10 March 2006

"It's all free!"

Read my musician friend's thoughtful post on the merits of single-song sales versus albums. Thinking about her prospects of making a living by selling her recordings in the 21st century got my dander up.

I am amazed when I hear folks talk about "just downloading" music that's not supposed to be available for free; I overhear such conversations pretty frequently on the university campus. The generation behind mine appears to regard stealing copyrighted musical recordings about on a level with, say, going five over the speed limit. Everybody does it, and no one gets hurt. So what harm?

Remember the news reports of looting frenzy at the big-box stores in New Orleans? "It's all free!", they reputedly called to each other. Gee. Ya think?

This does not bode well, I am afraid, for folks wanting to turn an honest buck hawking content. It's trust and honesty, not the SEC, that makes a stock exchange possible. It's the vast preponderance of honest folk, not the locks on our doors, that keeps our homes free of burglars.

And DRM is never going to be robust in the face of widespread disregard of the rights of artists, and yes, even their distributors. It's easy to hate the RIAA, which has acted with all the grace and discretion of a thug mugging old ladies during Easter Mass. But when you rip someone off for personal gain, kids, it's not exactly a social statement. You're not sticking it to The Man, you're sticking it to my friend. If Martin Luther King Jr. were still around, he'd paddle your asses, make you pay up, and send you back out to break some rules that matter.

Maybe micropayments are the answer--if it's easy and cheap enough to buy songs, why bother stealing them? But I can't help feeling that the real solution is some macro-morals. If that makes me an old fart...Feeble Flatulent Frank, at your service.