Downhill Battle (An open letter to music thieves)

I came across this website today that seems to be proclaiming the virtues of stolen IP. The overriding theme in their message is: Big companies are bad. They screw artists. You should steal from them.

In the long run, stealing cuts into the earnings of everyone involved in creating a resource. If you steal software, it hurts me. Even if you steal from a competitor of mine, it hurts the industry as a whole, and makes my job, life, time, mind, and energy less profitable.

Even without looking at how stealing hurts whom, the bottom line is that it is a violation of property rights. The artist typically gives limited rights to the record company to determine the way that his music is distributed, according to the terms of a record contract - since he owns the music initially, he is the only one who may grant that right. Unless someone with the right to do so gave you permission to download that music, you’re stealing if you download it.

  1. The original owner of a song is the artist who created it.
  2. Most artists are not talented marketers, and marketing execs are generally not musicians. (Some exceptions could be made - Sean Colmes, for example.)
  3. In order to maximize profits from the sale of music, it must be desireable to an audience, and also must be marketed to that audience.

The artist creates a song. However, he is in no position to sell it in the most profitable way to the most appropriate audience. So, he signs over all or part of his rights to the IP to a third party, who does the sales. This third party, the big record company, gives the artist a big check, taking a big risk, but it can clear that big check because it makes big money selling tons of albums.

It’s not a small job, selling CDs. The site’s snazzy pie graph points out that there are a lot of people between artist and listener, and each one is working full time, and must get paid. The biggest chunk of each CD’s price goes straight to the record company. If you think about it, that makes perfect sense - they’re the ones that found the artist, made a huge gamble on buying the rights to music in the first place, set up all of the recording and production, and managed the promotion of the album.

Several of their flyers point out that artists typically receive only $0.50-$1.00 for each CD. So, they say, if you really want to help artists, you’re better off mailing them a buck, and stealing the songs from Kazaa. My god, but that’s a naive way of looking at it! First of all, a dollar out of their pocket is a dollar out of their pocket, and it’s wrong to take even a penny that rightfully belongs to someone else. Second, record companies care about profits - and if they can’t make money selling CDs, then they won’t do it, period. Who do you think will really suffer if that happens?

Take a look at an example. In 2002, about 170,605 people in the Detroit area bought a copy of the Eminem Show. Let’s assume that the worst that Downhill Battle claims is true, and Mr. Mathers only received $0.50 for each CD. That’s $83,502.50 just from one city! Do you really think that he could have sold that many CDs with his own resources, or that he wouldn’t mind losing $83g? If Marshall owned a record company, he probably wouldn’t have time to write music! Furthermore, if the record company wasn’t making $5 on each CD, then how can they be expected to pay him in the first place to record the music, or pay all of their employees who worked on producing the album?

Let’s just say, that Downhill Battle got it’s way, and tomorrow, there were no “Big record companies.” Guess what - there’s also almost no chance in hell that most of your favorite musicians can afford to pay the bills without getting a second job. The most insulting thing about this is the assumption that marketing is not “real” work, and that taking a risk with an investment does not entitle someone to the rewards of that risk.

If artists really want to make a bigger chunk of each individual CD sale, then they don’t have to sign on with a big recording company. However, they’ll almost invariably make less money on their own, because they won’t sell millions of CDs. There are artists who do this, and some of them are pretty successful. There are also many artists who “freelance” without being bound to a particular recording contract, and some that reserve the right to allow their music to be downloaded freely. (TMBG comes to mind.)
If they can make more money on their own, well, they don’t have to sign a record contract. If they sign it anyway, then they ought to suck it up and take the hit just like anyone else who makes a bad business deal.
If they can’t make more money on their own, then where is the justification for saying that they’re being “exploited” by big record labels? I wouldn’t mind being exploited like that!

Downloading music is like walking out of a building with a CD in your hand. Fundamentally, there is no difference. Either it was a gift, or you bought it, or you shoplifted it. Stealing music hurts record companies, production companies, studios, musicians, and worst of all, music lovers.
If you still are not convinced that record companies provide a valuable service, then you are free to not buy their product! But please, for the love of all that is right and good in the world, don’t steal. That’s just so wrong on so many levels.

Sites like this make a big deal about how they’re against the “big guys” and for the “little guys.” What they don’t realize, however, is that those “big guys” are just a bunch of little guys working together. What they’re really doing is attacking a lot of little guys at once.

Their flyers (many of which contradict other flyers and information on the site - real nice, chumps!) say, “If we work together, we can make a better system that’s fair to artists and their fans alike.” Apparently, by “work together”, they mean “steal” - didn’t your mama ever tell you it’s not fair to steal? Like most commie propoganda, the slightest whiff of a fact makes the house of cards come toppling down.

I’ll say it again:
Sharing files without the right to do so is stealing.
Please. Don’t be a thief.


