in which the naked chimp is unmasked, his machines debugged, and his bugbears debunked

Monday, April 16, 2007

Dirty Sanchez in El Dorado (the returning of the screw?) [Pt. II of III]

Last week, we looked at the world of Squibznik (private tracker extraordinaire), a world that is El Dorado to downloader-members, and Dirty Sanchez to the recording industry. I finished the column begging the question, (thee question if you’re wearing chocolate face fluff): why would I buy a CD?

‘Because it’s illegal not to,’ squeaks Sanchez the rec. exec, ‘downloading music is stealing!’

Is it stealing? Hmm…

In that irritatingly unskippable ad on a lot of rental DVDs, downloading is equated with stealing people’s ‘things’. ‘You wouldn’t steal a handbag… so don’t steal movies!’ Is the irony of the fact that this appears on rental DVDs lost on these eedjuts?
Whatever the case, the ad is wrong for two reasons: downloaders are not thieves, and they’re not stupid. Let’s say I steal your manbag, full of cash you earned dishpigging of a Saturday eve to pay for your tweakend shenanigans. It’s ten o’clock on Saturday night. The phones are running hot. You’re all gee-d up. And I took your money. There goes your lost weekend. I’ve taken from you, past and future: your projected fun and the time it took you to earn that cash, which you’ll never get back. Those five hours, those precious moments of your life you sacrificed washing dishes… I’ve robbed you of something you can never replace.

But mp3s are different – ‘almost’ nothing, just information telling your vibrator how to vibrate (yes, your iPod is just a fancy vibrator for your mind). Now, if I learn Japanese, I’m not depriving anyone in Japan of his or her language (imagine poor little Kenji, reduced to a lifetime’s grunting and signing because the nasty foreigner ‘stole’ his Japanese). Similarly, sharing music files doesn’t decrease a finite, scarce amount of something owned by an individual. Artists (well, living ones) ‘retain’ their music – they keep their own copies, and sometimes even the rights to its reproduction (if they’re lucky with the record deal). And they get to keep their unique ability to ‘perform’ their music face-to-face, which is something that nobody can take away from them, even though cover bands try.

The downloader hasn’t deprived anyone of ‘music’ – they’ve actually contributed to its abundance. It’s dishonest to say you’re ‘stealing music’ – historically, only record deals have had the power to steal an artist’s own music from them. What you’re actually doing is stealing ‘revenue’. Copyright, intellectual property – these are just ways of protecting profit. Because record companies see artists as sources of profit, it’s easy to see why they get confused. But, by their logic, why not sue all cover bands? Or attack second-hand record stores, who contribute nothing in royalties, and actually profit from selling other people’s music (unlike downloaders)? Or ban cassettes? But they’ve all been tolerated, because the record companies knew they retained their monopoly. Really, if you wanted to acquire a collection of music, it was impossible to bypass them. But now it is. Hence the panic. You’re not just stealing milk… you’ve Squibznicked their cashcow.

So there are two ‘real’ issues: providing a way for living artists to continue living as artists, and refusing or allowing the recording industry to retain its monopoly over the means of distribution. To me, this is a no-brainer: provided we can look after musicians and their entourage, the labels can go jump. This is an industry that ensures artists get no more than a few dollars from the sale of their own work; that has been happy to sell re-packaged versions of dead artists’ work at full price and take all the profit; that ‘forced’ digital on consumers because it was lighter, cheaper, and smaller. This aggressive, possessive parasite is screaming blue murder, now that they too have been rationalised by the same logic they forced on us… is it time to return the screw?

But what about ‘good’ record stores? Live venues? Independent distribution networks? The artists who’ve made all that incredible cover art? And the studio heads? Isn’t downloading kind of like A-bombing the temple, just because there are some thieves in it? Or is it that now, for the first time, we have to ‘think’, because we finally have a meaningful choice to make?

