On mp3′s, digital distribution and the music industry

Written by Herra Paalanen on Monday, November 20th, 2006


Ok, let’s state this for the record:

MP3 is not a crime, it’s a format. Before this the music industry has used the exact same rhetoric against almost every emerging method of music distribution, from player pianos at the beginning of the 20th century to LP’s to the most obvious parallel: cassette tapes. In hindsight, none of these technologies — even the dreaded home taping — has managed to kill off music despite the stern warnings of the industry. On the contrary, the new technologies have brought about new genres, such as hiphop and remix cultures, and helped promote up-and-coming bands.

The reluctance of record companies to embrace new technology is understandable once you start taking the marketing aspects into account. The problem, from their point of view, is not that MP3′s decrease sales but that they take marketing from the hands of the companies. As personal music distribution becomes easier and more effective, systems like Payola aren’t really getting the job done anymore. Marketing without predictability, or even the illusion of predictability, isn’t really an attractive development for the Big Five.

And then there is the idea of DRM. One can imagine how the thought of stopping piracy by adding some form of “copy protection” (a nice turn of phrase, there) looks really attractive on paper; a bit like putting a lock on your door to stop burglars. Unfortunately adding these programs on CD’s also restricts legal copies — good luck with your MP3 player, there — as well as causes problems in certain CD players. An even bigger problem with the idea of DRM is the mindset: everyone is a thief and must be stopped before he can steal food from the mouths of starving artist (and record companies). I’m sorry, but as music enthusiasts we find that idea a tad insulting.

We ourselves have nothing against free downloads of our music, even if it happens without our permission – in that sense we consider the “illegal” distribution of our music to be a tool for promotion. “Try it and if you like it, buy it.” Buying music is like buying clothes: you’ll probably want to “try on” an album which you might listen to for 10 years before forking out 20 euros for it. Word of mouth is a great way to get publicity for small bands. Without internet we would have never reached most of our fans, nor had the chance to tour abroad as much as we have.

There are several sites on the net which spread our music without our own permission. One example is a packed .rar file with all the songs from our album “Atomgrad”, which also includes photos of the cover art and a brief introduction to our music. This file is being shared in the peer to peer networks and illegal private servers, and we were only happy to find out that our music is interesting enough to spread around the world even without our own effort.

Music downloaders are not immoral thieves, as RIAA and other copyright associations would like everybody to believe. The claim that every download is lost revenue is weapons grade bullshit. True, there are people who don’t want to pay a dime for the music they download, but they wouldn’t pay for it anyway. On the other hand there are plenty of people who get to know a band by downloading their songs and who are willing to support their favourite bands by buying their albums and coming to their gigs. Even though our music is spread around the net, people are still willing to pay for the music. Conversely, most of the band members have found new music from the net and, after listening to it, paid for the music. There is also the concept of “long tail” sales, where new people get to know a band via downloads and buy their albums long after the official advertising and promotion is over.

On the other hand, selling music without a permission from the band and without paying royalties is flat out wrong. Again, we have nothing against the general idea of our art being showcased to as wide an audience as possible. We also sell our music as downloadable files in, for example, Apple Music Store and Recordoffice.net. However, there are some (mainly Russian) sites that sell mp3-files of our music without our permission – in other words, they are just trying to make money out of our hard work without any plans to support the artist who has made the product. This kind of activity we strongly condemn. In this situation the unauthorized download store is tapping directly into the revenue of the band, revenue which in our case is used for paying off the production of our previous album and making the next one. What’s even worse, an unsuspecting fan might buy an album from an unauthorized download service, thinking that he or she is supporting the band who never sees a cent of the money.

It’ll be interesting to see how Creative Commons and other new licensing systems change the legal framework for copyright in the future. It’s pretty much the first time artists have the ability to define the terms under which their art can be distributed and used.

We’ve taken a long look at various copyright issues in Finland and their effect on, for example, releasing our material on the net. It became very clear to us that the various copyright organizations mostly benefit artists who get heavy airplay (remember that bit about Payola, incidentally?) and/or are looking for contracts with the Big Five. For independent artists they can actually become an obstacle.

As artists we would lose the right to permit the free use of our material (for example on soundtracks, promotional samplers, art installations and so on) as well as the right to appear on projects by artists not belonging to these organizations.

As we find these conditions completely unacceptable, future releases from Älymystö will be licenced under this CC Deed.

[EDIT: as this may get a bit of traffic, we have clarified our decision to use CC licenses instead of the frankly horrendous "official" copyright systems.]


8 Responses to “On mp3′s, digital distribution and the music industry”

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