Immoral Poachers and Their Indentured Servants

by Mike Wendy on June 20, 2011

I wanted to return to something I blogged on last week.

Suzanne Vega

During her speech at a tech policy conference in DC last Wednesday, copyright advocate / artist Suzanne Vega lamented that those who download music without paying artists are essentially stealing.  Calling it a “generational problem,” she seemed resigned to the fact that kids nowadays have this nasty habit, but hopefully, with education, the next generation of users will wake up and do better by artists and society.

Kids today do indeed have a nasty habit.  Since Napster, they have been conditioned by public officials, academics, content aggregators, search engines, rogue websites, “consumer advocates,” public interest groups, the media and their peers that it’s OK to download content without paying.

They and their enablers skirt the moral issue (i.e., the expropriation of private property) by surmising that creativity and its output grows on trees, being an abundant resource that flows freely through Wi-Fi connections onto playback devices.  Incredulously they ask, “Don’t artists know that in this age where the marginal cost of digital copying is 0, they shouldn’t expect a dime from Internet users?  Are they stupid, or what?  Duh!”

Beyond “stupidity,” the enablers, especially the “access to knowledge” academics, admonish old-schoolers (i.e., those who respect property rights and actually pay for content they want and value) that no one should have a monopoly on content.  It’s immoral.  That all information must be free so that society may prosper and become fairer.

“How dare artists be so darn greedy – those exploiters!” they say through gritted teeth.

Well, perhaps Vega would be glad to know that not all kids think this way.  My college-bound nephew, Jacob, is one of a growing cadre of young artists / musicians who believes downloading “free” music is flat-out wrong.  And he doesn’t do it.

LimeWirePirate BayBitTorrent.  Even ripping friends’ CD’s.  Nada.  It’s just not on the menu for him because, as my nephew says, “Downloading ‘free’ stuff hurts the artist.  It’s poaching.”

Of course, this idea applies to more than just the intellectual property of music or movies.

Jamming Jacob

Pharmaceuticals.  Broadband transmission.  Green technology.  Medical devices.  GMO foods.  Software.  Transportation.  These and numerous other areas of innovation (known and not yet discovered) depend on the morality of private property.  That is, they depend on the ability of those who take risk to limit what others can do with their discoveries to realize a fair return on their investment.  Intellectual property rights – like copyright, trademark and patent laws – incentivize this investment by allowing creators to protect their work.

Stealing defeats that.  It makes it no less wrong if it occurs with O’s and 1’s in the digital realm, in the name of society and the public interest, or for the Kids.

Who’s going to want to come to the table to develop the next great thing if it can be confiscated will-nilly?  Answer – not many when that labor amounts to no more than indentured servitude to freeloaders with a false sense of entitlement, or policymakers and academics who want to “spread the wealth.”

I share Vega’s hope that Internet users will someday see the light.  If my nephew is any indication, perhaps that day is closer than we think.

Maybe someday even the hardcore redistributionist will see that Creators play a tremendously important role in our society, a role that should be nurtured, not punished.  That they have a right to protect their work, and serve society, as they see fit, not as a bunch of petulant poachers and angry academics deem as proper for society.

To suggest otherwise – that is, to subjugate their labor to some “righteous” idea of equity, fairness and freedom – strikes me as un-American.  Something that has been tried and failed “over there,” where real freedom does not exist.

Sure, our system of protecting property is imperfect.  But it’s far better and more compatible with individual liberty than the alternative – central planning and state-sanctioned confiscation of property by policymakers and the “entitlement class.”

Jam on, Jacob.  In realizing your dreams – by creating music that is yours – you serve society.   Know that it is the government policymaker, cloaked in the public interest, and Eeyore academics, seeking to make the world “fair,” who are the real exploiters.

Beware when they demand you serve them.

txpatriot June 21, 2011 at 4:10 pm

If I could meet some of these pirates face-to-face, I’d like to ask them a few questions, in particular, what do they do for a living?

How would they feel if they suddenly learned that their labor was not going to be compensated because we wouldn’t want to label them as “greedy”? How would they feel if the code they wrote, the music they wrote, or the video they produced was mandated by law that it could not be copyrighted or otherwise compensated, that everything they did was automatically public domain? How would they make a living then?

But of course it really doesn’t matter, because information “wants” to be free, right?

