Being the bad guy in the piracy argument

Why do I always have to be the bad guy?

I mean, why is the opinion that is in my head, the way I want to think, the thing that I believe is right, why is it always the most unpopular view out there? Why is it every time I do anything that has to do with my own personal convictions, an entire army of people has to attack me and call me an idiot and try to tell me their way is not only better, but it’s the only way, and I would be a faggot and a communist to think otherwise?

The latest one that has been bugging me more and more is that people get on my case because I buy music. No, they are not my neighbors, who may have to listen to my music in the background at odd hours sometimes. I mean, people act as if I’m some sort of retard because I actually pay money for music rather than steal it online.

There’s a “war” going on, if you ask people who are hip to this whole thing about it, about how those cock-suckers at the RIAA and the big-whigs in these huge record companies are out to fuck over music fans and stop them from their god-given right to download music off the internet. Go to some place like slashdot.org and you’ll find thousands of computophiles bitching about how the government wants to make file sharing a felony, and the RIAA wants to invade their homes, and Sony and BMG want to put RFID tags on everything and invade their privacy. Entire web sites are dedicated to the fight to somehow defeat these corporate giants and change it so everything is free and there are no copyrights and the fascist Digital Millenium Copyright Act is gone forever.

These people are, for reasons I will outline in a moment, fucking retards. Copying music is stealing, plain and simple. And maybe stealing one Britney Spears song is different than stealing a Brinks truck filled with gold bars, but it is stealing. It isn’t a right. It isn’t a given. Someone made a product intended for sale, and you took it without making a purchase. I DON’T CARE WHAT YOUR RATIONALE IS. You are stealing.

Here’s a quick list of many of the lame excuses I generally hear when people try to justify their theft:

It only costs record companies like ten cents to make a CD and they are like twenty bucks in the store – It might cost record companies ten cents to PRESS a CD. But then it has to get shipped from the pressing plant to the store, and maybe get warehoused in between, and the store gets their cut, and probably some distributor also gets a cut in there. And before that CD is ever made, the band had to actually record it in a studio that cost thousands of dollars a day, with a producer that cost just as much and a whole band of engineers and mixers and everyone else that also didn’t work for free. Add to that the fact that the cost of recording a CD is tiny compared to the cost of a PR team that will do all of the marketing work like sending out thousands of copies to get reviewed, send stuff to radio stations, put out press kits, run ads in magazines, put stuff on billboards or sides of busses or in record stores or whatever else, and also you’ve got some photographers to pay for the glossy photos you are sending out, and a designer for the album cover, maybe some cover art, more photos for the back and inside of the jacket, and so on. All of this adds up to more than a dime per CD. And the record company is taking a risk by putting out a CD. They are fronting all of this money with the hope that the CD will eventually sell and they will make a profit. They get a big cut of the $15.99 or $18.99 you might pay for a CD. The band gets a cut, too. But anyway, all of this adds up to a lot, and it isn’t free. So how does this justify taking the song for free?

But all bands lose money on CDs. They never see a dime. – Some bands don’t. Steve Albini wrote an excellent article about this a few years ago, and it basically comes down to what kind of contract you sign, and how much of the record company’s money you spend to make money. If you’re a new band and you jump into bed with a major label and sign everything thrust in front of your face, you’ll find yourself in a giant studio with a bunch of new gear and on tour with a really neat bus, but you will have borrowed so much of the record company’s money to do this, that the only way you can make any money on your album sales is if you are the next Nirvana.

This isn’t good, but it’s not representative of every single artist out there. I’m sure Britney Spears has recouped her initial outlay on her last few albums. I’m sure the Elvis Presley estate gets the occasional check from BMG. There are bands that make money and are profitable on record sales, and the fact that some aren’t doesn’t mean that it’s ethical to steal their music from their record label. It’s not legal to steal a repossessed car just because its owner could not manage their money, no matter how evil the bank they borrowed from might be.

