19 June 2009

Dance, consumer, dance!

In order to combat the scourge of Internet piracy, the music industry bravely went after the source of the problem: a 32-year-old mother of four from Brainerd.
According to an article from the Pioneer Press, “a federal jury ruled Thursday that Jammie Thomas-Rasset willfully violated the copyrights on 24 songs, and the jury awarded recording companies $1.92 million, or $80,000 per song.” It seems that the sins of millions, perhaps billions, of Internet-savvy techsters have been placed on this one woman’s head, and I don’t think that’s fair. There’s simply no way someone like that can pay nearly $2 million for 24 songs they shared on Kazaa (a file sharing service). It seems doubly cruel that the recording industry would target someone like this, who they know probably can’t afford to saddle up the same legal team they can. It’s a message to the rest of us: don’t download music. Or we’ll screw you up, too.
For years, I think the recording industry has missed the point of downloading. I don’t think it kills music; I think it expands taste. Chances are, and I’ve seen surveys that say this, that people will buy more of an artist’s work once they are exposed to them. With computer-generated play lists dominating most Top-40 stations these days, or seeming to, anyway, as I hear the same six songs over and over again, where is one to hear new music? Not there. Not on MTV or VH1 either, which have seriously gone down the tubes over the past decade (as if I thought that were even possible in the early 1990s). In a corporate-controlled environment, where artists are sucked up and disposed of like so much cocaine or pixie sticks, there has to be an alternative, and for a while, downloading offered that alternative.
This case reminds me of what happened to the Dead Kennedys in the 1980s, when they were sued for a poster contained in their album “Frankenchrist.” They were brought to trial on obscenity charges (eventually dropped), and raked over the coals for what conservative elements in Washington and parent groups saw as an out of control art format that was rotting their children’s brains. Notice what was targeted: a small punk band, on its own independent label. A little guy, charged with the sins of others who could have put up a far stronger fight.
When I was about 17, I found a record at my local Goodwill that contained an insert message on it saying that home taping was killing music. I didn’t believe that ever happened, and I don’t believe it will ever happen with Internet music. I think part of why this happened in the first place is that it was simply easier to click a mouse and get a product rather than actually go through the hassle of finding a physical copy. If you set up a proper Internet music store, like iTunes, people will pay. I wish the music industry would spend more time trying to do this, rather than sue people who can’t afford to pay as a warning to the rest of us to keep our downloading queues clear.

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