Apple Cider: Random Squeezings From a Mac User
Talk About—Pop Music
Oh, I remember my 16th birthday back in 1984 very well.
No, it wasn’t the birthday cake or the party I had with my family that I remember. It wasn’t even the party my friends threw for me where I discovered just how much fun a party with my female classmates could be.
No, I don’t recall any of these memories as clearly as the big gift I got that year—a stereo system.
While it wasn’t top of the line, it had exactly what I wanted. A turntable. A receiver which actually did a decent job of picking up radio signals in the finished basement I called my room. An equalizer that allowed me to make whatever I was playing sound as if it was broadcast from another planet. And, my favorite feature, a dual cassette deck.
Once I opened the boxes and assembled the components, I was amazed at how good this thing sounded. After reading the owner’s manual and familiarizing myself with the features, I proceeded to break the law.
That’s right. I made cassette dubs for my friends of the latest Huey Lewis and the News album I had recently purchased. Not just a few—I made dozens for all of my friends to thank them for coming to my party.
Fast forward to 2000. The music industry is now facing a new threat, even more nefarious than little old me sitting in my basement dubbing tapes for hours. That enemy is the Internet.
Actually, it’s not really the entire Internet the music industry is upset with. Artists have had a large presence in cyberspace for years. Just one trip to Yahoo to search under their music category, and you’ll be waiting for a while to see the entire page if you only have a 56K modem.
No, the problem centers around Gnutella and Napster, two services that allow users to download MP3 files to their hard drives. The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) asserts that the only purpose for these and other similar services is to pirate copyrighted music. Indeed, there are a plethora of copyrighted titles available for search and free download. Napster, the provider currently under the gun in legal actions, contends that their service helps promote startup bands and allows consumers to sample tracks before they go out to buy the CD.
A careful analysis of these two opposing viewpoints raises some interesting points.
On the side of the RIAA is current copyright law. Basically, anyone’s creation, once published, is considered intellectual property. No matter if it’s Tom Clancy’s latest novel, the most recent episode of ER or the hottest new album from Coolio, all of the hard work and effort is the property of the artist and the promotion company who has an economic stake in the performance of the finished product. This prevents me from just going out, getting a song sheet for Human Beinz’s Nobody But Me, recording the song in my garage, and selling it as my own work.
The RIAA also claims that Napster is working against up-and-coming artists. According to Chris Keup with MSNBC:
Until recently, if a band had the gall to try something original there was still one opportunity left to attract the of a major label—by racking up undeniable independent album sales. Dave Matthews is a perfect example of this approach. He attracted large crowds to his shows, but it was the 150,000-plus albums he sold independently that convinced RCA that this music could translate beyond a live setting.
Additionally, the RIAA uses the revenues from the sale of CD’s, merchandise, and concerts generated by more successful artists to attract and encourage startup bands to take the leap and produce new music. By covering their bets with funds from big-name artists, they can afford to take a few risks on some unknown groups.
While these arguments are convincing, Napster and its defenders make some good points as well.
First, the impression of the music industry in the minds of the public is that of a bunch of goons, chasing after every and any penny they can, while sticking the public with the tepid and insipid offerings of formula bands and artists. That’s what makes the protestations of multi-millionaire recording industry executives and recording artists seem so anti-listener—they are talking about preserving their legal rights while their CD’s sell for $18 a pop. Some are even going so far as to investigate avenues by which they can gain additional revenues from the resale of their recordings—say, at garage sales.
This sentiment goes hand in hand with the public’s waning interest in other traditionally highly attended and viewed entertainment. Major League Baseball saw an enormous drop in attendance and viewership of its games after the disastrous 1994 players strike, which eventually canceled that year’s World Series—something which hadn’t even occurred during the trying times of the Great Depression and World War II.
The NBA and the NHL followed suit shortly thereafter with strikes or lockouts of their own. The NFL’s Monday Night Football has seen its ratings plummet—leading to the sacking of two thirds of last year’s broadcast team and the hiring of comedian Dennis Miller to spice up the banter. Taking a family to one of these events—once the most important method of getting people excited about the sport—has become an expense most families can no longer afford. Essentially, the multi-million dollar contracts of players and the huge salaries of the team’s executives are pricing John Q. Public and his family out of the stadiums.
Napster contends that their service only allows participants to trade their recordings among themselves. Since no one is selling the music for a profit, there is no real copyright infringement. Napster’s cause is strengthened by a recent decision from the Ninth Circuit US Court of Appeals, which declared that some non-commercial copying of music is protected by law. That protection extends even to making a song available for thousands of random Net users to download, the company’s attorneys say—and that means Napster is doing nothing wrong.
Napster also sees itself as the best method for new artists to promote their work. By getting their songs out to as many people as possible, Napster says, struggling bands can get their big break into the recording industry.
How will this all shake out?
It’s safe to say that the courts will have the final say in how this current arrangement will move into the future. I, however, have a simpler solution.
Why doesn’t the recording industry pull their heads out of the sand and create an alternative way for listeners to hear their favorite music online and at their request? I’m sure these executives could create some type of service where, for a monthly fee or on a per-song basis, users could download as many files as they care to listen to. This way, users could get the songs they wanted while the industry could get some of their money back. Since all of the middle men (distributors, manufacturers, printers, etc.) would be out of the loop, these songs could be offered at a discount and still allow the artists and labels to make some decent money.
Of course, some people may still exchange these files with their friends. But, as long as it is on a small scale and not for profit, I guess they’d be treated like that long-haired kid dubbing Huey Lewis and the News records in his basement for his friends.
Also in This Series
- Look How Far We’ve Come · May 2012
- A Year Apart · March 2003
- And now, the end is near… · March 2002
- Spam I Am · February 2002
- The Year of Big Changes · December 2001
- Legends in Their Own Time · November 2001
- What’s in Store? · October 2001
- Hey, I Recognize You! · September 2001
- 50 is Pretty Nifty · August 2001
- Complete Archive