Congress Hears Online Music Grievances
April 4, 2001 5:37 AM   Subscribe

Congress Hears Online Music Grievances - Alanis Morrissette said few musicians were hurt by their exposure on Napster, as the structure of recording contracts prevents all but a few from ever seeing any money from record sales. Don Henley, formerly of The Eagles, took a swipe at the recording industry as well, noting that artists have had no say in the negotiations between recording companies and Internet firms. Ted Nugent, a prominent Napster critic, was scheduled to testify but had to cancel due to scheduling conflicts.
posted by radio_mookie (17 comments total)
Nice article, nice arguments. My favorite quote thus far was from AOLTW's Richard Parsons:

[He] said the government's most important role would be to enforce existing copyright laws to "ensure the pursuit of happiness doesn't descend into mass piracy and anarchy."

I take that to read, "ensure that we can still make tons of money off of contracts that continue to hurt the rights of the artist."

The thing is, too, is that Napster is not "yesterday's news" as Hilary Rosen put it. Napster isn't just going away, and music trading online isn't just going away. The RIAA thinks because they've curtailed Napster's traffic, it's all over. It's not. The whole Napster incident has heightened the public's awareness of how the RIAA works - against the artist, in most cases - and hopefully when artists such as Henley and Morrissette speak, people will listen.

I think that record companies should get a cut, since they do a good part of the legwork, but not at the price of the artist's rights.

So what does Napster, as a company and a service, need to do? That's a tough call. But getting things going with the subscription service would be a start. Assuming that people would sign up for it, it would demonstrate very practically to the RIAA that people are willing to chip in some cash. Alternately, Napster could rework itself in the direction it's trying to proceed, and become an "artist to listener" connection. To that, I wish them good luck.

The RIAA? They need to get their act together, fast. Provide a subscription service that people can afford and want to use. Give people the means to copy the music files to CDs, and give them a somewhat lower quality. Get in gear, or get left behind.

As a side note, the site is rather, uhm, futile. And isn't that logo a little too similar to Napster's? Could they sue? ;)
posted by hijinx at 5:56 AM on April 4, 2001

Not that I love RIAA. Just the opposite. But I still haven't read a good argument showing why downloading copyrighted music isn't stealing. Anyone want to help me out with this?
posted by darren at 7:14 AM on April 4, 2001

Darren, it's not stealing because:

A. The recording industry steals from artists worse than Napster users do, so that makes it ok.

B. It's a natural extension of freedom of expression that we should be able to get whatever we want without paying for it, dammit.

There are a lot of other arguments, but they're all variations on A and B, I think.

I don't download Napster or other .mp3 files. But I do buy sheet music. I wish someone would come up with an encyclopedic source of sheet music that I could download and print. I'd expect to pay for it. If I got music files from an online service, I'd expect to pay for that, too.
posted by anapestic at 7:32 AM on April 4, 2001

Alanis Morrissette seems to have missed the point altogether. Said Morrissette:

"For the majority of artists, this so-called piracy may have actually been working in their favor".

But that's not what we're discussing here, now is it? In fact, whether artists make more money post-Napster, or less, is completely besides the point.

The only real question to be answered is this: who owns the right to a work of art: the person who produced it, or anyone who wish to consume it? Obviously, it is the former. And thus it is also the producers right to set the terms, if any, by which this product of his creativity will be traded.

If those terms include giving a percentage of a fee to a record label, in exchange for services rendered, that's fine. If those terms include a ban on trading the files in question on free online services, that's also fine. And heck, if Morrissette wants to set in her terms that her work should be given away for free, that's fine too.

The key issue is that it is the artist's right to set those terms. And it is our duty, as consumers, to respect them, if we want to enjoy their art. Simple.

What those terms ought to include, on the other hand, is a different discussion in itself. One that's been covered too many times for me to bother with it again. Though, with regards to Morrissette's own work, I'd be inclined to agree that it should be free...
posted by frednorman at 7:43 AM on April 4, 2001

Alanis Morrissette said few musicians were hurt by their exposure on Napster, as the structure of recording contracts prevents all but a few from ever seeing any money from record sales.

Isn't it ironic?
posted by dhartung at 8:20 AM on April 4, 2001

I like Bob Cringely's solution: place a small tax on blank CD's and CD burners, a few cents on cd's, a buck on the burners, and compensate the ARTISTS directly from that fund based upon Napster's downloads. Napster is THE killer app that saved the computer industry during the last Christmas season. People bought computers, burners and CD's just to use Napster. This worked for blank cassettes and VCR's. Without VCR's, the movie industry would be in serious trouble.
posted by dragline at 8:22 AM on April 4, 2001

Unauthorized copying may be as illegal and/or immoral as stealing, but it doesn't deny the original owner the use of his own copy.
posted by harmful at 8:23 AM on April 4, 2001

Well, there's the "copyright violation" != "theft" argument as well, since one is a tort, the other a crime. (Also, there's the historical argument, that the notion of authorial "ownership" is less than 300 years old, dating from around the time John Locke started talking about intellectual property. Before that, yer musicians and writers generally regarded their works as belonging to Music, or Literature... or more often than not, to God.)

