No, Saying Musicians Must 'Add Value' Does Not Mean Music Has No Value
from the fundamental-misunderstandings dept
Music lawyer Chris Castle has a talent for totally missing the point and then failing to make one of his own. In a recent blog post, he launches an attack on Michael Geist based on a completely incorrect interpretation of a statement he made to a parliamentary committee in 2010. Geist’s position will be familiar to regular Techdirt readers:
The truth is that you can compete with free content if you provide value. One of the really exciting things about the Internet is that we’re seeing innovators coming up with all kinds of different ways where they can add value and entice the customer too.
Castle proceeds to tear Geist’s statements apart based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the concept of value:
We have heard this trope before. If only the artist provided something of value—besides the music. Because the music is of no value because it is “free”—that is, it has no value because it is widely stolen and has become devalued, so the artist now has to “add value” to the music.
If Castle has heard this before, then he should know that there is a bit more nuance to what free-culture proponents mean when we talk about adding value. Perhaps this is our fault for failing to handhold him through all the basic economic concepts that lead up to this position, and for using “added value” as a convenient shorthand for “additional scarce value”. But really, if Castle wasn’t so bent on condemning Geist, he could have figured it out for himself: nobody is saying music has no value. That would be a ludicrous claim: people love music, and it has exceptional value, but it is also non-scarce and non-rivalrous, meaning its price inevitably falls to zero. But smart artists can use music to build a brand, and an audience who will pay for other, scarce things—and that doesn’t just mean t-shirts. It doesn’t even have to mean something tangible and concrete: access, convenience and authenticity are all abstract scarcities that people value a great deal, and all can serve as excellent reasons to buy.
Castle also decries the fact that, supposedly, nobody cares about songwriters when discussing new models for artists. Of course, songwriters have an extremely valuable scarcity at their disposal: their ability to write new songs. That ability has plenty of value to musicians, producers and labels, which is why songwriters can pull impressive rates up-front. Why do they and their children deserve to receive ongoing payments for work that is 20, 50 or even 100 years old? Good songwriters are in high-demand, and they can parlay the success of their last song to get bigger, better commissions and charge higher rates. You don’t see architects asking for royalties every time someone walks through the doors of a building they designed—they, like professionals in virtually every other field, know they have to keep working if they want to keep making money.
Next, Castle brings it all back to the supposed “tech oligarchy” and their “monstrous behavior,” using some blatant weasel-wording and factual inaccuracies:
Make sure you add something of value, because the music and the songs are valueless, so why should Isohunt or Limewire or Megavideo pay the artist for them. All that subscription and advertising revenue that Megavideo and Google made off of piracy? That compensates these innovators for providing the promotional opportunity because obscurity is the artist’s biggest enemy, right?
No, not wrong. Is Castle really denying that obscurity is the first and most important hurdle for an artist to overcome? It wouldn’t matter if people were buying CDs for $100 each—if they haven’t heard of you, you aren’t going to make any money. Of course, he also glosses over the fact that Megaupload did pay artists—the ones who embraced the service as a way to sell directly to their fans. Meanwhile, those who feared it handed a potential revenue stream to the pirates. Even more amusing is his lumping together of Megavideo and Google, as if they were essentially the same thing despite being so different that there’s barely any comparison.
Castle’s post is full of statements like “once again” and “we’ve heard this trope before.” Maybe next time he hears it, he should actually make the effort to understand it, instead of wasting his time railing against ridiculous straw-men.