Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Why you don't need to get paid

This guy will tell you
what you deserve.
I see that the old downloader “culture”— always a sketchy-sounding crew, even in the early days when they were led by high tech vanguard types writing in Wired— has at last entered its degenerate, snake oil phase. The words nihilistic, parasitic, sociopathic, living in a Libertarian fantasy world come inescapably to mind as I read this thing, written by some Norwegian cat who is the leader of the Pirate Party, which has been getting some press recently.

I've quoted the piece in its entirety, with my comments interspersed throughout. Keep in mind that what follows is the best, most coherent, polished argument they have to offer in favor of piracy:

“How Should Artists Get Paid?” Isn’t a Question, it’s an Insult
Throughout the debate on sharing culture and knowledge in violation of the copyright monopoly, one question keeps popping up. But it’s not a question as much as an insult to all artists.

Pay attention, he's going to tell you what insults you.

We’ve all heard the objection to sharing culture and knowledge many times – “How will the artists get paid, if you manufacture copies of their creations without paying them?”
This question is delusional on so many levels I’ve lost count.
First, artists that are copied do get paid, only not by a per-copy sale but in other ways. I encourage copying of my leadership handbook Swarmwise, for example, because I know the book promotes other avenues of income. The average income for musicians has risen 114% since people started sharing culture online on a large-scale, according to a Norwegian study. Other studies agree with this observation.

The law says the artist authorizes and gets paid for copies. That's kind of the end of the story. Whatever publicity you get from having your work circulated is not compensation.

In case you're wondering what happened to your 114% pay raise, after following several links, I was able to learn that the study is in fact a non-peer-reviewed master's thesis by a couple of Norwegian business students, entitled The Norwegian Music Industry in the Age of Digitalization, which you can follow the link to read if you wish. Norway, for your information, is a country along the subarctic northwestern fringe of Europe, with a population slightly larger than that of the US state of Alabama, but with decidedly smaller cultural influence outside of the world of Death Metal music.

Second, even if they didn’t get paid, people who share still don’t carry any kind of responsibility for the business models of other entrepreneurs. Because that’s what artists are once they go plinking their guitar in a kitchen looking for sales: entrepreneurs. Same rules apply to those entrepreneurs as to every other entrepreneur on the planet: nobody owes an entrepreneur a sale, you have to offer something which somebody else wants to buy. Wants. To. Buy. No excuses, nothing deserved, just business.

Those plinking guitarists he's so plainly contemptuous of are the people making the music he's justifying stealing. He is quite right that no one owes anyone a sale, but he's talking about product he wants. He just doesn't feel like paying for it. Just because you don't want to pay for something you want to have, doesn't mean you are entitled to a free, copyright-infringing copy of it.

There's oh so much more of this after the break:

Third, we don’t live in a planned economy. Nobody is held accountable to the question of where somebody’s next paycheck is going to come from except that very person. In Soviet Russia, you could tell Vladimir Sklyarov that his guitar plinking was highly artistic (meaning nobody liked it) and that his next paycheck would therefore come from the Bureau of Incomprehensible Arts. But we don’t live in a planned economy, we live in a market economy. Everybody is responsible for their own paycheck – of finding a way to make money by providing value that somebody else wants to pay for. Wants. To. Pay. For. No excuses, nothing deserved.

Thank you, more contempt for the makers of the product you want badly enough to lower yourself into the philosophical gutter to justify taking it. Again, the language is significant: this isn't a product no one wants, it's one he claims no one wants to pay for; and, unspoken, one that I am able to steal basically with impunity. The this-isn't-Communist-Russia-you-know shpiel is nothing more than him hand-waving away the fact that we have laws, dovetailing with his point that having a “free” market means you get product without paying. If he wants to get into the wisdom of having a totally lawless, anarchistic marketplace, or even a traditional laissez-faire one, we can have that discussion; I think right now is a funny time to be arguing for that, given that marketplace under-regulation has so recently very nearly led to worldwide economic collapse.

Fourth, even if this set of entrepreneurs magically deserved money despite not making any sales,

...because everyone is just taking product without paying...

control of what people share between them can still not be achieved without dismantling the secrecy of correspondence, monitoring every word communicated – and fundamental liberties always go before anybody’s profits. We never determined what civil liberties we have based on who can profit and who can’t.

With that brief mention, you can see that the old civil rights, free information argument, which was borrowed from old guard hacker culture, and used to be the centerpiece of the movement, has now gone completely vestigial, in favor of purely self-serving Libertarian snake oil.

But let’s go to the root of the question. It’s not a question, it’s an insult. One that has stuck around for as long as artistry itself, for it implies that artists need or even deserve to get paid. No artist thinks in these terms. The ones who do are the parasitic business people middlemen that you find defending the copyright monopoly and then robbing artists and their fans dry, laughing all the way to the bank while exploiting a legal monopoly system ruthlessly: the copyright monopoly.
Meanwhile, among artists, there is one insult that has remained consistent throughout artistry in history. An insult between artists that rips somebody’s artistry apart, that tells somebody they’re not even worthy of calling themselves an artist. That insult is “You’re in it for the money”.

