SOPA And PIPA Make a Poor Attempt to Protect Musicians?

by Contrapuntist on January 18, 2012

in Music Industry and Business

UPDATE 1.19.12: Several musicians, artists, authors, and other content creators have signed an open letter opposing SOPA and PIPA, which can be read at StopTheWall.us.

If you haven’t heard about SOPA or PIPA by now, you’ve been hidden in cave or something, but today will be remembered the web went black protesting bills constructed to fight piracy.  What caused all the fuss today? According to many, including the White House, it threatens the infrastructure of the internet.   In addition, many believe both bills would censor the web. On the hand, organizations in favor of the bill believe they would protect content creators, like movie studios and musicians.

This is a post I’ve been stewing over for several weeks.  I’ve taken the time to read, understand and think about the facts.  When the bills were first announced, it was difficult to assess the pros and cons of the bills. The web never sleeps and keeping up with the day to day news was cumbersome to keep up with.   However, when Copyblogger, a prominent social/content marketing blog, offered some compelling points, I started to reassess the other side of the story.

I’m not anti-internet or social media, it’s how I make a living, but I am pro-musician.  The harsh truth is musicians are losing a lot of revenue because of piracy. On the other hand, internet piracy isn’t the only reason musicians get the short end of the stick. The music business is corrupt and screwy on multiple levels highlighted by an article on Rolling Stone, who couldn’t really get a straight answer on how much is made from streaming services – the so-called future of the music industry.

How Do We Protect Musician’s Livelihoods?

The unfortunate reality is music labels serve as the bankers of the industry by taking the majority of the risk in a musical act to succeed.  This was a conclusion that was hard for me to admit, but without the label, who would offer funding to unknown musical artists? A bank?  Really?

Sure, there are alternative outlets, like Reverb Nation, to help a band get discovered, but once graced with a fan base it’s still music labels that shell out the cash for the artist to record music.  If not the label, then who’s dishing out the cash to cover the producer, lawyers, sound engineer for mixing, studio time, and everything else that goes into producing a record?

Musicians are having a hard time. In a recent interview with Alice Cooper, he said: “I feel sorry if I were a young band right now. I don’t know how you make any money with records. It’s just almost impossible.”

To further highlight the issue, the following is a riveting announcement posted by Mutiny Within’s former vocalist Chris Clancy in 2011:

“We live in an age where labels don’t just take money from music sales, but from almost every form of a bands income. This isn’t the labels fault. They front money to let the bands make their music and put it out. They’re businesses and want to make a profit. But what happens when a band is given money to record an album, puts it out, and then doesn’t sell enough records…? They are evaluated and either dropped or given a second chance with a strict budget… We were dropped. We didn’t even hit 10,000 legal album sales in the USA. Yet looking at torrent sites around the internet, you can easily find 60,000+ illegal downloads. Our music was stolen, the label didn’t make enough money, and now there will be no more music. Why am I saying this? Because this happens to so many other bands and they stay quiet about it.

After 4 years of working almost every day with the band, the reality is i’ve earned $100 in all that time. I simply cannot afford to continue on. Visa costs, living costs…people seem to think i’m rich because i’m a musician but many of you will know the reality of the industry. I don’t know the future of Mutiny Within, I wish them the best if they decide to continue without me, but i’m moving on and I hope that I find that drive and love for music that I once had. (Source: Metal Injection)

Incidentally, Mutiny Within was with Roadrunner, no small label.  And seeing the band in concert and reviewing the debut album, we thought it was one of the best albums of 2010. In fact, Chris was the dude that took us back stage before we interviewed AJ. From the brief period I met him, he seemed like a really cool dude with a voice that deserves a hell of lot more than what he got.

While internet activists insist that consumer rights will be frayed by SOPA, don’t musicians have a right to earn a living too?

Reassessing the Value of Art and Entertainment

I completely acknowledge that industry associations like the RIAA and MPAA have done some really stupid, vile actions by going after the people that it depends on for success.  But it’s a vicious circle with no positive outcome.  Fans pirate music and movies, music labels and movie studios get less revenue, which trickles down to the musicians and film crews who ultimately get f**cked, to be brutally honest. Incidentally, it’s particularly interesting that music sales showed a small uptick the year after Limewire was shutdown.

It boils down to a simple concept: society loves music and movies, but doesn’t value them enough to pay for them.

There are always two sides to every story, and I only keep viewing one side posted repeatedly with no real stance for the group of individuals who keep getting screwed because people fail to value entertainment.

It’s a hard truth that we need to find ways of deterring illegal downloading.  Of course, with modern education policy that has depleted arts and music education funds across this country, it makes the issue at hand even more challenging to resolve.

The Solution is Not Destroying the Internet and Censorship

Musicians treasure the freedom to express themselves in this country.  The ability to sing whatever we want is more valuable than dealing with piracy.  It’s a right that is protected under the constitution, and for all of SOPA and PIPA’s intent, the consequence of censorship would be unacceptable to musicians.

But let me be clear: in no way am I supporting SOPA or PIPA.

There are two sides to every story and it’s important to understand both sides.  As much as I can’t stand them, the RIAA and MPAA are organizations set out to protect industries with dropping revenues because of piracy, just like the ACLU exists to protect our civil liberties.  Yes, both industries have made serious egregious errors adjusting to the web, especially the music industry; read Ripped for a great historical account.

But censorship is not the answer. Innovative technologies that help deter piracy and education to improve appreciation for the arts and music are the two real solutions here.  Instead of devoting time and spending pointless dollars on other frivolous activities, perhaps our legislators should fix “No Child Left Behind”?

After reading what the Stanford Law Review had to say about the proposed contents of both bills, I was more convinced that we these bills aren’t the answer:

Directing the remedial power of the courts towards the Internet’s core technical infrastructure in this sledgehammer fashion has impact far beyond intellectual property rights enforcement—it threatens the fundamental principle of interconnectivity that is at the very heart of the Internet.

[…]

The bills take aim not only at the Internet’s core technical infrastructure, but at its economic and commercial infrastructure as well. Credit card companies, banks, and other financial institutions could be ordered to “prevent, prohibit, or suspend” all dealings with the site associated with the domain name. Online advertisers could be ordered to cease providing advertising services to the site associated with the domain name. Search engine providers could be ordered to “remove or disable access to the Internet site associated with the domain name,” and to disable all hypertext links to the site.

Piracy is a problem.  There are sites that do need to be shutdown, but taking an axe to the web versus a carving knife won’t stop the problem SOPA and PIPA are trying to address.  Musicians are struggling to have a steady income and website that make content available are hurting livelihoods and destroys careers.

Many people agree that piracy is a problem, but if SOPA and PIPA are not the solutions, then what is?

For another musician’s perspective, read the story available at outsidetheboxmusic.com.  I’ve also storified several sources from today’s web blackout.

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