Pandora, Spotify, the new devil?

Responding to this Stereogum article ‘Deconstructing: Pandora, Spotify, Piracy, And Getting Artists Paid‘ I thought I’d repost it here:

Can we look at that specific example and devise ways to make piracy less convenient for fans and less profitable for distributors, because such reform is better for our cultural health over the short-, medium-, and long-terms? Where there’s a will there’s a way. We would end up with a different Internet, in the sense that it would be a better regulated, fairer Internet of expanded opportunity for artists and legit businesses.

Don’t agree – doing a ‘Just say no’ No tolerance attitude to file-sharing won’t work, as it hasn’t with drugs – and just look at the mess over Megaupload for that – feel sorry for the legitimate users who have lost their files and the trampling of international law that took place.

I think rather than victimising fans – after all study after study has shown that the biggest pirates are the biggest paid consumers of music, rather than less – maybe you should look at the existing legit download model. Paying more for a bunch of MP3s than CDs with no warehouse costs, no printing or duplication costs is ridiculous but again and again I have a choice whether to pay more for a digital download or wait a few days then get the physical CD *for less*. This isn’t some blackmarket CD seller, this is Tescos or Sainsburys or or Amazon. That’s the biggest problem – people know how much goes to iTunes or the store, people know how little goes to the artist. That’s why I try and support bandcamp releases and self-published releases if possible since I know the artist is getting more.

The problem isn’t that the users or ‘new media gurus’ devalued the music, it’s that the industry has gouged the consumer on every format change from vinyl to CD to MP3. Sort out a fair price, or bonuses for buying physical copies (see the return of vinyl for something that bucks this end of the world trend) or special deals – a classic is buy the physical album and get a download code – simple stuff but many don’t do it. Another is for record companies to release their back catalogues.

Again and again I’d happily pay for some rare 12? mix or long deleted album as a nice fresh digital download which goes to the artist and estate rather than some Popsike/Discogs chancer with a dodgy scratched copy – but again and again I’m dismayed. Bootlegs (of the original sort) and the like should have been history YEARS ago….there is hardly any cost for a label to release it’s entire catalogue digitally. But it seems so many records still remain as scratchy vinyl rips unless you want to spend hundreds of pounds on ‘rare’ vinyl which I care little for. I want the contents, the format or special japanese pressing made of uranium and pubic hair interests me not.

So solve those and I think the record labels will eventually be in rude health. But keep this mindset of only releasing the newest thing and ‘deleting’ the old (some of the most expensive things I’ve come across recently were DVDs or CDs only released a few years ago and going for a pretty penny now – surely we should be past such things in this digital age? Nope…) then of course they’ll struggle because they’re not actually benefiting from any of this, nor even being able to measure demand on older or not-so-old catalogues because they are deleted.

I would make it so the copyright laws were changed that if you didn’t exploit that right within a certain period you lose it – i.e. after release date, you need to keep it on sale otherwise the right either reverts to the artist or goes public domain. This would stop record labels holding onto albums for aeons, and mean a new artist-friendly secondary market would prevail….or at least mean long-lost careers might be salvaged from the industry.

Steal This Film II


Shiny new post on a shiny new host, and something that’s been in my torrent download queue for ages – the film Steal This Film II – a great freely downloadable documentary about file sharing, information sharing in cultures (like teaching) and the social and legal issues within and looking at past technologies like the printing press and how a ‘pirate culture’ helped the French Revolution along.

It’s made by and for the people on the side of angels ie. the pirates so you won’t get a totally ‘balanced view’ (which usually means one biased to the mainstream media and corporates) but the MPAA and heads of Hollywood do get their say and their arguments countered. The strongest impression you get from this is how this struggle of information freedom and ‘piracy’ has been going on a very long time and is constantly on going; how the real fear of the major corporates is probably that the audience becomes the creators and cuts them totally out of the loop, and that the file sharing wars are pretty much lost despite setbacks after this film was made (Pirate Bay and the like).

It’s also much better than Steal This Film I which was a bit of a mish-mash (and out of focus in parts – ouch). Apparently they are expanding both bits into a full film, and then going for a release, which I’m hoping is still officially torrented, unlike RiP: A Remix Manifesto‘ which although very professional looking and interesting sadly seems to be going through the age-old Hollywood distributor/release model – requires different release dates for different world areas (apparently I can’t download it cos I’m ‘not in the US’ – DOH – no release dates for the UK either). Given the subject of that film, it is rather ironic – it may be about remix or online culture in the 21st century but that particular medium is most definitely not the message. Maybe it’s because the film is evolving they’re not officially torrenting it (someone else has put up an unnofficial torrent).

Anyway it has Girl Talk in it, in fact so much the whole film is basically a Girl Talk promo, and y’all know how I feel about him. The Brazil bits showing baile funk are really good, and Cory and Lessig are always brilliant, but it pretty much covers the same areas as Steal This Film I and II, but with more flashy animations/production.