Usually that “insult” is the last refuge of the lowest scumbags in the business, when they are trying to rip you off. Like you might hear it if you just played in some utter craphole rock club, and the owner is trying to hold out on paying you. Artists know they need money to live, just like everybody else.

“How shall the artists get paid?”, implying artists won’t play or create otherwise, that they’re doing it for the money, is a very serious insult.

Funny, I don't take it as a very serious insult, or even a very slight one. My response to this would be to say thank you for your concern for my financial viability and well being.

There’s a reason “sellout” is a sharply negative word in artistry. The large majority of artists aren’t happy at all when you’re asking them if they’re playing to make money; it’s a grave insult. The frequently heard notion that you don’t create culture if you’re not paid for it comes from those who exploit artists, and never from artists themselves.

I guess that may have been a “grave” insult when I was 14. In the world of adults, contrary to what this gentleman believes, just getting paid for your work is not “selling out”, it's a fundamental feature of being a professional, of being an entrepreneur, as he just got done insisting that we are. What selling out actually means is adulterating your work or surrendering your principles for money.

After all, we create not because we can make money off it as individuals, but because of who we are – how we are wired. We have created since we learned to put red paint on the inside of cave walls. We are cultural animals. Culture has always been part of our civilization, rewarded or not.

As Bea Arthur once said, I have two words for you; one is a verb and the other is a pronoun. What does he mean “we”? This cultural parasite knows nothing about it.

If an artist wants to sell their goods or services and become an entrepreneur, I wish them all the luck and success in the world. But business is business, and there is nothing that entitles an entrepreneur to sales.

And that's it. Now, when it comes to artists doing their work, I've always been basically an Anarchist, Marxist, soft Nietzschean, whatever you want to call it— from each impoverished artist-tyrant according to his abilities, and to each according to his needs, and all that. Musicians need music, whether they can afford it or not. Or not being because you've already spent all of your money on music, and on surviving so you can develop and make your art; not because you'd rather spend your money on an X-Box. I can't see how these pro-piracy people are making any contribution whatsoever.


  1. Anonymous12:51 PM

    Great piece, Todd. Ripped to shreds; I only wish it could have been in person. This guy is contemptible.

  2. Thanks for that-- I suspect it will get back to him. I've always been pretty soft on the whole issue, and I think the legal operations like Spotify are actually a bigger problem than file sharing, but my God, this is just a blatant, giant middle finger to musicians.

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. Anonymous9:00 AM

    Interesting that he needs to write all that to try to justify his theft. Musos can justify their need to be paid in one word... food.

  5. I don't know about the broader pro-piracy movement, but this particular dude is definitely mad at God for depriving him of the music gene. He comes across as a frustrated wanted-to-be-a-musician who knows he doesn't have what it takes. In an effort to pacify his bitter cynicism, he must reduce all musicians to plinking welfare takers—it's his only way to get revenge. His logic is:

    "if I am able to commit the crime without getting caught, then by ex post facto law, it was never a crime to begin with, and more importantly, you should shut your trap and be honored that I even wanted to steal your stupid plinking music anyway. I only listen to it to fuel my anger toward God for making me demonstrably talentless. Frankly, I'm not even clever enough to turn piracy into a mentionable fortune— at least not one large enough to cause me to not care about spending $.99 for a song I love."

    I wonder if this dude tips in restaurants.

  6. Anonymous2:14 PM

    This guy is an idiot and shows a total inability to think critically.

    Nice how you pointed out that he repeatedly calls artists entrepreneurs, then claims that any discussion of payment is an insult to the artists. What does he think motivates entrepreneurs?

    And I love that he insults not only artists of today, but artists *throughout history* who took jobs in order *to get paid*. Bach, along with countless other classical misicians, apparently was a sellout for taking employment under the Church and royalty, for expecting to get paid. Apparently he should have been content to compose for free because of his burning desire to.

    Some of the comments on there are great as well - apparently the only musicians who don't support file sharing are Metallica.

    A big problem with how the issue is being dicussed is that it's reduced to a black or white issue. There's a big difference in making a copy of an album to introduce a band to a friend (or downloading a song, or watching one on YouTube to check out a new band) and downloading all one's music for free through torrents or whatever.

    It's amazing that he simultaneously insults musicians for wanting money *and* insults their music, saying it's not worth paying for. Then claims artists should be insulted by people saying, "hold on, their product, their work, IS worth paying for." What comes through in this piece is a combination of a tone of disdain towards artists, a sense of entitlement (I hate to use that word, due to baggage), and a general deficiency in intelligence.