The upside of not publishing my blog post on talks I went to in NYC by Aram Sinnreich, David Byrne & Chris Ruen is that the videos have been uploaded. If you like ignore my notes and just watch :o)
December 4th, 2012, thoroughly enjoyed Aram Sinnreich’s talk based on his forthcoming book Piracy Crusade. Read the full draft of the book for free on http://piracycrusade.com. The presentation embedded below, and the book, are both freely available under a Creative Commons 3.0 Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license. [If you give feedback on the website piracycrusade.com before the book goes to press you will get a mention in the book too though it may be too late for this since I've taken so long to put this online.]
He began the presentation with the nugget that most of the world does not care about these issues. At most it is to most an annoying screen before the beginning of The Smurfs DVD.
He comes at it as someone who has consulted for the music industry, and is now a media professor at Rutgers and a musician.
He asked how may people in the room were pirates. Most of the people in the room raised their hands. He replied that that was quite a high percentage – where are the ships? We are losing track of the metaphor and it is an inaccurate metaphor. Sharing a song with a friend is not the same as firing cannons on another ship.
Laws, ethical frameworks, what we do on a daily basis have completely converged.
The first third of the book is about the history of intellectual property and how we look at music. It is entertainment, a product of the human psyche, helped us become human as music helped us to organise into hunting parties and family units.
The music industry has a love-hate relationship with technology. Format replacement was a great boon to sales. Attempts to deal with file sharing have been a disaster from lawsuits, to DRM to infamous Sony rootkit fiasco.
P2P is viewed as a massive threat. It is a set of protocols like email. There is no empirical way to confirm whether file sharing is a hindrance or help to sales. Sales revenues are only part of the story of industry profits as technology has created additional revenue streams like broadcast and sync rights so that the music and entertainment economies have grown.
Some artists have profited from new technology/the new landscape is fuzzy.
Justin Bieber got his start as a pirate doing unlicensed cover songs on youtube.
Arnel Pineda covered Journey on youtube and they hired him when they needed a new lead singer.
According to Don Passman for every $1000 in music sold, the average artist makes $23.40. Chuck D. gets $80.33 for every 1,000 iTunes downloads and referred to P2P as power to the people.
It’s easy to look at charts and assume you know what they mean. A tanked economy has an impact on sales, which may explain why album sales predicted v actual (Chart Depicting The Effect of P2P on Music Sales by Stanley Liebowitz), looks similar to a chart on kerosene sales. This part of the presentation reminded me of this XKCD comic. The end of the CD replacement cycle has an impact on CD sales. Minimum advertised price in a time of a good average household income has an impact on profits. The ability to buy a few songs versus an album with filler has an impact on sales.
Minimum advertised price going away as price fixing, the closure of brick and mortar stores and the advent of digital and the ability to buy singles all have an impact on sales.
Some sales go through tunecore, cd baby, bandcamp, The Orchard, reverb nation. IFPI does not look at this part of the market and these dollars go unmeasured by them.
The competition for entertainment dollar is also fiercer so wallet share for music may very well be smaller.
On piracy impact financial estimates, NY Senator Chuck Schumer is quoted as saying “American companies lose roughly $250 billion a year through intellectual property theft.” This figure is not sourcable according to the Government Accountability Office.
The next part was on whether the music industry was its own worst enemy.
with a quote from a Tribe called Quest, a reference to Kenny Rogers lawsuit of the industry, payola, price-fixing, album filler, negative option (BMG record clubs or book of the month clubs), and self-scalping.
The industries have turned their customers into an enemy with negative campaigns and lawsuits.
Parsoft a games company was shut down through mistaken accusation of piracy.
Congress proposed a bill to allow companies “to hack into, and destroy, any private or commercial computer suspected of hosting unlicensed content.”
Staff at RIAA were were caught pirating TV programs.
He then referenced the sad case of the case of Melchior Rietveldt, a freelance music producer who was totally screwed by industry groups. BREIN (the Dutch entertainment industry trade association). He composed a piece of music for a film festival psa against piracy in 2006 which was then used without consent in at least 70 DVDs.
He tried to get Buma/Stemra the royalty org he was represented by to act on his behalf and get the money for him.
Even more scummy, Buma/Stemra board member Jochem Gerrits tried to get him to sign over his rights to the song to a record label he owned, claiming he could get him his money minus a 33% cut, which was recorded in a sting operation by local media.
The case was in the courts until July 2012 when they were ordered to pay him.
The next part of the presentation which corresponds to chapter 7 in the book was about innovative attempts to move forward in the music industry stopped dead by the industry. Uplister, Muxtape, myplay, mp3.com, and a blanket isp immunity model put forward by Warner Music Group. The most interesting piece of this was quoting Larry Kenswil of UMG (Universal Music Group) on the fact that there were quotas on senior management to produce profits and it was easier to sue people and make a lot of money off of them rather than license them the music and let these enterprises go forward and only make a little bit of money.
The next section was on the amount spent on lobbying and legislations that have been put forward. The issue of harmonization and that people making decisions are not elected, no transparency to public on how decisions are being made.
Rules become stricter and the industry wishlist is scary. The industry admits it cannot feasibly check all content properly and so mistakes would be made with any policy implementation. When content is so vast even a tiny percentage of error would cause a great number of people damage.
The questions surrounding piracy will get even more interesting as 3d printers become more commonplace.
Great question from the audience was about accepting the absence of concrete evidence that file-sharing hurts the music industry what about an artist’s right to choose how their work is distributed.
Aram Sinnreich responded that as a recording artist he thins more control over how we communicate is great but what is worth giving up to gain this ability to control. To control these things that may not be of harm, we may be giving up loads that we don’t even realize.
The only depressing take-away from the talk and reading chunks of the book is that the majority of people don’t care about these issues, and may not until it is too late.
All of the interesting, detailed examples in the book are extremely interesting to a very small subset of people. What is necessary to change hearts, minds & policy? I don’t know. Is it a much less detailed tract, video, something yet to be done?
That evening, on my way to meet up with Josh, Jocelyn and Fidencia hit a Housing Works thrift store selling everything for $1. Got some awesome stuff. El Tequilazo continues to deliver fruity margaritas and we hit cold stone for some ice cream on the way home. A good day.
One of the greatest things about this talk was meeting Flash Rosenberg. At the back of the room during an NYPL Live talk you may see her live drawing the conversations going on – check out some previous ones here. Can’t wait to see this one.
It’s a really interesting question how young people starting out can make a living really in any field these days. David Byrne admits he retains a legacy from a pre-existing massive media complex. I’m thinking of books/talks by Lawrence Lessig, Chris Anderson and Seth Godin about how media is changing and the one-way communication/attention model of one to super-many as it existed with network television in its heyday and with big record companies was a historical anomaly.
At the same time, there are loads of opportunities that never existed as many barriers to entry have been reduced.