The Friday Morning Listen: Frank Zappa – We're Only In It For The Money (1968)

The drama surrounding the whole SOPA and PIPA bills was kind of fun to see play out. It was like the corporate interests legislators who were behind the bills had absolutely no idea that their proposals might have unintended consequences: ones that would generate a firestorm of passion. Between the website blackouts and the avalanche of phone calls and emails that inundated congressional offices, it appears that some eyes have finally been opened.

And then, shortly after the day of the blackout, the Feds swoop in to shut down the file-sharing site MegaUpload. Uh…so what, exactly, did we need those new laws for? And was MegaUpload set up to make money off of film and music piracy? Maybe, but those answers are almost beside the point.

First, let’s talk about more unintended consequence. Several other filesharing sites immediately freaked out and began to delete files and/or suspend services. What this means is not that food has been put back on the table of corporate executive wronged artists. No. Instead, a huge amount of interesting, rare, and perfectly legal content has gone missing. There are a surprising amount of music bloggers, libraries, and archivists who curate the unknown, making it available to the public. The point is love of the music, not money. Do the RIAA-backed major labels care about such things? Nah! I used to frequent a site that made available vinyl rips of old easy-listening and Exotica records, all of which were out of print. There were no ads on the site, so it was purely music fans digging for treasure. They were taken down by one of the copyright holders. Sadly, the major label that owned some of the rights had absolutely zero interest in re-issueing the material. Pathetic.

Now please, don’t get me wrong here. I’m kind of uncomfortable with the idea that everything should be “free.” It’s not. Artists (and sometimes labels, though modern technology and crowd-funding is — thankfully — making that less common) spend a lot of time and money putting together a recording. So the idea of not paying for it just because that’s a possibility? I’m sorry kids, that just doesn’t seem right to me.

On the other hand, the industry discussions of monetary loss seem to equate full opportunity cost to each download. They then take that cost and multiply it by a fudge factor (which is created from such super-incredibly-reliable data such as survey results….no, I’m not kidding), resulting in eye-poppingly huge numbers. Millions! Hundreds of millions!! Hundreds of billions!!!

Oh puhleeze. Here, I’ll let you in on a little secret: you can’t put that genie back in the bottle. Sure, people aren’t buying music like they used to. But no amount of scorched earth policy — which is really hurting other areas of the art world — will put that genie back. In the meantime, you will spend millions of dollars on all manner of legal activity. That’s money from which you will never, ever see a return.

So why not spend it on trying to boost your profits by doing what you used to do: facilitate the making of art? Fire some of your accountants, consultants, and lawyers and bring in people who actually care about music. Do you actually know any of those people? I’m serious.

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Mark Saleski

Mark Saleski is a writer and music obsessive based out of the woods of central New Hampshire. A past contributor to Jazz.com, Blogcritics.org and Salon, he writes several weekly features including the Friday Morning Listen, (Cross the) Heartland, WTF! Wednesday, and Sparks Fly on E Street. Follow him on Twitter: @msaleski. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
  • http://www.themidnightcafe.org mat brewster

    As you know Mark I am one of those people. I had a couple of hundred gigs of unreleased live music on Megaupload that died when they did. I also had several hundred more gigs of the same on Mediafire that got deleted.

    The reason Mediafire gave me for the deletion was that I had once stored a show on there that was complained about therefore all my files must be illegal.

    I don’t know the ins and outs of copyright law but it seems to me that when you are going after your fans for sharing music that isn’t commercially available for free then somethings wrong.

    I didn’t sell the music. I didn’t beg for donations. I don’t have ads. I did put in a huge amount of my time in sharing the music and paid (and increasingly bigger) amount to my web hoster for the space and bandwidth. Now its all gone.

  • Tom Johnson

    I’m guessing Megaupload and Mediafire gave the same reason to everyone. Technically speaking (and I say this as a big fan of bootlegs/etc.) they violate copyrights even if you aren’t making money off them in anyway because the record label and/or the band holds the rights to the songs themselves. It’s that whole ASCAP/BMI thing that virtually every official recording will have on it somewhere. Frustrating as hell, as we know, because it’s not like they were ever going to make any money off of it. They just want to make sure there’s no way anyone, anywhere can make a penny off of it either, even if you yourself aren’t – because they know it wouldn’t take any real effort to rehost it elsewhere on an ad-supported site, or press up bootlegs for Ebay, etc. Again, not siding with them, just explaining what I’ve seen as an explanation for this kind of behavior over the years…

  • Mark Saleski

    it’s really a sad state of affairs. i mean, i don’t like the idea that you can find a newly-released movie for download. on the other hand, if they think they can actually stop this stuff, they’re getting some pretty bad advice….or not listening to the advice they don’t agree with.

  • http://www.themidnightcafe.org mat brewster

    I get that. You are correct that bootlegs do technically violate copyright. The thing is most artists and even to some extent their labels allow bootlegs to exist as long as money isn’t being exchanged.

    The people who trade bootlegs are generally fans. To try to squash it would be to **** off those fans. Likewise sites like mine in fact help support those bands. I don’t have any numbers but I think its fair to say some people have downloaded a show from my site, and then purchased concert tickets, t-shirts or CDs when they might not have had they not heard the bootleg.

    I’ve uploaded well over a thousand shows on my blog from a hundred bands or more (I’ve never bothered to count actually, but its a lot.) I can count on one hand how many times I’ve had to take down a show (and one of those artists was Van Morrison who now allows bootlegs to flourish.)

    The Mediafire action was, I believe, an overreaction to the Megaupload bit. From what I’ve read MU was thumbing their nose at the feds and were actively engaging in real piracy. When the feds raided them most of the other sites got scared and made moves to show they were actively trying to get rid of any piracy.

    So when they saw that I had a couple of files with DMCA request to take down they made an assumption that the rest of my files likewise violated copyright law and took them all down. I don’t really think that my case has anything to do with RIAA complaints but rather just Mediafire running scared after the MU debacle.

    I can’t say I really blame them since if I was looking at dealing with the feds or some random blogger I’d do the same thing, it just sucks.