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An open letter to the Trichordist

Submitted by kmeisthax on Tue, 06/19/2012 - 01:00 in Rants

This is an open letter to the writers behind the Trichordist, mostly because, according to them, I apparantly want to urinate on starving artists' faces until they kill themselves because I think copyright terms are too long.

More specifically, this is an open letter in response to the Trichordist's open letter to a blog post made by Emily White to the All Songs Considered blog on NPR, which itself is a response to another blog post made on the same blog by Bob Boilen. Since this is a rather long conversation chain, I'll give some context:

Bob Boilen posted "I Just Deleted All My Music", describing how he was deleting most of his hard drive's music after using iTunes Match to convert his existing (not-entirely-legitimate) collection into high-quality, iTunes-served 256kbps AAC files. He explains how it feels rather daring, since he's used to storing music in physical formats (CD, vinyl, etc.) and the cloud is this nebulous thing and blah blah blah. Emily White's post, called "I Never Owned Any Music To Begin With". In this post, Emily responds to Bob by saying his great cloud music experiment isn't really so daring after all. Halfway through the article she makes a somewhat ham-handed quote:

As I've grown up, I've come to realize the gravity of what file-sharing means to the musicians I love. I can't support them with concert tickets and t-shirts alone. But I honestly don't think my peers and I will ever pay for albums. I do think we will pay for convenience.
Emily White, All Music Considered

Que the Trichordist, ready to weigh in on Emily's post with all the beauty and coordination of a raging bull driving a car.

Now before I begin I should probably state that I understand most of the difficulties involved in content monetization, and at the same time I also support Free Software movements, Free Culture movements, and generally reforming copyright to fit the function of an industrial regulation that it has been outgrowing since the 80s. The Trichordist does not.

A common stereotype of people who pirate is that they come up with a number of very self-serving and very obviously wrong justifications and strawmen. You've probably heard them all the way back in 2002 - stuff like "It's OK to brazenly pirate everything because artists don't get paid anyway" or "They'll make it back up in concert tickets and magic rainbow fairy dust". If you seriously believe that, I'm not going to argue with that because my rebuttal will probably sound similar to the one used in the Trichordist article I'm attacking.

The first glaring problem is that the Trichordist is assuming everybody on the Internet is using those two arguments exclusively to justify pirating everything and paying nothing into the system. This is a stereotype of Internet users and even brazen pirates. Okay, yes, there are some people who still pirate everything with weak justifications. But most of the time when I do pirate things, it's because it's either not available in my region, not available in my native language, or prohibitively expensive.

The second glaring problem (which you'll find in every Trichordist article ever) is their condescending attitude to the entire technology industry. Instead of at least acknowledging that most pirates are self-funded and non-commercial, they decide that it's all Google's fault. If I think that copyright should be loosened to allow transformative use of works, then I'm a Free Culture fundie secretly being handed money from shadowy tech industry people to convince artists to stop trying to monetize their content. Yes, Google is totally trying to steal money from artists, which is why YouTube has an extremely unfair Content ID system which goes above the already broken DMCA by allowing people to falsely claim your content automatically and then ignoring appeals. (In Content ID, unlike the DMCA, an appeal can be rejected. DMCA counter-notifications cannot be rejected and further action requires a lawsuit.)

Oh wait, Google also owns AdSense, which lets people sell ads on their website. And sometimes pirate sites get AdSense accounts, and they make some money off of it. By Trichordist logic, this is evidence that Google is a shadowy tech interest intentionally trying to profit from piracy. (Nevermind that Google actually makes it very hard to keep an active AdSense account and has a standing policy to cancel your entire Google account because of AdSense's extremely fickle anti-click-fraud system.)

Trying to make the Free Culture movement into a corporate attempt to make piracy perfectly legal because you think it's the only way for the Internet or even home computers to be profitable is completely absurd. But you do it every time you open your mouths. And this also leads into another argument: the "if you can afford X you can also afford Y argument". In this argument, we assume that if someone is willing to spend $1,000 on a computer, and then use that computer to pirate $500 worth of content, that they could have afforded, and should have spent $1,500 for both the computer and the content.

The problem with this argument is that it ignores the difference between disposable income and necessities. Yes, if you amortize the cost of Emily's (ostensibly) pirated music, it's less money than necessities such as car insurance or public transit. But, here's the thing: Things like car insurance or computers are necessities. When you work in certain industries, not having high-speed internet or a smart phone is a handicap. Not being able to get to work means no job and no job means no income. As what is ostensibly a website either written by or written for the benefit of starving artists, you should at least understand that.

But, once those necessities are paid off - and only after those necessities are paid off - then what's left over is disposable income. This is the sum total of what you can spend on entertainment products. The $1,000 spent on a computer can be justified because people need to use that computer for work. But $500 worth of pirated music is not a necessity. I won't starve to death if I don't buy music.

And America's share of disposable income is drying up because of a number of higher-level economic forces unrelated to the music business. Not to mention you also have to compete with other forms of entertainment. Lots of that shrinking disposable income is going to be going towards movies and games. Games provide a huge amount of entertainment value for the dollar, and movies are a cultural force to be reckoned with.

The average family will find themselves spending anywhere from $50 to $100 for cable, maybe Netflix or Hulu Plus or what have you, $150 or so on videogames, $50 on movie tickets, or any other combination of things. And that ~$300 of expenses doesn't count consumer electronics such as televisions or iPods needed to play that content.

Can we at least admit that it is not inconvenience but a combination of a lack of disposable income combined with the cultural force of movies and videogames?

Now, that's about the extent of which I can rag on this one Trichordist article. It's actually levelheaded if you can cut out the conspiratorial nonsense being spewn at every corner. This blog post on "pirate lyrics" sites isn't. I'm sorry, but can you please provide me an example of a "non-pirate lyrics" website? If you are going to decry the death of the sheet music industry, well, that's one thing Internet pirates couldn't have killed.

Because the player piano already killed it. In the 1800s. And if you're going to say this hurts songwriters then it doesn't matter because the counterculture hipsters of the 1960s already decided that songwriters shouldn't exist and that it was "more authentic" to have singers write their own songs.

Also, like every other Trichordist article this one also implicates Google in the process. There's an already legally established system for getting your work taken down. It's called the DMCA takedown notice. It's actually pretty fair (for copyright owners) for the most part. Hell, you can even get away with absuing it 90% of the time and take down other people's copyrighted material without their permission.

I'd link more but I'm getting really tired of reading absolute schlock. I'll end with this: Why do you view every single person asking for some kind of copyright reform to be the enemy? If you cannot at least acknowledge that copyright is an incredibly one-sided and broken system that needs reform then you are out of touch with society. In the future, I will post articles detailing what problems exist with copyright and how we can create aconstructive solution to these problems, instead of just making hamhanded blog posts that will insult anyone who has used a computer in the last five years.

copyright law

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Total jerks