Greedy B@STARDS (REVENGE of THE FAT-CATS)

I DON’T KNOW about you but I like to think that the world I live in is (within reason) a fair  place. Yet sometimes I hear of an act of hypocrisy so breathtaking that I am temporarily left speechless.

Take this from the music industry, for instance:

Doubtlessly you’ve heard all about the controversy over in Sweden with The Pirate Bay, and the sentences handed out to its operators early this year. Not only were they all given chunky prison terms, they were also made to hand over several wheelbarrows stuffed full of cash to the music and movie industry to pay damages awarded to the entertainment industries.

While the total sum of payments isn’t available, the damages awarded by the Swedish courts were understood to be sizable with one payment including a whopping €550,000 (that’s $844,813,640.35 New Zealand pacific pesos) to several major music labels, plus other equally large amounts to Hollywood.

The damages were supposedly awarded to compensate artists who’d been lost income due to piracy. So far (depending on your views on intellectual property) so good. Where it gets messy however, is the fact that artists won’t see a single cent as the labels have announced that they’ve allocated the damages awarded to fund new anti-piracy campaigns.

I know.

I was momentarily stunned by the monumental stupidity of this decision too.

If I were an artist I’d be saying, right, enough is enough, I’m off to post my music online just like acts such as Nine Inch Nails and a bunch of other big names (most of whom appear to be surviving and indeed in some cases thriving without feeding the parasitic music industry).

This isn’t an abstract academic thing either. In February this year, Sweden’s Supreme Court decided not to grant leave to appeal in the case against the founders of The Pirate Bay, so the sentences handed out to Peter Sunde, Fredrik Neij, Gottfrid Svartholm and Carl Lundström stand and the monies will be paid.

According to one of The Pirate Bay owners, Peter Sunde, the news that artists won’t benefit from the court ruling isn’t a huge surprise: “As far as I know, no money ever won in a lawsuit by IFPI or the RIAA has even gone to any actual artist,” says Sunde. “It’s more likely the money will be spent on cocaine than the artists that they’re ‘defending’.”

Columbian marching powder and music studio greed aside, one has to wonder just what on earth the music industry was taking (erm… coke?) when they agreed on this bizarre approach. Anti-piracy initiatives have to date only been remarkable in their near complete lack of success, with reported download volumes growing exponentially year on year.

Short of a new set of particularly clever anti-piracy plans, it appears that the music industry will be throwing good money after bad.

One of the particularly interesting things about the internet and the digital revolution has been the degree with which it has changed so many industries.

Not so long ago, back in the pre-internet days, booking a holiday to somewhere sunny was a complex and convoluted undertaking. So much so that most people simply trundled down to a travel agent, who managed the complexity so we could spend a week in the sun forgetting the stresses associated with being wage slaves.

Back in the present, very few travel agents exist simply because it is easier (and significantly cheaper) for hotels and airlines to engage directly with travellers online. Sites like www.tripadvisor.com have transformed the travel industry beyond recognition.

Ironically, the music industry is now in a very similar position. Back in days gone by, recording an album was a costly and complex undertaking. Aside from a few mega-bands, next to no musicians had their own recording studios. Moreover, only the big labels had the wherewithal to distribute music in a meaningful fashion so that a band could sell enough vinyl (and cassettes) to build a following.

Nowadays, recording is as easy as downloading and setting up a recording studio application on a PC (musos like Moby have been doing this for years). Similarly, the distribution of music has also been transformed by the internet.

With a listening audience the size of the western world only a mouse click away, record stores are an oddly quaint and rapidly shrinking phenomenon. Funnily enough, thanks to the wonders of the digital age, the big music labels, like travel agents, are rapidly becoming about as as useful as a fifth wheel. In short, I’d wager that the studios need musicians much, much more than musicians need the labels.

So… if my logic is correct, you’ve got to question why the studios appear to be ripping off the very people they’re supposed to be protecting. Could it be that the shoe is now on the other foot and the studios need to be more transparent about how they are paying bands? Makes you think, doesn’t it? PAT PILCHER

One Comment

  1. But why did record companies exist in the first place? Because “artists” didn’t want to touch the “dirty business”. I agree with most of what you’re saying, Pat, but the upshot of the “death of the record industry” may be even worse news for art.

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