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Artists Agree -- P2P Lawsuits Are Not the Answer

Cynthia Webb of the Washington Post synthesizes the discussion about the new Pew study [PDF] reporting that while many artists believe file sharing should be illegal, they don't necessarily believe that 1.) it's actually hurting them, 2.) the RIAA lawsuits are doing anything to help the situation

Interesting report and another blow to the RIAA's argument that they are doing it for the artists.

3 Comments

Hrm, tricky language... "File sharing should be illegal"? Not sure where that came into the loop, but they should be specific: making copies of copyrighted content should be (is, in fact) illegal.

If sharing files were illegal, well, bye bye Internet.
(oops, Joi, you just shared a file with me.. this html file! ;)

Joi, I've been reading for a couple of weeks now, and this is the first topic I've felt comfortable posting about. This was an interesting study, though I feel that it is incomplete in some ways.

I find it very interesting that the Pew study (yes, after reading the article, I downloaded the PDF out of curiosity) split up the study into four sectors - paid, unpaid, artist, musician. So we have, then, two brands of musicians - unpaid musician and paid musician.

Parts of the study itself surveyed all artists, not just musicians, about the concept of file sharing. The study was so broad in the definition of "file sharing" that the simple use of the Internet (having a website with still shots of a movie, sending out Emails about future showings, etc.) falls into its purview.

That aside, what I've noticed over the years as a musician is that the attitudes of the part time paid musician (me), the full time independent paid/touring musician (many of my friends), and musicians signed into record contracts with major labels (sorry, no one I know) vastly differ, based on the economics of the situation.

All of the professional musicians I know post "sampler" mp3s on their websites for people to download - 30-40 second cuts from their professionally engineered albums - in order to give those in the general Internet world a taste of what they do as a band or as a musician. Highly entertaining, informative (am I going to like this group?), but by no means a full song.

This is primarily due to their reliance on product sales (CDs, T-shirts, hats, etc.) for a majority of their income as a band. Many of these bands don't charge $45 for a seat at a stadium - the cover charge is generally determined by the venue, and the band is either paid a flat fee or a small portion of the take at the door. Most concerts I've been to recently have tickets at less than $15 a head, which means that the band's take is barely sufficient for each band member to cover the hotel bill and the annual insurance on the tour van.

However, the real money is in the product they sell while they're on the road. Many of the groups self-produce their own albums, forking over the money for quality studio time, hiring the top engineers to mix and master, paying their dues to Harry Fox and sending copies to all of the agencies they belong to (BMI, ASCAP, etc.) on their own. Obviously, the more CDs they sell, the less the overall engineering and production cost is (as a percentage). A successful band can earn a significant amount of their income through albums - imagine, making $13 profit on a $15 CD! So there is great risk in allowing file sharing if one were in this situation, because it risks a deflation of sales in something that can potentially be the basis of over 50% of one's income.

But from what I understand, musicians/artists that are signed to record companies have a different financial goal. Their actual take of each album is probably only a cent or two, but the real cash cow is in marketing - remember those 'NSync dolls that were running around? An artist can make more off of posters, concert sales, merchandise, videos, advertising money, etc. than they can off an album. Thus, it is in their own interest to allow file sharing to happen - the bigger the exposure, the better the name recognition, the more money one makes. (cf. Courtney Love interview at the beginning of this whole controversy)

I would be more interested to see a study done that addresses this dynamic in the attitudes of independent vs. signed artists. From my observations, what the RIAA is attempting to do is cover their hides (because they take a lot of the money per produced album), but it is in essence benefiting not the popular artists, but the small, successful paid artists who are trying to keep a bigger part of the pie. (And the amateurs are almost in a world of their own...)

Any comments? I'd like to hear from the online intelligentsia.

This is a very complex subject. For anyone interested, I recommend the book: Copyright, by Edward Ploman.

At the heart of the matter is society's need to maximize freedom of speech, while maintaining a financial incentive for those who are engaged in creative works: be it songs, patents, or drawings.

A major problem is that the period of protection for creative works has grown longer and longer as time has gone by. Some creative works are now protected for more than 100 years. (Mickey Mouse is a good example)

The creative common approach doesn't really solve the problem. In my opinion, the maximum period of protection for all creative works needs to be shortened. For instance, I think a ten year copyright for songs would be a good start.

If you establish reasonable I.P. time limits, it becomes a lot easier to argue the case against file sharing.

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Via Joi Ito. L'EFF - Electronic Frountier Foundation, une fondation dont le but est de veiller à la garantie des libertés individuelles dans le monde numérique - nous rapporte le résumé effectué par Cynthia Webb, du Washington Post à propos ... Read More

Another blow to RIAA's arguments on how the P2P lawsuits are "helping the artists". Joi Ito covers the story. According to the report, artists are saying that while file-sharing (P2P) of copyrighted materials is illegal (unless there was prior rights... Read More

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