Let's jump on board and cut them to pieces

Written by Will Conway on Saturday the 4th of February 2012
From Willipedia, the Free Encyclopaedophile 

This article refers to SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) and PIPA (Protect IP Act). For other uses see Soap or Pippa Middleton (disambiguation).

As you will know, SOPA and PIPA are two contentious Acts which are being discussed by the Senate in the US at the moment. Battling online piracy and protecting the public are the supposed aims.

Has piracy gotten worse? We used to get CDs out from the library and dub them or buy a copy of an overpriced album between a handful of friends. I always had blank cassettes so was happy to pay a quid to have a copy. Nearly all my music was on copied cassettes before I had a CD player and income, just as most of my films were VHS copies from TV. Am I going to receive a letter demanding back payment one day? If I do I'm screwed.

Maybe more people illegally download music, movies and TV shows today but there have never been so many of these things to download. Relatively speaking it hasn't increased as much as people are led to believe. I won't, but you could, argue that the cultural demand to have seen or heard all these flashy shows and albums is too expensive for the average person. One could even argue that with the ever-burgeoning quantity out there and the pressure to keep producing, perhaps the quality has suffered. That's not for me to say, however. But ask any economist what happens to the value of a currency when an economy is flooded with more money.

The entertainment industry often overcharges, art only has as much value as we instil in it. Perhaps people download music free nowadays because they don't place as much value in it. Considering our appetite for 'new' music and the sheer volume of it, we simply don't have enough time to listen to these tracks as many times as we would in the golden, olden days, whenever they were.  

I cannot be the only person that thinks standardising our artistic endeavours and making them all equally available online for carefully calculated fees will have an adverse effect on the way we approach creating these pieces of work. Whether we're talking films, songs, cartoons, paintings; the removal of that unaccountable, immeasurable element from art seems to sap the soul of it a little. It does for me anyway.

How damaging is filesharing really? Despite the fact that there's no way of proving that illegal downloads would represent actual sales, many people use free downloading as a taste-test and will end up spending money on the artist at a later date.* Removing the facility to find out about artists for free would more than certainly inhibit people's knowledge of the current artists out there.

The ironic thing is that in a way the 'legitimate' industry actually benefits from all this illegal competition. This abundance of 'ground level' online competition gives the industry free market-research, showing consumer trends so they can see better what the punters want. If it wasn't for the boom in illegal file-sharing of mp3s, do you really think that itunes would have just popped up out of nowhere?

Not surprisingly, all this pressure on tightening up piracy laws seems to come from the industry more than the artists themselves, though there are plenty of people arguing both sides. I can't help but feel that the argument for more money is one that has no end. How much is enough? Artists opposed to piracy are at best naïve and at worst greedy and have an inflated view of their self.

Haven't people always been able to get round paying the artist?
I think second-hand book shops and fares, charity shops & car boot sales can be wonderful places. I wonder what the anti-piracy clan think of them. Millions of books, CDs and DVDs are on sale second-hand and not a penny goes to the deserving artist or the producers.

God forbid that any of those pushing tighter piracy laws ever find out about the existence of public libraries; lending all types of literature, film and music to all and sundry. Surely someone should put a stop to this free-for-all attitude of allowing people to educate and entertain themselves for free. In the SOPA/PIPA way of thinking the library would be the enemy of art and literature. And financially you could probably argue that it is, but I believe there is a wider issue. One thing that seems to have been forgotten is that there are some things more important than wringing every penny out of every human experience. If I have to tell you what that is then you will never know.

I would not begrudge someone taking out a copy of my book from a library. In fact I'd actively encourage it. I would rather that it was read than wasn't. If you are an artist is the most important thing to get your art out or to claw something back from it?

So what's your point, Will? Making your new girlfriend a mixtape, lending a friend a book that changed your life; there are so many other pleasant ways of sharing and enjoying something someone has created. All these things could 'damage' entertainment if you really are set on that way of thinking. Personally I think decreasing creative control, pressure for instant success and a homogenisation of expression are more damaging to artistry. 

The money-grabbing folks trying to wrangle more control over the entertainment industry are the sorts of people that came up with ideas like restricting the number of different machines on which you can enjoy an itunes purchase. If they had it their way perhaps we would have to put a coin in our ipod every time we played a song. 
God forbid we whistle it in a lift without the rights and a licence to perform in public.

Anyway I'm being silly now so I should probably end here, but I'll leave you with a thought. 

Perhaps we should worry less about damaging our artistic industries and more about what damage we're doing to our art.

*For example I would not have been introduced to Aesop Rock and countless other musicians without filesharing. In 2000 a friend introduced to me a whole world of underground music that I daresay I would never have heard of and would not enjoy the degree of success without the 'illegal' sharing of their music. I have almost every tune Aesop Rock has ever done which clearly shows I have been doing some stealing or borrowing but I also have seen him live a couple of times and own at least 6 of his records and 4 CDs, not to mention the immeasurable unpaid advertising and PR work I have done for him by putting his tracks on CDs for people and talking about him; (incidentally I was the first person to play Fast Cars on a UK radio at the end of 2004 on a student slot after getting it on a free cd from WIRE magazine - where does the piracy law stand on that?) I'd say it's about fair.

Tags for this post: will conway, SOPA, PIPA, piracy, internet.
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