Three Artists On Piracy: Sharing, Disruption And Turning Filesharers Into Your Street Team
from the stupid-filthy-helpful-pirates dept
There's a lot of discussion here at Techdirt about filesharing. Much of the discussion focuses on various legacy industries and their efforts to fight infringement, as well as their continued cultivation of artificial scarcity, which often sends potential customers towards unapproved sources. Various artists have also weighed in on the matter, offering their perspective as those most directly affected by filesharing. Some embrace it. Others view it as a threat to their chosen professions. No matter which side they take, it's largely viewed as inevitable or inescapable. But inevitable or not, the discussion continues.
In the interest of furthering the discussion, I'd like to draw your attention to three separate posts on the subject of filesharing, each one written by an artist with “skin in the game,” as they say.
The first post is very timely, considering the recent rumor that Bruce Willis was taking Apple to court to secure his ability to pass his iTunes library on to his next-of-kin. Dessa, a rapper and member of the Doomtree Collective, draws a parallel between Monsanto and Apple and their sale of licenses rather than goods in order to better “secure” easily duplicated items and prevent sharing. Dessa also makes a further connection (filesharing to seed-sharing collectives), showing that these restrictive licenses fly in the face of normal human behavior.
Peddling a product that consumers can duplicate for free is a tricky business. With affordable consumer technology, you can now copy a song a hundred times, with no degradation in the sound quality—and most people seem to immediately recognize why that’s gonna make it harder to get paid for songs. But my first experiences with lossless, duplicable technology didn’t have anything to do with my career as a rapper. My first encounter wasn’t with a torrent site. Or a bootlegged disc. It was a tomato.
Seeds, quite obviously, are the mechanism of plant duplication. You drop a sunflower seed in wet dirt and, bang, you get a brand new one. Essentially, you just 'burned’ a sunflower. The seeds of this new plant can then be harvested and planted to create an infinite, almost lossless supply of flowers and seeds.
The connection continues. Monsanto sells licenses for the technology in the seed, not the seed itself, explicitly forbidding the resale or transfer of its seeds to unlicensed “users.” iTunes does the same. Purchasers are forbidden from doing anything with their library other than what is explicitly allowed by the EULA. The right of first sale is stripped away because the purchasers have nothing to sell. They own nothing.
In addition, she points out that users agree to stipulations they'd never agree to with physical goods (as opposed to licenses), like being monitored (Apple says “technologies” will be used to verify compliance with the license terms; Monsanto's verification method is even more Big Brother-ish — “aerial photography”).
These rules and regulations can undermine our fundamental ideas of what it means to actually own something. In most of our purchasing lives, we pay for product and then we can do with it as we like… So If I’m only allowed to interact with my purchase in meticulously prescribed ways…it starts to feel less like mine. Like a pet I'm not allowed to touch or see.
Losslessly reproducible technologies are just complicated things to own… In many ways, the whole ownership model just seems poorly suited to duplicable technology… When we try to force new technology into the old model, our contracts end up sounding really, well, creepy. Instead of asking, Whose is this, who gets paid for it, and how much?, the conversation might be better reset by asking What is this, who made it, who uses it, and what’s fair?
The second post features the writing of recording artist and netlabel co-founder Bunny Intonamorous (presumably not his real name). His post goes long, spurred on by a statement made by a different set of artists, a pair that create likenesses of recording artists using the artists' own CDs.
Mirco Pagano and Moreno de Turco were quoted in the article as saying that “Piracy infects and destroys music, preventing artists to succeed and become idols as in the past.”
My fury is two-fold: piracy of music prevents no-one from succeeding let alone infecting and destroying music, and also this (frankly outdated) notion that to be successful in music you have to be some kind of mega-stadium-level superstar money-machine.
There's a lot in Bunny's post (which runs a few thousand very entertaining and informative words) discussing what's wrong with these assumptions. While piracy has affected some artists ability to sell music, for the most part, that wasn't where they were making the most money anyway. Touring is where the money was and still is for many (though not all) artists. Piracy can't touch that.
The other positive aspect of piracy is that it has changed the music landscape from an industry that sold artists (and their art) to consumers, presenting the artists as “idols” and “icons,” to something more democratic, more varied, and perhaps most importantly, more personal:
For better or worse (read: better) piracy is here and it's changed things. These days an artist has to have a presence over data-rich streaming sites such as soundcloud and bandcamp if they accurately want to gauge the size of their audience and tour efficiently enough to get money out of it and start building a reputation. And even then, it's risky, but it negates the main problems with piracy and money can, and will, still be made. I certainly wouldn't say that piracy is killing music. In fact, it's making a lot more music more widely available, which increases the amount of different breeding grounds there are, technically (though not necessarily) increasing the amount of interesting acts and artists out there.
In fact piracy of music software has broken down boundaries even further. Not only can people hear and experience a wider range of inspirational existing music, but now musical creation has become more widely available.
Just as there are those whose musical stasis prompts them to ask questions about who the next “Dylan” or “Led Zeppelin” or “Beatles” will be, there are those who wonder how today's severely fractured market and wealth of distractions will ever produce another 25-million-album seller like Michael Jackson (or even $35K a year). Those that blame this lack of multimillionaire chart dominators solely on piracy, rather than on underlying cultural shifts, economic woes, a multitude of new distractions and other disruptions are merely settling for a convenient whipping boy, rather than actually working on fixing their problems.
And this is one of many reasons I really appreciate how piracy has changed the face of musical culture (along with the internet in general, of course): it has forced musicians to stop the whole rock 'n' roll, “untouchable”, get-the-fuck-away-from-me attitude that beleaguered “legends” for some time, and encouraged artists to interact with their fans. This not only creates entirely new platforms for interaction other than just through audio, but has also de-fangs and de-mystifies these people, which then decreases the amount of “artist anxiety” someone faces when looking to create.
