There’s been a lot of debate recently about the morality, ethics and legality of filesharing – between the success of the Pirate Party in the European elections, the formation of a similar party here, the proposals to cut off internet access for ‘offenders’ and the comments made by that towering intellect Lily Allen.
As someone who makes music myself (MP3s of which can be purchased here (along with CDs by my friend and collaborator Blake Jones) for a very low price, or you can listen on Spotify here), and would very much like to get some money from doing it some day, I obviously have very strong opinions about this. But before I get to what I think we should *do*, I’ll just use a few anecdotes (anecdotal data – the best kind!)
In 1999, I was a student. I read in Mojo magazine about the Nuggets box set, which sounded like just my sort of thing. However, it cost sixty quid, which to a student is a lot of money. I couldn’t justify spending that on a box set of CDs without having heard any of the songs. However, my then-flatmate had this thing called Napster on his computer, so I downloaded a few songs from it – Psychotic Reaction by The Count Five, I Had Too Much To Dream Last Night by The Electric Prunes, and a few others. As a result of this I bought the box set, because I loved those tracks. As a result of *that* I bought albums by The Knickerbockers, Sagittarius, Love, The Thirteenth Floor Elevators and many more, as well as the Nuggets 2 box set and various other albums branded ‘Nuggets’, ‘Pebbles’ or ‘Ripples’. As a result of *those* I also bought albums by Curt Boettcher, Sandy Salisbury, The Millennium, Gary Usher, Roky Erickson & The Aliens and more than I care to think.
I also went to see both Love and The Electric Prunes live. As a result of the Love gig I bought albums by the backing band Baby Lemonade, and I also became a fan of the support act, Stew, which led to me buying albums by Stew, The Negro Problem, The Passing Strange Original Broadway Cast, Candypants, Carolyn Edwards, Kristian Hoffman and The Stool Pigeons, as well as spending several hundred quid commissioning Stew to write and record a customised song for my wedding (a really fantastically good song, incidentally – I doubt he’ll ever do that again now he’s a Tony award-winning Broadway composer whose musical has just been released as a Spike Lee film, but if he does it’s more than worth the money).
At a very conservative estimate, me downloading that handful of songs ten years ago has led to me spending at the very least a couple of thousand pounds on obscure music – and most of that spent during times when I was a student, unemployed, or on minimum wage (which I was until about a year ago).
In 2002 I bought Neil Gaiman’s book Adventures In The Dream Trade, a collection of miscellany which included forewords for a lot of comic collections. I had been a comic fan in my teens, but had more or less dropped the hobby, but thought ‘some of these sound good’, so I downloaded a few random issues of Cerebus, Brat Pack and Astro City from Soulseek. I now have two bookcases groaning under the weight of trade paperbacks (one has literally broken under the strain this week), a few longboxes full of individual issues (I would have more but I regularly clear out less-good comics and give them to my niece), and spend about fifteen quid a week on comics – because of that handful of downloads.
Around the same time I remembered how much I’d liked Doctor Who as a kid – I’d been a HUGE fan while the show was on, and for a couple of years afterwards, but living in a small town and being very young had no access to fandom so once the local newsagent stopped stocking DWM, I’d dropped away. But I thought “I wonder if it was as good as I remember? I’ll download one of the ones Douglas Adams did – that should be good”. I now have fifty-nine stories on DVD alone (depending on how you count the Lost In Time and Trial Of A Timelord sets), along with books (both novels and reference books), audio dramas (spent twenty quid on those *yesterday alone*), toys (a little mini K9 my wife bought me), posters and the occasional conference visit. (I have many of the rest of the stories as downloads, incidentally, but will be buying the DVDs in due course). I definitely spend several hundred quid a year on Doctor Who, largely as a result of that single download.
So when I read all these ‘home taping is killing music’ type articles, I just find it ludicrous. When I have downloaded stuff via filesharing programs (as opposed to legal downloads via emusic) in the past, it has been literally impossible for it to have been taking any revenue from the artists who worked on it, because every single penny of disposable income I have had – and to be honest quite a lot of money that should have been spent on things like clothing, rent and utility bills – has gone directly to those very same artists. Short of getting another job, or robbing a bank, there is no way I could have given any more money to those people – and most of them would have not got a penny without my initial exposure via filesharing.
So I hope that disposes of the ‘filesharing is stealing!!!!’ part of the argument against filesharing. Sharing is, in and of itself, about as far from stealing as one can get – sharing information, especially, is in my view a wholly good thing, because nobody has been deprived, and someone has gained.
However, there are other arguments that are tied up in the filesharing issue, and the issue of copyright in a digital age, and I would like to deal with them in separate posts, simply because this one is already far longer than I planned on it being. Those other posts, which I’ll do over the next few days, will deal with the issues of ‘moral rights’, of compensation of artists, of new artists gaining recognition, and what I hope will be the solutions to this.
There are some huge problems with the current models for artistic compensation and copyright, and these are particularly hitting people like me, who are capable of making (I believe) very good recorded music but who are not able to perform live for whatever reason. I hope to point out some ways that these problems can be overcome in the next few essays (next part probably on Tuesday).