Back in June of last year, I was asked to attend a meeting in San Antonio at the office of Rep. Lamar Smith, the author of the infamous SOPA bill that he recently withdrew in a hailstorm of negative public opinion. At the time, I was serving on the board of the Austin Federation of Musicians, and we were asked to send one of our representatives to the meeting. I drew the short straw.
(Disclaimer: I am not currently on the AFM board, and in any event, all views represented on this blog are obviously my own. Who else would be crazy enough to claim them?)
Also in attendance at this meeting: Ray Benson of Asleep at the Wheel fame, San Antonio’s AFM Local President, and regional reps from AFTRA, SAG, and various other groups associated with the film and music industry. We were there to exchange ideas on combating piracy on the Internet, a practice that costs these industries a lot of money each year. And to provide buy-in for Rep. Smith’s bill, of course.
So, with the best of intentions, we attended. And the meeting was positive, in that “at last somebody is doing something” way. As far as I know, none of us had read the actual bill that was being proposed, and quite frankly–have you ever read a legislative bill? Good luck with that. You will need at least three attorneys to accomplish that little feat: one to translate it into plain English for you, one to refute the other’s opinion, and a third one (hopefully smaller in stature) that you can use to club the first two to death.
So I was completely at sea, my natural environment. And from where I sat, it appeared that everyone’s earnest intention was to slow down Internet piracy. Not stop it, of course. May as well stand in the surf at Galveston with palm outstretched to the horizon, hollering “Stop!” But at least to warn legitimate service providers (like PayPal) to avoid doing business on illegal sites.
That’s how it was explained, at least. But as always, the devil is in the details. And what has come to the surface, despite the somewhat hysterical backlash whipped up on the Internet, is that there was enough vagueness in the bill to keep a lot of devils busy for a long time. And where there’s a buck at stake, there is never a shortage of devils.
Recording artists have always had a ticklish arrangement with industry executives. We create the product, but invariably lose the rights to it. So the big money generated by publishing rights and mechanical rights flows back to the label. They, in turn, pay and promote the artists. Right? Right?
Well, it has worked for some. There are plenty of sour grapes in an industry where the labels make so much more than the artists they promote. BUT–and this is a big BUT–that doesn’t give every Joe Schmodem with a modem the right to my product, just because my record company gave me a lousy deal.
I have heard this rationalization so many times, and I’ve about had a bellyful. “The labels are ripping off their artists. Why should we reward them by not stealing their product?”
Hmmm…something seems a bit off with this reasoning. If you are truly concerned about the plight of the poor artist, it seems like you would be supporting things like the Recording Artists Coalition, seeking to return song rights to the musicians after the majors have had their turn at the trough for 35 years. Not by inflicting further damage on both the artist and the label.
Historically, it’s a bum deal. We get that. But it’s between us in the industry. It doesn’t give you justification for walking off with the store. ILLEGAL DOWNLOADING IS NOT HELPING.
I considered constructing a tortured analogy there, but decided the direct approach was better. So once again–ILLEGAL DOWNLOADING IS NOT HELPING. IT’S STEALING.
Stealing is still stealing, no matter how empowered it makes one feel. Robin Hood was a myth. It’s not glamorous to ‘stick it to the man’ while also sticking it to the artist.
Rep. Smith evidently does not need a Weatherman to know which way the wind blows. He recently withdrew his bill. But I hope that for the sake of all of us, an alternative bill is proposed without the thorny censorship issues, one that will finally protect the entertainment industry to a greater degree from piracy.
If we do nothing, this issue WILL go away by itself. But not in a way that makes you want to celebrate.