Despite the anti-piracy warnings and ads inserted into mainstream media, it is still very easy to illegally download music. File sharing websites like Megaupload and Fileserve were shut down for hosting content that served as a middle man between uploaders and the general public that doesn’t want to pay for music while generating advertising and subscription revenue. Kim Dotcom (legal name), the proprietor of Megaupload was arrested and served a probation sentence. I’m sure you can find his “week in prison” memoir available for download somewhere, but who cares? The most recent, and fascinating form of piracy is coming from Russian websites like legalsounds.com that sell discounted music without permission from the artists. Not to mention the fact that you should avoid giving these people your credit card information or allowing them to add tracking cookies to your PC. They are not legitimate in any way. In fact, their website states: “All the materials in the LegalSounds.com music service are available for distribution via Internet according to license ЛС-3М-05-09 of the Russian Multimedia and Internet Society.” There is no way this law would actually permit them to do this.
Netlabel artists like Ophed who composes “perpetual fluid/motion element soundscapses” are the ones breaking the mold by offering their music for free. However, the ability to release and have their music heard world-wide and for free is the basis of building their audience. As you can imagine his label Etched Trauma was not happy to see his catalog for sale at $.45 per track:
“I understand them selling Beatles or Springsteen but I wonder what on earth they were thinking ripping off a small Greek Netlabel and a Québécois artist…”
Upsetting, but not shocking. Music piracy has been evolving and growing along with the industry itself, typically staying one step ahead of mainstream media’s learning curve. Did Mozart have the disheartening, yet oddly satisfying feeling of walking down the street and seeing bootleg sheet music to ‘Don Giovanni’ sprawled out on the sidewalk? Ok, that’s a bit of a stretch, (considering people rarely knew how to read or write in the 1700s) but his reaction would be the same as any artist, offended and flattered at the same time. This duality of the artists’ work being a commodity, thereby making them successful and (on the flip-side) the fact that that artist is most likely still broke and can use the money. There have been certain points in modern music, starting with cassette tapes, that made it easy to obtain your favorite song off of the radio and never shell out a penny. CD-Rs and eventually online piracy led to the downfall of the “Big Business” version of the music industry in the early 2000s. This massive change saw independent artists releasing music themselves at shows, on street corners and on their personal websites. Suddenly the internet was the best way to seek out new music. Remember myspace?…(didn’t think so)
Artists that were intelligent and capable of adapting to this de-valuing of their intellectual property would eventually carve out their own niche or starve. Mike Doughty is a shining example of an artist that was signed to a major label (with his band Soul Coughing) and watched the industry crumble around him. Since then, he has released 6 solo albums and has started his own record label. Doughty didn’t seem all that surprised to learn that his entire catalog had been uploaded to legalsounds.com.
“Getting cheated out of money sucks. The utter openness of it is infuriating. But, look: the labels brought this on themselves, partially. They bilked their customers, overcharging ridiculously. Albums were routinely released on which the single sounded nothing like the rest of it – remember the funk/metal band with the acoustic ballad, or the ska/punk band with the groovy lounge tune? – and killed the 45/cassette-single/CD single, so you’d be forced to overpay. They also didn’t come up with a viable alternative. They had years to do so, but did nothing. Steve Jobs stepped in with a new model, and they were forced to go along with it.”
Well put, sir.
This adversely affected his career in the short term, but allowed him to sell copies of his debut album “Skittish” in white jacket copies on-stage (literally) at his solo gigs. He has sold thousands of albums and developed a dedicating fanbase despite it being leaked onto Napster, the original peer to peer downloading forum. I can understand this being a frustrating transition but it allowed him to transition from being a Beat-Poet frontman to a songwriter without the limitations of the abstract. However, I really feel for bands like the Fear Nuttin Band. They’re a Massachusetts based band that releases their own records and tours regionally and their albums were featured under the “Hot Releases” tab. This was their reaction.
“We weren’t aware of this and its unfortunate that people take what isn’t theirs and try to sell it. People shouldn’t trust getting music from sites like these unless you want viruses (and stuff like that). On the other hand, if it gets a few new fans then we still get our music out there.”
It is entirely possible that these artists may be able to pick up a new fan or two, but at what cost? It seems that these artists are all taking it in stride and still working hard to create and release music on their own terms. The reason we don’t villianize the general public for stealing our music is the hope that they will buy your next album or a concert ticket, or tell their friends about you. People tend to be more generous once they’ve decided they want you to succeed. There is no justification for someone to profit from your intellectual property.
After consistent emailing, Ophed’s releases were pulled from the site. They have yet to respond to any of the emails.
Artwork by Lauri Horton