Yearning for idols and blaming piracy for today's “weak” music market is nothing more than rose-tinted nostalgia rewriting the history of the recording industry, turning it from an exploitative commercial venture into the deflowered victim of millions of basement dwellers. Those who rail against the “level playing field” are constantly working to conform this disruption to fit their favored narrative.
My biggest gripe with the whole “legends” argument, however, is that there needs to be some form of monopoly on 1) record sales, and 2) the public consciousness in terms of music. The second point, I fear, is the impulse of monoculture – that same impulse that abhorred subcultures in times past (which is slowly also being eroded, thankfully – be who you want! choose your friends! etc. – another wondrous example of what technology can bring you). Either way the suggestion is that, the way musical culture has been headed for the past few years is utterly wrong.
Granted, musical culture and money are in a strange state of flux at the moment, but the trends have been leaning towards a more aware, more (arguably) moral state of business: that you pay for what you enjoy so that these musicians – who generally tend to be very thankful – get if not all the cash you gave them, then at least a fairly sizeable chunk.
There's a thought: Support your favorite artists directly, rather than hoping a small portion of your $14.99 makes its way to them after passing through an entire office full of unrelated staff and a multi-level supply chain.
The final stop on this filesharing three-fer is over at Feral Intensity, home of self-published author Gayla Drummond. If you're not familiar with her, all you need to know is this: she is one of the few authors who came to the defense of LendInk during the Twitter-fed witch hunt.
Drummond begins her filesharing saga by describing herself as someone who originally felt piracy was “bad,” but unlike others, she didn't just make the assumption and move on :
I researched to discover what the major reasons for piracy were, and came up with three: availability, DRM, and price.
As a result, I distributed my work to as many sites as possible, made it DRM free where I was able to, and experimented with pricing to find what people were willing to pay for it. I stated more than once that I was totally okay with people loaning my ebooks to others (before lending systems on Amazon, etc), but did ask that they please not put my work on file sharing sites.
This is a refreshing change of pace from so many other stories that begin and end with “there's no excuse for piracy” and result in the ratcheting up of various piracy countermeasures until they reach the “draconian” level. However, the story continues:
Then someone did. Tria’s Tale ended up on one in January 2011.
My reaction was something along the lines of ‘Jeeze, the one thing I ask people not to do!’ and then it was ‘Oh, well’. Except when I checked the file sharing site, I discovered they required people to pay a membership fee in order to download anything. That got my back up; the site was making money from offering access to my, and others’, content. They weren’t selling the actual files themselves, just access to them. That was not okay with me. I sent a DMCA notice and within 72 hours, the site removed the link to Tria’s Tale.
So far, par for the course. Sharing is one thing, piracy is quite another, etc. DMCA served and content removed. Except… this isn't the end of Drummond's brush with piracy. First, she noticed this:
I can’t say whether it’s related or not, since I actually just realized it last night, but my sales doubled in 2011. That link was only up for 10 days at the most, but for all I know, it was related to the sales increase.
Anecdotal. Correlation and causation, etc. It would be easy to dismiss this as a coincidence, but rather than just wave it away, Drummond decided to pursue this angle. Discouraged by a lack of feedback and the grind of self-publishing and self-promotion, she decided to turn over her books to the dark side. Her thought process was basically: why kill myself handling all the promotional work when so many others are willing to do it for me?
When everything you’re doing isn’t producing the desired results, it’s time to try something different.
That is why I’ve become a ‘self-pirate’.
I want readers. Readers who will enjoy my work and let me know in some fashion. So when Ashen made his suggestion to me after the Lendink mess, I said YES.
While he was busy doing the heavy work of file prep and ‘seeding’ (the FSM bless him for putting up with my stupid questions and general cluelessness!), Google alerts notified me that The Contract Bride was mentioned on a certain forum. I always check out my Google alerts, and went for a look.
Lo and behold, file sharing links to it had been posted.
For just a second, I was all petulant about it: ‘That’s not one of the titles I picked out!’, but I got over that and ran with it because someone thought it good enough to recommend to others, AND THAT IS WHAT I WANT! Joined the forum to leave a comment with a link to a newly created page on my author site.
The next day, I had 3 new sales on Amazon and had received a donation from someone from that forum. That is the most action I’ve seen in a single day in regards to my ebooks since March, people.
It has been said that filesharers purchase more music, ebooks, etc. than non-filesharers. The argument goes back and forth on this, but one thing's for sure: pirates know how to get your work in front of thousands of people you'd never reach otherwise.
Don’t get me wrong, I by no means think doing this is going to catapult me into fame and fortune. But file sharing is widespread, and may possibly be the most effective, least time consuming method of getting my work in front of eyeballs.
It’s not any different than offering freebies through Amazon’s Select program or other sites when you decide to put your own work out there, and it’s certainly not going to have anymore negative of an effect than doing that. It’s a different platform with content hungry people.
It's not exactly advertising but it's certainly better than locking your creative efforts up behind DRM or endless legal threats. And if you feel piracy is unstoppable/inevitable (no matter which side you come down on “morally”), why not start seeding your own stuff? If you think you can't stop someone else from doing it, get a step ahead of them and become your own worst enemy/best friend. Let the system work for you.
Drummond's put her money where her mouth is:
Wanna pirate some of my ebooks? Go here.
Filesharing will continue to be villainized by certain industries and members of various creative fields, many of whom would rather find someone to blame than actually deal with massive disruption. But to see only the negative is to miss out on a lot of the positive effects while also scapegoating potential fans.