Interesting to see the difference between the BBC's coverage of this last night and ABC's. Peter Jennings spun it towards the RIAA through selective quotation from Don Henley; the BBC talked to the leader of the music writers' association, and read out a few emails that emphasised the way that record companies have systematically ripped off consumers and artists alike.

Anyway, Napster will die for our sins, and you'll have the corporate behemoth competing with OpenNap and its variants. It's going to be that polarised.
posted by holgate at 8:24 AM on April 4, 2001

Here's the link to the Cringely article about Napster specifically. Sorry!
posted by dragline at 8:26 AM on April 4, 2001

Hmm, seems to me that if the artist want input then they should get it in their contacts.
It is probably safe to say that artists, especially new artists get taken advantage of.

I would like to see music available online instead of having to buy the CD. I don't always care for an entire CD and may only want a few of the songs. I would pay for a service that allowed me access to individual tracks.
posted by a3matrix at 8:59 AM on April 4, 2001

The RIAA thinks because they've curtailed Napster's traffic, it's all over.

Hah. Not even close... these people are not even close to that dumb.
posted by kindall at 11:39 AM on April 4, 2001

Hah. Not even close... these people are not even close to that dumb.

Then why was it referred to as "yesterday's news"? If it was done to simply fan the flames, it only made the RIAA look ignorant, imho.
posted by hijinx at 11:56 AM on April 4, 2001

Then why was it referred to as "yesterday's news"?

Napster is yesterday's news. The official service has been significantly neutered, the company will probably never be profitable, and the alternate servers are sufficiently difficult to get to that the service will never become mainstream. They've won that battle. There are more threats to the industry hegemony coming, though, and to think that the RIAA isn't preparing for them is touchingly naive. It's not "all over" by a long shot and they're well aware af that. The "crawler" software and fingerprinting technology currently being developed is the next salvo.
posted by kindall at 6:06 PM on April 4, 2001

Alanis? Wasn't the last album she put out "Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie", circa 1998? Everyone bought her pre-Napster, and she has not done anything en-Napster. She is due. It was 3.5 years between her two albums, so its about time she might put something out.
posted by benjh at 6:52 PM on April 4, 2001

I like Bob Cringely's solution: place a small tax on blank CD's and CD burners

FYI, such a tax already exists in the US on DAT tapes and players, and it pretty much killed the possibility of a consumer-level market for those devices.

Canada flirted with the idea of taxing blank CDs a couple of years ago, and more recently France and Germany have considered plans for taxing all computer equipment that might be used in piracy.

Personally, I don't like this solution (in any form). It taxes individuals who aren't doing anything wrong, which from an ethical standpoint gives me even more reason to pirate music. I don't burn my MP3s onto CDs anyway. In fact, my entire CD collection is MP3-ized on my hard drive for convenience. I hardly ever open a jewel case anymore, except to take out a brand new CD right before I drop it in the CD drive to rip it.
posted by daveadams at 10:12 PM on April 4, 2001

I believe blank audio CDs are "taxed." (It's not actually a tax since it's not collected by the government, it's a royalty.) However, since hardly anybody makes CDs using standalone audio CD recorders that won't record on normal computer CDs (which pay no royalties), but instead use computer CD-R burners that do, that revenue stream is probably pretty slim right now. I imagine the RIAA is still kicking themselves for not going after the first company to make a CD-R drive that could record audio, or for that matter the first company to make a CD-ROM that could digitally rip audio tracks.

The cause of standalone audio CD recorders wasn't helped when Philips ran an ad for theirs with the tagline "Burn your own CDs." To most of the people who would consider buying an audio-only CD recorder, "burn" means to set on fire. That must have been mighty confusing to some of these potential buyers...
posted by kindall at 11:34 PM on April 4, 2001

I'd like to see some statistics for Napster. Certainly the most-traded and -sought files will be of recent vintage or famous mainstays like, oh, the Beatles and the Eagles. But what about obscurities like Art Zoyd, Regressive Aid, or the Carioca Song (title song of Kentucky Fried Movie), which aren't even available on CD? What percentage of traffic are those?

I was burning CDs years ago, but not from store-bought CDs. Instead I burned albums that will never be re-released, home-recorded music (20 years' worth), and archival recordings I'd made of live shows.

Now that copyright has been extended well past the point where we'll see anything enter the public domain in our lifetimes (thanks, Bono -- that's Sonny, not U2 Bono, the mawkish Robin Williams-as-Dad of pop), what about music and musicians whose recordings are copyrighted by companies that have in the fullness of time become defunct? There are quite a few books of great age and quality that could be reprinted for the common weal, except there's nobody to contact for permission. Copyright was supposed to assure the creators of works control and remuneration for their creations for a limited period, not to put a padlock on the works forevermore.
posted by retrofut at 10:59 AM on April 5, 2001

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