Nobody Knows You...or You’re Rich
Two things before you start reading: The first is that I`ve been following the site and although there have been a lot of articles I would love to comment on sometimes I find it better to sit back and read through what others have to say and most times learn about things I had strong unrefined opinions about. I thought it would be nice to contribute at least something of thought to the whole process and this leads me to the second thing. This piece was conceived a while back as the topic of copyright laws was at the forefront and some perspectives I agreed with and some I didn`t. Although I did not include my anecdotal ideals in the write up as it would take up too much space this is an addition to the discussion. I hope anyone who reads, whether they agree or disagree, enjoys the presentation and what it offers. Thank you for taking the time because it is long.
My musings on the current state of copyright laws in relation to art media and those who support its present application.
Nobody knows who you are
I’ve been looking at the issue of copyright for a while now. I’ve come to the conclusion that most of my antipathy isn’t towards big media companies but towards anonymous content creators who’ve bought into the company line. This is not to say those same companies have no blame in the whole endeavour but a solution should sometimes be approached from the bottom up. Those who feed the creative material into the system invariably are situated at the foundation. Maybe after years without recognition they’ve started to forget that they are the fuel that keeps the machine called entertainment running. Maybe they’ve forgotten that without their mass support the system would have to change to accommodate their needs and wants.
With that in mind, imagine you’re an artist – pick the genre that best suits you. Now imagine you have the best thing no one has ever heard before. Coincidentally, you want to share it with the world. World is a subjective word, so adjust your definition to fit the parameters that you envision. There is nothing abnormal with wanting recognition for your creation. No matter the type of Art you create there are many avenues for an artist to follow, in pursuit of that coveted exposure.
To keep it simple and relevant we’ll make it about musicians. The most obvious thing a musician has at their disposal is the radio. At a time when radio was working how it was supposed to it was your go to source for music media. Disc Jockeys searched for talent for their shows. It wasn’t a mandate from their parent company on whom or what they should be playing. It was a sampling of what that individual wanted on their playlist. It was a social connection made between the artist and the audience by way of radio waves. Today however, radio doesn’t have that social impact because technology has changed the landscape. With that change there was the need to make money and companies with that money saw an opportunity and implemented their own agendas. In modern radio culture the only thing you’ll hear are charted songs (industry) and music so old there is no way you could have been the creator. Whatever the case may be your new, unheard of, unproven music will have no place here. [Question: If radio in the traditional sense is dead what is the new radio?]
There are still ways to get DJs to take your work seriously. If you have the money you could pay them a premium. Remember, though, you’re an unknown artist and you don’t have that kind of money. Even if you did have the money you would still have to bid against the industry itself - which you are currently not a part of. That sounds shady, so for the sake of argument let’s say you went down the proper avenues that could possibly get you on the air. Your music will have to be properly copyrighted, you will have to register with the right agencies and to make it that much more appealing you have to make sure you provide a compelling life story in your bio (press kit). All this is standard stuff. After you’ve put in all that work and time you’re not one of the lucky 1% (I’m using that figure to be demonstrative and it’s not a researched number – it’s closer to zero) that gets airplay and still no one knows who you are.
That brings me back to the part about you wanting to share your Art with the world. Do some research and see the content that’s being pushed into these legal outlets you are trying to get recognised in. After searching you find out, unfortunately, your content does not fit their need which is to make money. As already stated you don’t make it to broadcast. Actually, maybe you did and you were played on a rotation late at night when no one was awake so that the station was able to fill their content quota while saving themselves a bit of money. Congratulations you just made a quarter but no one – still – knows who you are.
That’s unfair because apparently no one listens to the radio anyways. Distribution in the form of albums and 99cent mp3s is the way to go. For the level of exposure that usually translates to sales you need a label of some sort. I won’t name any but you’re an insightful reader. Talent scouts love your fresh new approach but the execs on the other hand don’t see where your once in a lifetime delivery is going to improve their bottom line. This leads to your release date getting pushed back so far until no one sees the value of introducing you to the world. You have no rights to your own creation and it gets locked in a vault somewhere never to see the light of day again. These laws are no longer on the side of the creator. They have been morphed by distributors who know that if creators connect directly to the consumer they, the distributors, no longer serve a purpose. Currently, the same technology they are fighting against claiming its use is for piracy and it’s damaging their industry are your tools to bypass something that is in no way set up to help you.
