The Difference Between Nuanced Discussion And The Evil Underbelly Of The Internet Is Apparently A Fine Line Indeed

from the may-depend-on-where-you-stand dept

We recently posted what I thought was an interesting essay by musician Erin McKeown on her reaction to seeing someone copy a song of hers, and have that other song become a "hit." We thought it was an interesting and nuanced exploration of some of the challenges of being a musician and thinking about copyright -- from both an emotional and logical perspective -- and thought it would make for an interesting discussion. And, in fact, it did make for an interesting discussion. With well over 100 comments, representing a variety of different viewpoints, there was a pretty deep dive into the myriad responses the piece brought out. Like pretty much any online discussion, some of the comments were more polite than others. But, when viewed on the whole, it struck me that the conversation was much more polite than most online discussions around copyright. In fact, what was interesting was that because the discussion was quite nuanced, most of our usual haters didn't take part. So we didn't have, for example, anyone calling me a slimy lying sociopath or a disgusting human being.

Some of the comments were pointed in their disagreement with Erin, but almost immediately others came in to defend her, and the overall discussion was quite interesting in my mind. And, yet, a bevy of the standard Techdirt critics took to Twitter to claim that Erin's article was proof positive that Techdirt was pure evil, hated artists and was the disgusting underbelly of the internet (a very close paraphrase of actual statements). I'm not going to link to any of these, because I don't mean to call out those people specifically. Similarly, there was a thread on a music site that was entitled "why does Techdirt hate musicians?" I suddenly had people tweeting at me, personally, about how I was somehow destroying music and why did I not want artists to get paid.

I honestly can't figure out why this was the response. First of all, we've regularly been attacked because (we're told) we never, ever post an article where we show sympathy for artists' difficult plight these days. So here was an article, from a musician, explaining her plight -- and we get attacked for that?!? Furthermore, I'm long since past the time when I could read all the comments on the site, but I do read a pretty large number of them, and the amount of hate and vitriol that has come from Techdirt haters (see above, for two very recent examples) is way, way, way, way beyond anything seen in that particular thread.

In fact, the further you read into the comments the more you realize it's a detailed and nuanced discussion on many important issues. People don't agree, but no one's calling each other a slimy lying sociopath or a disgusting human being. Yet, because a few commenters (not even the majority, as far as I can tell) disagree with Erin, all of Techdirt hates musicians? There were a few tweets and statements elsewhere saying that Techdirt hates it when artists make money. Of course, that's ridiculous. We regularly celebrate artists earning money -- sometimes lots of money. What we get nervous amount is when artists start making use of laws in ways that may actually do them more harm than good in the long term, by attacking their fans as if they were criminals, or when they seek to abuse laws that take away fundamental rights of others.

But, really, what was most amazing to me was how quick some of these people were to jump on the entire Techdirt community, because a few comments disagreed with one musician's opinion. They ignored everyone who came to her defense. They ignored the fact that we posted the story in the first place. They ignored all the people on other stories who attack Techdirt supporters in often extremely personal ways (I've been threatened with physical harm as well as seen multiple comments I won't repeat about my family). But most people -- myself included -- see those kinds of comments as part of the price you pay for having an open discussion. Some people are going to disagree and some will use different levels of speech, some more polite than others. To tar and feather everyone on the site because someone on it disagrees with your personal views is to suggest that every community online is a problem.

Is it that difficult to distinguish a nuanced conversations where not everyone agrees with each other... from the "dark underbelly" of the internet?

Filed Under: comments, copying, creativity, discussion, erin mckeown


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  1. icon
    Chosen Reject (profile), 20 Apr 2012 @ 8:45pm

    Re:

    Speaking of nuance, I see that you like to throw exaggerations. For example, I know of no musician that has become a billionaire. But there are a lot of non-musician people in the music industry that make millions while using deceptive accounting to keep money from their artists. However, there are lots of non-label musicians that make a lot of money, even while giving their music away for free. Jonathan Coulton comes to mind. On that article there was an idiot (how's that for nuance?) that then said:
    It's a wonderful discussion, but it's lacking in the basic "who is going to pay for it all"?
    I don't know who it is, but apparently there are lots of people paying for it all. Not a musician, but Techdirt has covered Louis CK's experiment and praised it.

    Average musicians don't benefit from the RIAA. There whole model is based on instant hits and big stars. If they don't think you have the chance to be a superstar they won't sign you. If they sign you, they won't promote you. If they promote you and the public doesn't grant you instant stardom, they'll dump you. The RIAA thrives on economy of scale. Average musicians don't fit in that model.

    Consider this: Queen's label didn't want to release Bohemian Rhapsody. They didn't think it'd be successful. They didn't care about music or art. They cared about profit. Queen got a DJ to play it anyway and after fans clamored for the single their label finally decided to release it.

    Techdirt rarely has a problem with musicians, and almost always has a problem with controlling, self-serving, hindering middle-men. The reason it runs that way is due to control. Musicians and other artists are more likely to worry about their art whereas the middle-men are more likely to worry about control, often to the point of violating others rights or pissing on the good will of their fans and customers. It's not always that way; just often.

    The music industry will never go away. Music is too ingrained in human culture to ever disappear so long as humans exist. It existed before copyright law, it exists now despite copyright law, it would exist if copyright law disappeared tomorrow, and it would certainly exist if copyright law lengths and infringement punishments were severely reduced.

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