Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Beware Freedom!

From the ashes it rises, a blog so empty that it seems to reflect, in apathy, the soul of its creator. Finally, a topic has bubbled to the surface that so infuriates me that I have no choice but to post my perspective. Unfortunately, there is little controversy here, for it is a topic that I feel I am in the strong majority on. Still, it is a silent majority-- a majority that for too long has allowed its perspective to be quashed by the uncontrollable need to bend to the will of its oppressor. I, too, will continue to yield, but at least I will speak up about it, and perhaps encourage others to do so as well.

The oppressor that I speak of is so subtle that it is lost on most of us. An oppressor whose realm is so other-worldly that its impact on most of our lives is minimal-- including mine. Until recently, that is. I was having a conversation with a young man whose skills and insight I greatly admire. As usual, the conversation turned to music, because this young man is a consummate musician. Then, rather suddenly, I seem to have been possessed by the spirit of Nemesis. I began to recall facts about the recording industry, and to inform this young man that I admired his passion and talents, but most of all I admired his willingness to enter that pit of vipers with the noble goal of producing art, which was contrary to everything they stood for. I really was trying to be encouraging, despite the facts, though I feel that must have been a dismal failure.

Here, then, my penance.

For those unaware, the recording industry (and the music industry in general) is truly possessed of the spirit of Mos Eisley. These leeches steal money from deserving artists by manipulating the terms of "standard contracts" in such a way that it is nearly impossible for a talented artist to succeed. An example, published elsewhere, (WARNING: link contains strong language reflective of the author's attitude on the subject), shows a typical scenario in which a "discovered" band sells 250,000 CDs, goes on a 5 week promotional tour, and nets $4,031.25 per band member. Various members of the industry, meanwhile, have walked away with $3,000,000.00 in income. As if to add insult to injury, the recording label will then consider the artists to be IN DEBT TO THEM, since they were unable to cover the terms of their advance. So-called "independent labels" are somewhat better, though many of their terms are still questionable.

We hear regularly about the RIAA's anti-piracy campaign. The conversation point that set me off was when I commented that if by "piracy is the number one threat to the music industry" the RIAA was referring to the practices of their wet-nurses at the major labels, then I was in full agreement. To state that the ability, using modern technology, to shamelessly steal the property of artists poses a threat is to imply that the ability, using lawyers and money, to do the same thing should be viewed in a similar light.

I am a technologist, and a music fan, as other blogs on this site will attest. I am also, mostly, an optimist. So, here is my optimistic assessment of this situation. I believe that the same freedoms demonized by the RIAA and its ilk are the freedoms likely to finally break the oppressive legal chain of the industry as a whole. Using the internet, and the increasing availability of broadband connectivity, artists can bypass the labels, publishing and promoting their works directly to the consumer. Through the efforts of organizations such as Creative Commons, websites such as DMusic, and labels like Magnatune, artists can distribute their work, and control their ownership and expression on their own terms.

The RIAA and the Music Industry in general would have us believe that technology is a threat to the artists they "represent". I prefer to think of it as a threat to the industry-- a threat long overdue.