish new and tougher punishments for customers who refuse to stop using their networks to pirate films, music and other intellectual property, multiple sources told CNET.
The sources cautioned that a final agreement has yet to be signed and that the partnership could still unravel but added that at this point a deal is within reach and is on track to be unveiled sometime next month.
Under the proposed plan, participating bandwidth providers would adopt a “graduated response” to subscribers who repeatedly infringe copyrights. ISPs would first issue written warnings, called Copyright Alerts, to customers accused by content creators of downloading materials illegally via peer-to-peer sites, the sources said. Should a subscriber fail to heed the warning, an ISP could choose to send numerous follow-up notices. The plan, however, requires ISPs to eventually take more serious action.
They can select from a “menu” of responses outlined in the plan, such as throttling down an accused customer’s bandwidth speed or limit their access to the Web. For example, a suspected pirate may be allowed to visit only the top 200 Web sites until the illegal file sharing stops. The subscriber may also be required to participate in a program that educates them on copyright law and the rights of content creators. In the past, a graduated response was also supposed to lead to a complete termination of service for chronic file sharers. Kicking someone off a network is not required under the proposed agreement, the sources said.
The RIAA, which is the organization that the major labels fund and that badly flubbed the peer to peer issue years ago by suing kids and grandmothers for hundreds of thousand of dollars, have their hand in this. Recognizing that they’ve lost a generation or two of consumers, they lobbied the Obama administration to lean hard on the internet service providers to put a stop to this, and it looks close to coming to fruition. While I hear that there are some legal issues to be resolved, this seems to be the first serious threat to pirates that just might stick.
At the very least, the threat of losing your internet service could become a strong deterrent for behavior modification, and along with rapid changes to cloud technology, pricing and subscription services…a new model may emerge.
Not soon enough.
My friend Marissa Nadler’s new album came out last week. She put a lot of work into it, Traveled down to Philly from Boston to record it. Added a number of session players. Came up with an attractive package. Found a friendly indie distributor to work with and even lowered the price to be more competitive. Last night I had to break the news that it was all over the internet already….music blogs and mp3 sites based in former Soviet blocks.
She wrote to me:
Oh- I know! Unfortunately there Is NOTHING that I can do about it except write takedown notices.
They are everywhere. People don’t buy records anymore.
Postscript: Sometime this afternoon, Gillian Welch’s new album appeared on dozens of sites, with links for a free download. She waited eight years to release this album. Unless piracy ends pretty soon, it might be pretty hard to make the case for her to bother to ever do another one.
They are everywhere. People don’t buy records anymore.
For more information: CNET
Napster is owned today by Best Buy, operating as a legal website.