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6 Responses to “Downhill Battle (An open letter to music thieves)”

  1. On July 20th, 2004 at 13:34:27, Graham Said:

    You’re missing possibly the biggest point being made on that site. All over the place, they are saying that they’re campaigning for a better cut for musicians, and they say that if you download, you should support the band by buying tickets to a show, or to send the band money directly. Yes, in their current form, record labels are needed, but ther are many labels (Epitah and Fat Wreck to name but two) that give their artists a decent cut of the CD sales, and still manage to make a profit. If what you say is true, surely they should be going bankrupt?

  2. On July 20th, 2004 at 13:56:04, Isaac Schlueter Said:

    It’s still stealing.

    I paint a picture. You tell me that you’d like to sell that picture to lots of people. You set the price, do all the marketing, etc. We agree that, up front, you’ll give me $1000, and for each copy you sell, you’ll give me $1. You sell the pictures for $20, and it costs you $10 to produce each one (including my royalty), so you’re betting that you’ll sell at least 100 of them to break even.

    If someone starts handing out copies of this picture for free, it’s stealing intellectual property from both of us. If they send me $1 for each one, then they may not be taking money out of my pocket, but they’re still stealing the picture I created, and destroying the market for my art - and they are taking money out of your pocket! Is it ok to steal from people who are not artists?

    Stealing is wrong, no matter how “big” the victim is. Stealing from an industry hurts all the people in that industry.

    If you couldn’t make a profit selling my pictures, then why would you do it? And if you know how to sell them, and I don’t, then I’m SOL if you go out of business, ain’t I?

    Regarding record labels that give artists a larger cut of the CD sales, that’s perfectly fine. They’re free to compete for artists, and if they provide the artists with the best deal, then they’ll probably get them. You are free to not buy music published by the Big 5, and only stick to the labels you like - but you don’t have the right to steal music that doesn’t belong to you. If you like Pepsi, that doesn’t make it OK for you to steal from Coka-Cola.

  3. On July 21st, 2004 at 01:29:09, tommyblack Said:

    a couple of interesting sites:

    The first has statistics which show the situation isn’t as bad as the RIAA might have you believe. The second is a message from Projekt Records about why music sharing is good. While neither demonstrates that downloading music is never stealing nor that stealing is ever not wrong, they do suggest a case that prohibiting the downloading of music is irrational or immoral or both.

  4. On July 21st, 2004 at 08:03:57, Isaac Schlueter Said:

    Those are interesting articles.

    It’s not surprising that the RIAA paints a particularly bleak picture. They’re lobbyists, for chrissakes, that’s their job.

    Regarding the issues of downloading music in order to decide what to buy, I’d consider that fair use. However, whether the RIAA is silly or not, it’s the right of the copyright holders to say “No downloads,” and get retribution from those who violate that right. You can call someone a meanie for not sharing their cookies, but you can’t morally steal their cookies if they won’t share.

    I think that the best solution is in new technology. What we need is a musical version of the timed PDF for exactly this situation. (Streaming audio is a good step in that direction, but much of the world is still using dial-up.)

    But you’re right, TB, neither of them say that stealing is ever not wrong. Which puts them at odds with Downhill Battle. DB specifically encourages people to share music files in order to bankrupt the big record labels, and that’s wrong whether the RIAA are doofs or not.

  5. On July 22nd, 2004 at 09:46:39, tommyblack Said:

    I think one important point that was missed in the first comment is that it’s the artist’s choice to sign with the label. There are, as was mentioned, other labels that give the artist a better cut, as well as other ways to get your music heard. And it seems like everybody I talk to knows that artists don’t get a very good deal from major labels. So it sounds like either signing with a major label must have benefits that outweigh the problems, or it’s just a case of buyer beware.

  6. On July 22nd, 2004 at 13:38:06, Isaac Schlueter Said:

    Good point. (That’s what I tried to point out in my response - the artist gave the rights to the record company, so that’s who has the right to say what’s what, period.) If the artist entered into a binding agreement that screws them, then they get what they deserve for not reading the contract carefully and making a bad decision. Punish them by buying their CDs!

    it seems like everybody I talk to knows that artists don’t get a very good deal from major labels.
    I keep hearing that as well, but then again, I don’t talk to aspiring musicians much. It seems like there are a lot of artists dying for a record contract. (Some artists even embarrass themselves on national TV for the chance.)

    I find it hard to believe that the “big” artists - the Brittney Speareses and Eminems and Matchbox 20s - are really getting “exploited”. I saw an unknown band called “Offspring” once upon a time (about 12 years ago, I believe) at the Tune Inn, in New Haven, CT. They sucked so bad I had to go outside to avoid the aweful aweful toneless pseudo-singing.
    A year later, they had a record contract, and I saw them on MTV. They still suck to this day, and haven’t ever stopped. If anyone’s getting exploited, it’s my poor ears, not the so-called artist.

    .o0(I really gotta write a new post to get this thing off of the top spot…)

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