One thing artists of all type should realise is that what you need at the start of your career isn’t money, it’s exposure and recognition. Copyright isn’t a tool (in its current form) that promotes your artistry or your ownership of your own Art. In reality you don’t need a piece of paper to copyright your Art. Once it’s created and you have all the original copies dated and verified you have essentially copyrighted your work. So then let me ask you as one unknown to another, how does piracy affect you when no one knows who you are? It should be obvious that it’s your ability to create that you are marketing, not the work itself. It may sound foolish but any of these media houses that you go to aren’t paying you for your content. You are on contract because of your ability. They are the ones selling your content to the consumer not you. Somewhere along the line our connection with the audience became filtered and our means of income became gated off by a middleman who is only serving their own interests.
Pirates don’t care about you either
Pirates – the real ones who resell other people's works for profit without ever crediting the original author or financially compensating them – do not copy nameless artists or nameless content. It makes no sense for them. We’re not talking about individuals who share your work with their friends because they like it and they just have to tell someone about it. We’re talking about people trying to make a living using what you produced. The issue of someone stealing your intellectual property and claiming it as their own is getting confused with someone sharing your creation with as many people as they can possibly reach without malicious intent with all accreditation intact. Yet you as an artist are encouraged to sign all rights you have to that same property over to a third party who may or may not compensate you.
This isn’t a patent you are chasing down. Someone giving away your material and crediting it to you is giving you more exposure than the money your part time job can buy. Your product is a marketing tool for your ability to create not a means of income. Use it properly. You can’t market with nothing created and you can’t expect someone to buy something from you without knowing what it does. I’m not saying give away the best of your merchandise. Personally I’ve never found the best of anyone’s work through illegal avenues. It’s always sub bar in comparison. What you should be getting from this is that you need to give away a compelling, engaging sampling, at least. That is what the technology offers. Changing laws to subvert the medium and counter a sub culture that has existed, no matter the generation or tools available, will limit you the creator. Pirates – real pirates – aren’t costing you money or taking any money away from you.
After you’ve gained exposure it may transform into popularity. If your Art is of any premium quality you now have a chance to turn your ability into a form of income. Learn what you’re being paid for not what you think you should be paid for. And if you’re not worrying about getting known then...
...You are rich...
...And if you’re rich then what exactly are you worried about? We’ll continue with musicians and add Authors (writers) to the mix. You’re well known – popular in fact. Or you could even be obscure but still be doing very well for yourself (so your work is popular). As a visual, imagine you’ve just sold 100 000 copies of your Art in a year. An author making 7.5 % royalty on a 15$ book can possibly earn 1$ per book. That translates to 100 000$ using the established premise. Using the same figure calculate what a musician making 0.50$ per album or song would gain. What kind of world is this that we live in where that amount of money isn’t enough to live comfortably? Let’s be honest, for anyone to be even interested in downloading your work you would need to have the popularity, the visibility and the marketing leverage that comes with that. In other words you are in fact potentially making hundreds of thousands if not millions. Take a look at one of these lists (The New York Times, The Globe and Mail, Macleans, Canadian Booksellers Association, USA Today, Amazon(UK), Amazon.com, Billboard, Soundscan, Amazon.com (music)). If you or your work is on one of them you're rich and if you’re not, most likely, no one knows who you are.
When you have that much money at your disposal you’re not only able to afford a better standard of living but you’re also free to pursue your craft and take the time to produce creations that are of an even higher calibre. That is unless that’s not why you wanted to do Art in the first place. Unless becoming unceremoniously wealthy was your actual goal and every 1$ you lose for every 10$ you make is just too small a differentiated margin. If your concern was wealth then you missed the point of creating Art. Get over yourself. You’re rich.
