• Is filesharing wrong, illegal and screwing up the music business or is it a cultural phenomenon about which we we can do little to nothing? Part III of IV.

(As I prepare to put my album up for sale, or at least make it available, I’m thinking a lot about the “market” I’m entering. Here are the posts I plan to write:

I - The worth of music
II - Copyright
III -  Filesharing and can anything be done about it
IV - What’s next for music?

I’ll cut to the quick: yes, filesharing is wrong, illegal and screwing up the music business. It’s wrong because if you’re sharing copyrighted material, you’re sharing something that’s not yours to share. It’s illegal because the law says so. And it’s screwing up the music business because getting music without paying for it is just so damn easy that everybody’s doing it.

What’s equally obvious (to me, at least) is why people do it. And in my opinion, you can ignore most of the explanations put forth by Kyle Bylin on Music Think Tank, and you can guffaw at Chuck Klosterman of Esquire who theorizes that people are filesharing because they need to conserve cash in order to pay down credit card debt. What drivel. Shot From Guns gets it right: people fileshare “because they can.”

I mean, think about it, why do you fileshare? Wait, you know what, screw it, fileshare is a euphemism. Why do you use the Internet to steal music? Because you can, right? I mean, you can rationalize it a million ways from Sunday, but none of your mental calisthenics would change the undeniable truth that if you couldn’t, you wouldn’t. (Well, you would, but you’d be doing it old school, using cassettes and the like, which takes a ton of time and is a royal pain in the ass, thus limiting how much you are willing to copy.)

The only real question is what to do about all this. The Music Think Tank article confidently concludes: “All it takes is reminding real people in real places why music matters to you.” I can’t even understand what the hell that’s supposed to mean, much less argue for or against it. I know that this will sound Big Brother-ish, but just as technology has always existed that lets us record and track the ownership of physical objects, so should technology be developed for recording and tracking the ownership of digital stuff. It doesn’t have to be as aggressive as DRM was, it just needs to be able to show proof of purchase. That would be a start. Other thoughts:

• I love the idea of Amazon’s locker because if I buy a track and lose it, I can go get another copy. Why has this not become standard operating procedure for online music?
• Music pricing should be freed from the shackles of fixed royalty schedules, thereby allowing older music or less popular music to sell for less than newer music. Right now, I think the fixed pricing model encourages file sharing because people have no say in what a song or album is worth to them. It’s .99 or nothin’, pal.
• We should emphasize copyright to kids so that they grow up understanding not only that it is stealing but also why. (My kids are in for it!)

Damn, in starting to write about what to do about filesharing, I’m realizing I have not thought about it enough. I’ll come back to this someday, I promise.  

Before I close out this chapter, I want to respond to a comment left on my previous post and give a shout-out to an article I just read.

First, that comment. It went like this:

“With all due respect, I think you're writing this from a very, very biased point of view. You're one of the music elites who can both appreciate a wider range of music than the vast majority of people and you also stand to benefit from copyright.”

I responded by saying I might indeed be biased, but on thinking about it more, I don’t believe I am. I’m not pro-copyright because I might benefit from copyright protection someday, I’m pro copyright because I think society as a whole benefits. Which brings me that article I wanted to give a shout-out to. It’s from a blog called Copyhype: Understanding the Copyright Wars and you can read it here. I think it makes a very compelling, well-supported argument for how copyright benefits the public. Hope you give it a read!

Next up: What’s next for music?