It does have this great funny remix at the end pulled from YouTube seemingly uncredited, but I recognised the Eclectic Method logo:

For those wanting to get into the issues around musical remix/cutup I’d rather recommend Sonic Outlaws by Craig Baldwin, which was created about 15 years earlier and covers the same ground sans some of the later ‘Napster/bittorrent’ stuff covered in STF, some of the footage by/of Negativland is used in ‘RiP’! At the very least you then won’t need to look at a naked Greg Gillis…:-P

Anyway I think the model of Steal This Film and Sita Sings the Blues is the future though, torrenting your movie and letting the world see it in a donation model if they like it, or buying copies if they want them. To trot out my old phrase, they get it. They really do. Go support them.

Pirate Bay: We’re All In The Same Boat


Posting this a few days late since my webhost was having problems, so hence all my sites have been down for the last few days. Really annoying…

Firstly, it’s a bit late but I have to say how shocked I was at the sentencing of the Pirate Bay founders – a year in jail and 30m Kronor (£2.4m) is not something that even a Mafia-connected or Drug-trade connected DVD/CD pirate would get, not that I think they are even in the same league or as culpable as those people. You can kill someone with reckless drunken driving and get less jailtime and certainly less fine….goes to show that of course property (as in the G20 riots) is seen as more important than people.

And the ‘good’ reasons for this action have piled up – cinemas are losing ticket sales, right? (nope). But the music industry is in peril cos of downloading and torrents? (not really and nope it’s just changing). And of course all artists see bittorrent and online sharing of free content as evil that will destroy their career and must be destroyed? (nope, nope and nope)

Fortunate in my lateness of response I’ve had time to gauge the responses of others, and I’ve noticed a worrying trend amongst some, especially those who ‘transform’ copyrighted work (mashups etc) to say something along the lines as ‘Good. They were dirty pirates and not like us cos honour among thieves we transform our works’. WRONG.

Really they are different sides of the same coin, don’t delude yourself about that. It’s divisive and exactly what they want. It does raise an interesting question though: How much do you need to transform a work to change it from piracy to mashups?

Where do you draw the line, say with film. Are redubs transformative? Re-edits? Mashups with other films? Fan vids? Fan reviews? Fan recreations? Artistic comment or review using the original work as examples or ‘quotations’? It all goes back to Korda and that Che Guevara image. What you might not think as creative, others do.

It’s far more muddy unclear area than you think. One man’s transformation is another man’s rip-off. YouTube doesn’t see my video mashups as transformative, it’s fingerprinting technology just spots say Office Space or Depeche Mode and automatically nixes it – regardless of ‘fair use’ – which is a law that only the US has, and is fairly niche –  other places like Sweden and the UK I think do not preserve the right to parody and copy for most uses, apart from very old laws about photocopying and quotation in a print context.

As Shephard Fairey is finding with the Obama poster, how much a work is ‘transformative’ is a problem. AP can and did take pictures of the whole work (without people, a la Sherrie Levine) and present them as their own copyright…which they can. But when Shephard takes one of their images, redraws it totally and changes it subtly they sue him:

It may seem obvious to you the difference between a mashup and a direct copy, but try writing down the differences…in a legal form that everyone understands AND is water tight AND covers all situations without destroying creativity, art or centuries of artistic quotation and appropriation. That’s the problem, coupled with the fact that yes judges don’t understand the technology, that expensive lobbyists and lawyers are paid for by the big 4.

They are still in that (Dean) Gray area.

That’s not to say I’ve not had my qualms with the Pirate Bay guys – the fact their ISP and backer (the ‘4th man’) Carl Lundstrom has links to far-right groups in the past – although as the other people pointed out he owns one of the biggest ISPs in Sweden so the fact they host with him doesn’t imply a relationship. Although he helped them out early on as one of them worked for his ISP, the suggestion that the TPB guys are fascists, or that Lundstrom wanted access to the youth by TPB is ridiculous. If you listen to the ignorant rabble such as The Register, the tabloid red-top of the digital world, well you get what you deserve.

I did write a long post regards this (annoyed by The Register article) then realised this was a shock/scare tactic by the likes of Petter Nilsson  (the questioner in the video) and Expo and the opponents of Piratebay to dirty their reputation. If you look into the background of the people, research around the subject you find that it’s not all clean either, they are opposed to Lundstrom for other reasons than just politics. He’s an unpopular guy in Sweden….and it’s far more complex than what was presented by the likes of The Register. Also I HATE it when people cry Neo-nazi when it’s far from obvious they are (certainly the man is dodgy in this regard, but far from being a Nick Griffin), it’s like crying fire in a crowded theatre. It’s bad journalism and yes I think Godwin’s Law should apply.

So treat The Pirate Bay guys as the first guard of what will happen to the rest of us; not going to repeat Pastor Niemoeller again but certainly grasping to the idea that ‘Hey guys, don’t shoot me, I create mashups and edit the work!’ when it’s as equally illegal will not save you. The fact TPB is a torrent site and not direct linking to the files means that in Sweden at least other sites that link to ‘objectionable’ content are at risk….Google is an unlikely one, but certainly if the precedent like with YouTube that even linking to copyright content is verboten then that leads to all kinds of horrors, including the total fragmentation on the Internet and ‘freezing effect’ on new technologies.

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