A brief message to distributors
From what I hear you guys are losing revenue and compounded with that is the fact that you have to pay your employees. Take into consideration what I just wrote and if I’m correct and it’s okay to give away creative content (keyword: creative) then I must want your company to go out of business. I could say no but that’s too simple. Almost as simple as the reasoning you’ve used to tackle the scourge of piracy. Life is layered and the problem you’re facing has very little do with piracy and more to do with a changing landscape that you can’t seem to fit in your viewfinder. It could be that you don’t realise you can no longer get away with offering irrelevant content or that you can no longer bully your audience into accepting your method of delivery (market control).
Copyright laws are supposed to prevent intellectual property theft (especially when used for a third party’s gain and self promotion). It’s not supposed to ambush distribution. Unfortunately every advocate for the current state of laws in the media won’t acknowledge the generation they’re in. The technology is there for you to dispense the material you own on a far larger and varied scale than you’ve ever been capable. Is it then a matter of pride for a company of your stature to admit that you lack the talent to capitalise on the bounty that has been put before you? And by talent I mean people who are well versed in the technologies and how they operate. Those in your employ, by verdict of current events, are incapable of using the tools that are now the medium that our culture uses for mass entertainment consumption. (Refer to the question: What is the new radio?).
Maybe you do have the talent but then why isn’t your content reaching the audience it’s intended for? The strangest part of all this is that the same fringe elements that you are trying to put under the umbrella of piracy could in fact give you the answer. Not meaning to throw poison in your coffee (I am actually) but not everyone who shares your content for free or who has the ability to share your content for free is doing it for nefarious purposes. They’re actually just using the tools at hand to do what they were made to do. Imagine you were one of those people sharing that content in a manner that you deemed appropriate? The fact that you aren’t one of those people leads me to believe either you don’t know how to control those avenues or the potential of becoming the dominant force in, what you see now, as a murky pit can’t be calculated by your marketing departments. That’s where the problem lies; the pirates – the real ones – are a lot more abreast of the era than you are.
The difficulty with copyright is that it has labelled everyone a pirate. It seeks to condemn the people you want to be your market. For most of the people who use locker services, torrents and streaming they aren’t trying to take money away from you but they’re sending you a clear message. Your content is mediocre at best and your mode of providing content is an inconvenience to them. Your methods no longer run parallel to how they go about their daily lives. In fact your methods are the perfect example of contradiction. The majority of pirating or bootlegging occurs in places where the consumer either has no access to your content through legal channels or it’s above their cost of living (poor market research). Piracy will never not exist in its dirtiest form and those people are what they are, dirty scum. On the other hand, trying to squeeze everyone who is interested in Art into such a narrow definition simplifies the actual problem and delays a practical solution. Why is it that you take no blame for not understanding what is actually in play in your own society?
For posterity...in case I was misunderstood
By no means do I support one party selling another’s property as their own or someone taking credit for content that isn’t theirs. If that was the true conflict there would be no need for discussion. Those people need to be hung or shot. The problem comes through when we disregard the end user and forget that we are supposed to be catering to them. They are the consumer, our potential client. They are the driving force behind our market. If we forget their needs and continue to use laws to disenfranchise them because we refuse to change to accommodate them then they will no longer exist.
Artists, please create Art. Stop trying to be moguls and tycoons. You don’t have to be a business aficionado to sign a mutually beneficial contract; you only have to be able to read. Distributors stop trying to tell the consumer how they should consume the content and make it available according to their actual wants. Entertainment is a luxury in our society and one day those buying what you’re selling might wake up and decide that it’s not a necessary part of their budget. In the end they are your market, your revenue. Listen to them. Those benefiting from your work illegally are laughing at your inability to see an obvious truth. You constantly worrying and being the company that cried "pirates" at every turn only alienates the consumer more. Someone will figure out how to amass the same coveted content you now purvey and once they get the backing your rhetoric will no longer be significant. I guarantee you pirates will always exist. Their current practice of breaking copyright laws should not be a tool they can use to become modern folk heroes to the people who should in fact be celebrating you and the good things you’re supposed to be doing for them...which you are not.