oscartheduckin’ around

October 20, 2007

irrespective of what you do

Filed under: Uncategorized — oscartheduck @ 3:12 am

There’s been a lot of talk on the various websites that pay attention to such things about how the new Radiohead album’s distribution method shows that there’s a way other than the old way. Many times, it’s immediately countered with someone who observes that Radiohead are a fortunate band, who became enormously successful under the old system and who are therefore able to do what they’re currently doing.

Old system. Old system. There’re two words to run around your mouth a little. Let them fool around with your tongue a little. Oooold system. Oooold system.

See, it’s without a doubt true that the music industry is changing. The economics of distribution are definitely different. There’s no one who can honestly deny that.

Richard Stallman has a bunch of stuff about the changing economics of distribution in the age of the network. He’s certainly thought a lot of it out very clearly, and it’s tempting to do nothing but follow his mode of thought. Though if one only does that, one has not grown beyond him.

His main point is that in the age of the network, the digital age, the Internet age, it may cost millions to produce the first item, but the second and so on cost almost nothing. And there’s nothing that can be done to prevent the second and third from being distributed by anyone who wants to distribute them, as long as that individual is a subscriber to the network. So like it or not, the system of “We’re a rich company who produces CDs and ONLY WE can distribute media” is over.


What’s taken over, though, is not entirely clear. I’m not a rich company, but I can produce millions of copies of the new Radiohead album if I wanted to. There’s not even any physical media involved. There doesn’t have to be any moving parts, if I wanted to get geeky enough, and once you remove moving parts, you remove failure. Just millions and millions of copies, reproduced at the speed that my bandwidth can handle.

As it happens, this is a disclaimer but a completely honest one, I haven’t used the torrents or any other form of electronic distribution method for years. I prefer owning CDs, so I log on to amazon and buy a used copy of a CD I wish to own, and then that’s it. Over with. I wait five days, and I have the physical media, from which I can rip a perfect electronic copy to carry on my laptop with me if I want one to carry around. I leave the perfect CD in a sleeve somewhere in case I ever need it again.

Anyway, so what the hell’s the implication of this event that is occuring, that Radiohead released their latest album via (shitty quality) .mp3 files for whatever price you want to pay?  I don’t know, but let’s look at the results and think for a while.

First, many people paid for it. I paid for it. Why did I pay for it? Because I think Radiohead are one of those rare bands that’s actually innovating to some extent and as such deserves the economic incentive. I understand that it’s possible that other people will also provide an economic incentive, but I can’t *guarantee* that, so I provide it and if anyone else does, so be it. The same way I contribute to NPR.

Second, many people didn’t pay for it. They either downloaded the music for free from the official site, or got pissed off that the official site was bogged down on the first day or two and downloaded it via an alternative method. The idea that the alternative method was somehow legitimate is one that sprang up in many places, with arguments along the lines of “I would have paid for it, but the official site was slow, so I’m planning on paying for it so in the meantime I’ve grabbed a copy” or “I didn’t want to provide all my registration information when I’m not paying; it’s none of your business if I don’t want to tell you anything, so I grabbed it from an equally good alternative method”.

And herein lies the rub. The alternative method isn’t equally good. The official price was your information; Radiohead said they wanted your information for you to have their album. Simple as that. But they also, in the minds of many fans, legitimised alternative download methods by not demanding a price.

Third, people download music for free anyway. It’s not the same as recording from the radio. It’s not the same as making a mix tape. It might come under the same laws, I’m not a lawyer, I don’t know, but it’s not the same. Because the radio offers *no way* to download a full album with perfect sound quality at your convenience. It’s not the same, get over it.

But that doesn’t mean it’s *wrong*to download it from bittorrent, just that the wrong argument is being used. The purpose of copyright is to promote the public good. Simple and plain. If the public sees that it is good to download a full album for free, no one can argue that copyright shouldn’t allow it, and be within the definition of copyright. The only argument left is *when* should copyright allow it? It might be in the public’s best interests for an album to remain tied to an artist’s copyright for X years, and after that to enter the public domain, but either way things *aren’t* entering the public domain quickly enough.

And, of course, that argument is academic. It doesn’t matter when the law decides an item should become no longer copyrighted. They’re able to be distributed, so they’re distributed. Asking for cooperation won’t work ever. Ever. Ever. Unless the penalty for these things becomes something so harsh as to scare people. Death for torrenting?

Either way, these are the things I observe: 1) things will be traded, irrespective of the desire of artists/labels/RIAA/MPIAA 2) releasing things for free DOES NOT stop them from being traded 3) releasing them for free DOES allow for a mechanism via which I can conveniently pay the artist.  4) without a major label, it’s probably impossible (yes, impossible) for a band to become as big as Radiohead is.

That last one is my only conclusion. If you’re a band who is not part of a major label, it’s not very likely that you will ever reach the point where you’ll make millions. It wasn’t likely before, but it’s less likely today. Less likely right now.  Because irrespective of what you do, there are people who want your music without reimbursing you for it. And they can *get* your music without reimbursing you for it. It’s a simple, plain fact. You are now in an industry where you will not be reimbursed for every copy of your album that is sold. You are in an industry where some fans want to listen without paying and some, like me, decide that you’re worth our hard earned cash.

Welcome to the future.

Now playing: you-radiohead
via FoxyTunes


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