Yeah, well record companies are still evil. – Banks are evil, and you can’t use that as your defense if you rob one. The New York Stock Exchange is filled with companies that take from the poor and give to the rich. I’m sure if you found a way to tap into their computer and start taking stuff, you’d probably end up with the footprint of an FBI agent’s boot in the middle of your forehead in short order. Stealing is stealing. Record companies are a business. They make a product. They intend to sell that product. If nobody ever bought that product, they would go out of business. If everybody stole that product, they would not be in business, and these bands would be in their garages or working at Olive Garden or something, and you’d never hear them. The fact that you like (insert band) is because they got signed to a label that fronted the money for them to go nationwide and end up with records in the store and songs on the radio. If the record companies didn’t do that, they would still be a bar band in Wisconsin or something. And if bands could exist on a nationwide basis without a record label, they would. If record labels do nothing but rip off bands, why do so many musicians break their ass trying to get on a record label?

But bands make all of their money touring. – Maybe. A lot of bands lose money touring, and hope the tour spurs record sales. To quote another good article from MRR, this one about Green Day’s tour after signing to a major label:

Another interesting major label fact: the tour that Green Day was on had been fabulously successful. Nearly every show sold out, a thousand or more fans at each one. And how much did Green Day make on tour? Less than nothing. In fact they lost money, a lot of it. Not because anything went wrong; in fact they expected to lose money going into it. That’s the way Warner Brothers does things: tours are seen more as a way of promoting the record. By contrast, on their last couple of independent tours, playing less shows and to smaller audiences. Green Day made a lot of money.

Of course, when they were on Lookout and doing their own tours, all of their total album sales were a fraction of the sales on each album they did with Warner Brothers, which eventually brought in way more money than driving around in there own van, plus it made them a regular MTV staple and a nationwide mainstream sensation.

Don’t forget, of course, that the record company sponsors these tour, so any money made on the road is paying off that debt. And if bands make so much money touring, why do they get corporate sponsors? Another thing is that it used to be the case that bands made a lot of short-term cash on the road by selling t-shirts and merchandise. One thing that has fucked that as of late is that contracts with venues sometimes require the house to take a percentage, usually at the highway robbery level, of merchandise sales. That’s why it costs like $38 to get a shirt at a concert now. The other thing is that t-shirt sales are now sometimes farmed out to another company, that pays an advance and has you sign a giant contract which usually sets you up for making little money in the long run. Anyway, some artists make money touring, some don’t.

I also find it disconcerting that when people tell me bands make all of their money touring so it’s okay to download the music for free, when I ask the person if they have ever paid money to see the band in question, the answer is always no. So if you don’t pay money to have the CD and you don’t pay to see the band, how exactly do you support the music?

Downloading music helps album sales. – It might. But it doesn’t if nobody ever buys albums anyway. I have to admit that when I was a kid, I used to tape albums from friends. But if it was an album I liked, I would buy it. I think some people do that now, and I can almost overlook this, because the people in question are putting their money into CD sales, and that’s good. But the thing I don’t like is that it should be up to the artist to decide whether or not to allow this kind of previewing. Some endorse it, and will put one or two MP3s online, and then hope you will buy the full album based on those songs. I like that approach a lot; Metal Blade used to do this, and I downloaded MP3s of a few bands and then immediately bought the CDs based on what I heard, so it worked. But the important difference is that they decided to do this, and it was a trial; it was not stealing. Bands should be able to choose when to do this, or when to do something like release an out-of-print album or live show for free. It’s their decision.

But everyone else does. – I heard everyone else was taking sand and pounding it in their ass. Check it out.

I’m tired of bitching about this, and I’m sure every single person who reads this will disagree with me. I guess I love music, and I love to have entire CDs with artwork and every track and a nice little case that I can put on a shelf and keep. I don’t want to have to hunt for the two loose tracks that aren’t online, or get something that was sampled at the wrong rate, or have to hunt around to find out who played bass on what track, or anything else. All of the musicians I like to hear are people that work hard and deserve to be rewarded for their labor. If I were a musician, maybe I would put a bunch of my stuff online just so people would check it out, but I wouldn’t want to wake up one day and find that the product of my labor that I hoped would sell in stores is being handed around for free.

I know a lot of people only have a casual relationship with music, and only occasionally listen to that one hit single that the one guy did that was on the radio, and then move to the next trend a week later. I know if you’re a person like that, you might not care, in the same way that I do not care who personally manufactured the tub of margarine in my refrigerator. But it saddens me to think that people who actually consider themselves fans of music would short-change the people who actually produce this art, and then justify it with some half-baked theories about the first amendment or big business whatever. All I can say is, people should support the artists that they love, or own up to the fact that theft is not an inalienable right, but just theft.

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