That’s what we’ll look at next week…

© (he he) Peter Chambers 2007

1 comment:

DW said...

hey pete! really enjoyed your Squibznik stories so far. part 1 was stuff i've always thought about but never really closely considered. but then part 2 you've raised some points i've never really thought about before. it's interesting, yes i've felt that downloading music wasn't stealing in the traditional sense but never really thought about why... but i think you've hit the nail on the head here. and i agree about the labels getting their dues. looking forward to part 3.

it's funny how i really miss buying music back in melb. and i'm surprised about how little joy i get out of buying CDs in japan. back in melb i'd buy my more mainstream CDs from JB Hi-Fi, Dragonfly Discs or HMV then get my more independant stuff from Synaesthesia or if they didn't have it go to Collectors Corner, Basement Discs or somewhere else. i knew how to find everything, I'd chat with store workers about music and it was just a fun experience. i'd browse for music probably 2-3 times a week. i know chris knows the place well but cam and pete are you familiar with Synaesthesia Records? man i love that place. one of the things i miss most while in japan. i'm good friends with the guy who runs the store and visited there on a weekly basis for about 4 years. the guy knows my music taste so will recommend stuff to me and we'd chat about random stuff and hang out for a couple of hours sometimes in the store. and i knew some of the other customers too who were all part of fringe parts of the melb music scene. i've been visiting that store since it was located in a shitty little apartment in a virtually impossible location to find off chapel street. and before then he used to get imported music and literally ride his bicycle to the city and sell them on the street or to other stores. now he's got his own label, is the primary distributer for certain labels in Australia/NZ and brings out artists for tours.

it's probably something pete will cover in part 3 but the impact downloading has on stores like this is the one thing that clearly sucks. guys like this shouldn't have to pay the price for the damage some greedy bastards have done to the industry. i can still remember going meeting him for the first time. i was 18 or 19 years old and i'd just discovered autechre's "LP5" and was fascinated by this "crazy" music. then i head a radioshow on PBS playing similar music and called and got the DJs email address and asked her about where i could get this sort of music. she gave me the sketchy directions of how to get to the store. i think it took me 2 hours to find. i'd say the store owner has been a little like a muscal mentor to me. guiding me into new genres and recommending new music to me... even stuff he didn't sell like Public Image Limited. i owe that guy a lot as does many other people from melbourne.

anyways i'm getting off track here. my point is that buying music in melb was fun. not so in japan. i can't visit stores regularly so there's nothing warm, familiar and friendly about it. and i can't read the blurbs or chat with staff about music. and most surprisingly, i'yet to find a store with as good range of stuff i like as synaesthesia. the other problem is that the CD carries no value to me here. back in melb i was still using a discman for my car and public transport so as i walked out of the store i'd tear open the plastic and wack it into Manberry and listen on the way home. Manberry is the name of my discman. i named my last 2 discmans... the first ones full name was Discy Manberry. it was a sony and good quality too so lasted for ages and gave me good service until the lid on it broke. the 2nd one was called Spinny McManberry (manberry for short) and was also a Sony but one of their lower models. i got it for only $40 while working at Megamart. it would skip sometimes and you could always hear it spin (hense the name "Spinny") but that added to its charms. he died a slow lense related death. during it's last month i'd have to hold it in my hand at exactly 180 degrees as i walked for it to play.... or cradle it in one hand as i drove my car.

so anyways, manberry would play me the music on the way home then once i was home i'd put the CD into my stereo and give it some more spins. it would stay stacked on top of the stereo in my "high rotation" pile for a while then end up on my CD rack.

but now it's all MP3s. if i do buy a CD i have to wait until i get home then rip it onto my lappy then to my ipod. the CDs i've bought here i've never actually played before. it's been immediately ripped then shelved. and as i have my CD rack in melb it just gets put onto a shabby pile. not satisfying adding a new purchase to a small collection of 10 or so albums compared to adding it to my rack at home. then there's the ipod. i fucking hate my ipod! i liked my 1st one until it died after only 1.5 years. now my new one keeps freezing on me. and it just reminds me of how much better my manberry was. and it was 10 times cheaper. yes there's convenience of an ipod over a discman, having access to 30gbs of music at once is an obvious one, but the lack of intimacy i have with it is fastly overtaking the benefits. i tried to build a close bond with my 1st ipod. i tried to give it a nickname but couldn't think of one. it just had no personality. now i don't bother with the new one. actaully i think i'm going to give it a few scratches or mutilate it in some other way when i get home. just for kicks and out of spite. how dare he try to replace manberry. fuck you ipod. fuck your apple logo, fuck your sleek design and most of all, fuck your cool image and marketing as a fashion accessory. oh and especially fuck your white headphones. i hate those.

so yeah, fuck MP3s, fuck Squibznik, fuck digital downloads and fuck japan.

ok i'm ranting here a little now but there's truth here. maybe you can call this the darkside of being an MP3 whore.

sorry but i was due for a rant...


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