Mike Wendy June 21, 2011 at 4:56 pm

This is the battle out there. You create it, you owe it to society. Spreading the wealth is
gonna’ bankrupt us (it certainly has morally).

du2vye July 3, 2011 at 12:16 am

Ms. Vega should read Janis Ian’s website and comments about copyrights. The original intention of copyrights was to encourage creativity – would that be a handful of musicans from about 5 major recording labels or hundreds of thousands making music? For the first time since I started listening to radio (apx 45 years) I can’t keep track of the bands because they are so many. Music is healthier than ever. Didn’t you notice the Grammy’s? Over 50% of awards were given to independents. They didn’t become popular because a label paid for them to be played on the radio – if a free music radio is still available in some areas.

How do musicians get heard? Google the “sampling effect”. That’s what downloaders are doing. It’s like getting a mix tape (remember cassettes?) from a friend – you learn about a new band that you like. There are no “industry” filters that studios are in control of. That also means talent and what people like can rise to the top. I’m not stuck listening to major studio crap. Before my first computer I bought maybe one cd per year because I didn’t like what I was hearing. Now I love it again. All the years I heard “progressive” music was dead – they lied, it was alive and well in Europe. Now with digital music I don’t have to pay $50 for an import album anymore either. What a joy!

There is nothing I listen to anymore, certainly nothing I buy that is from a major recording studio. I can’t stand what is played on the radio and I’ve actually asked to have it turned off. That is why they are loosing money and the studios know it. They split off small little studios with “independent-sounding names” almost 10 years ago. They bought up rights to independent music that was in competition with a band they wanted to promote (Okreil River – I don’t recall the spelling). They even failed to re-publish their own back catalogs because they didn’t want the competition with their handful of “super stars”. The birth of music downloading was 60’s and 70’s fans who digitalized unavailable out-of-print albums. If you look at who are the top downloads at torrent sites it’s not current music – it’s 30 year old music like Prince.

College kids? You gotta be kidding. They just don’t have the money to fight and baby-boomers might. What college kid has ever owned more than a handful of albums that they usually traded for or bought at a local used shop or got free at the library? Just because they now own a MP3 player with thousands of songs doesn’t mean they would have bought those songs. When was th last time you spent money on a cd that you had never heard before? That’s the “sampling effect” that Ms. Vega is missing out on.

A 30 second sample is a joke. Every single time I tried that, I was dissapointed and the track was deleted. 100%. I couldn’t even get the correct version of a song I knew based on the 30 seconds.

All it takes is one hard drive crash to know that there is a significant difference between a downloaded MP3 and a physical cd. The common cd’s sold may start deginerating in as little as a couple of years depending on how they are stored and used. A proffessionally mastered disk will not do that and they sound so much better in a home stereo. People DO buy what they hear and like.

Radiohead put their Rainbows album online first. Six months later they came out with a physical cd and it still went on to be Amazon’s top cd seller that year. How do you explain that? That experienced has been repeated with other media including novels as well. Look up Neil Gaimen’s blog,

Cory Doctrow also has some coments about copyrights and open software that you might find interesting. He recently did a video with the Guardian called “All Pirates Want To Be Admirals” that’s entertaining. His comments on regulations can be seen here,

Creativity does NOT develop in a vaccum. People are inherently creative and would do it anyway – with or without money. While it’s true that some are going to be better than others and should be paid for what they do.

Trade organizations represent corporations and NOT musicians, bands, or songwriters. They also don’t represent actors, screenwriters or any of the “little people”. They represent corporations. If you look at their history, their record of paying “the little” people any share they owe without hiring lawyers and accountants is shameful. They have NO right to speak. They are not selling or representing even 50% of music available today. Even MySpace has bots registering “hits” so charts are no longer believble. Nothing a trade organization says can be believed – it’s kind of a conflict of interest.

Laurel L. Russwurm October 30, 2011 at 10:43 pm

Perhaps Ms. Vega grew up in a cave raised by wolves? If not, her art was informed by the culture of other humans.

I know her name and one song from having seen a video on Much Music back when she was starting out. We’re probably of an age, and while she was signing up for indentured servitude in the music industry I was likewise signing away my writerly rights away to television. Back in the day, that was the only way a creator could “make it”.

Funny thing, I’ve never bought any of her music, because that was around the time I stopped listening to the radio because everything sounded the same. See, I never heard her music enough to want it. All the music I’ve bought over decades has been from artists I knew or the music that I heard before I stopped turning on the radio. And most of that was has been from remainder tables or used record sales.

Funny thing, now that I have discovered the Internet, I am likely to buy music from artists that believe in sharing. I bought Allison Crowe’s entire catalog, for instance. And I’m listening to Jamendo and finding all kinds of great music. But I’m unlikely to hear (or buy) any of Ms. Vega’s music because she doesn’t share it.

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