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Monday, April 25, 2005

All the Petty Rock Stars

Poor Lars Ulrich. First he alienates his fans by hand-delivering to Napster a list of over 300,000 users who allegedly traded Metallica files over their system (another 300,000 names were delivered 2 weeks later). Then, with album sales in the shitter, he makes a documentary where he basically comes off looking spoiled, indolent and anacrhonistic, overpaying for both bad therapy and bad art.

Well, some good news for Lars. Dan from Mental Sword Fighting lets us know that the RIAA, after filing a couple of subpeonas with the courts and sending out a few threatening letters, have collected $25,269,000 in settlement money from illegal downloaders. You know, the effort the RIAA was making to protect the poor starving musicians who were being victimized by NAPSTER and their ilk. Whew. Well, that's a relief. Lars must be resting easy, knowing that he will not have to rely on crappy album sales and endless residuals from Enter Sandman to feed his conspicuous consumption habit, they'll probably be mailing him and all the musicians who really are starving their shares of that $25 million any day now.

Except for one problem – not one penny of the settlement is going to the artists.

Dan writes:
For years, the RIAA has been waging their war on P2P services and file traders in the name of the artist. "You're taking money out of the pockets of your favorite artists! If you loved these musicians as much as you say you do, you wouldn't share their files!" And now, you come to find out that these artists, these starving musicians are seeing all of... absolutely nothing from this crusade, and the RIAA is keeping it all for themselves.

But see, I'm not all that surprised by the fact that the RIAA is holding onto this easy almost $26 million dollars. Because the RIAA is the legal action arm of the five major record labels. The same five major record labels that fuck artists all the time on there contracts, sometimes only giving a dollar per record sold (after money spent on videos, promotion, and advance is recouped, of course). Most artists make most of their money on the road touring-- are you that surprised, looking at that contract? Unless you're a superstar, you've gotta sell a boatload of records to make serious money.

And that's why I never felt guilty about downloading music. I wasn't naive enough to believe that me downloading an album made all that much of a difference to an artists bottomline. And when I read a prominent rock manager say in Rolling Stone a few years ago something like "If you can guarantee me that the tour is sold out, I'll give away 500,000 copies of the album," I was convined all the more. Hell, the Offspring (back when some people still cared about the Offspring) tried to give away their album online, only to be sued by their record label. Weezer encountered the same thing.
At some point – and I can pretty much guarantee it won't be during this administration – lawmakers are going to have to come to terms with the fact that copyright law is being written by the large copyright holders for their own benefit, that it is in the public interest that cultural artifacts fall into the public domain for the purpose of criticism and discussion, and that the laws on the books are hopelessly outdated and have not come to terms with available technology. That the landmark civil rights documentary Eyes on the Prize can't be legally shown publically or distributed due to copyright conflicts is just wrong. For that very reason I'm happy there is a palace coup going on.

That having been said, I don't download music on file sharing services myself, and that's a personal choice, I don't judge anyone who does. My reason is pretty simple – I can afford to pay for it, and iTunes is a reasonable response by copyright holders to modern technology that I can get behind. But way more than iTunes I frequent sites like Vinyl Mine, Soul Sides, BoBlog (Bob Mould's site) and TofuHut, which mostly deal with music that artists themselves put on the net or at least their songs appear there with the artists' consent. They also put up “Fair Use” notices and a post that says they will take any song down if there is an objection from somebody with a copyright interest. I think they do a pretty good job of mediating legalities and serving the intersts of musicians who, as Dan notes, are just trying to get their stuff heard. And I get introduced to a lot of music I would never otherwise be exposed to, because these people KNOW THEIR SHIT. It's a win-win situation for me all around.

But you can be pretty sure you will never find a Metallica track on any of them. So hey Lars – let us know when you get your check, okay buddy?