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16 Responses to Rocker David Lowery chides NPR music intern who didn’t pay for her 11,000 song collection

  1. jenny June 19, 2012 at 11:35 am #

    several things. First, about how you wanted to own the actual thing–I think artists (and labels) are partially to blame for this. At this point most cds have no art or extra info to speak of so for most people there is no added bonus to owning the cd. I think most of this gets diverted to people buying the vinyl now.

    I don’t buy cds. I don’t want them in my house. i also won’t buy itunes music because I find their definition of “ownership” 100% bogus (because you can only have it on so many computers/transfer it so many times). I do buy used cds and rip them, and then give them away. I buy used records. I give money to kickstarters that produce CDs, but I just take the digital music. I buy tickets to shows of my favorite artists and eagerly buy their merch.

    What I am trying to say is that people (like myself and I assume Emily) are willing to give money for music if you don’t make it a TOTAL PAIN IN THE ASS. Clearly this isn’t artists’ fault that labels make it super difficult to purchase music, and still charge a CD price for it even though nothing physical is being transferred. But they could choose not to go through a label! If you want the promotion a label will give you, you will be forced to make idiotic deals with itunes for example, and people will pirate your music.

    Or you could go independent and give your music away and ask people to pay what they wish (the Jonathan Coulton method, which makes him 500K a year). Or you could realize in today’s industry you will make your money by touring and merch. Much like a comedy podcast is a free advertisement to make people buy tickets to shows, albums are a free advertisement to come seethe band and buy their tshirt or possibly even pay to join their online community.

    What is most frustrating to me about the whining of people w/r/t this subject is that just because you’ve made money doing a certain thing before, it doesn’t entitle you to keep making money. Yes, that’s how that used to work. It doesn’t now. Artists who have changed their method have been successful and people will pay them for their art.

  2. PR June 19, 2012 at 1:11 pm #

    “What I am trying to say is that people (like myself and I assume Emily) are willing to give money for music if you don’t make it a TOTAL PAIN IN THE ASS”

    First world problems. Don’t you love them? : 3

  3. jenny June 19, 2012 at 2:05 pm #

    I think an “artist” complaining about how they don’t make enough money is a bit first worldier than me pointing out I would LOVE to give them money.

  4. Matthew Lasar June 19, 2012 at 2:36 pm #

    I just listen to music on the radio a lot. Is that ok?

  5. Paul Riismandel June 19, 2012 at 2:49 pm #

    I don’t think that this debate is about David Lowery complaining about not making money, or not making as much money as he used to. Rather, I think the complaint is that Emily White and others seem to believe they are entitled to own and enjoy the work of musicians without fairly compensating them for it.

    The argument that “I would pay for it if only you made it easy for me,” is a red herring. By that logic, if I walk into a 7-11 while the checker is in the back of the store restocking, and he doesn’t notice that I’m waiting at the checkout to pay for a box of twinkies then I’m entitled to walk out of the store with them because he didn’t make it easy for me to pay for them.

    Similarly, it’s like blaming someone for not having a good enough lock on her house when I easily break in to take her stuff. For some reason folks have no problem seeing the ethical problem of appropriating other people’s physcial items and works without permission, but a blind spot when that work can be untied from the physical.

    I don’t think Lowery is defending the status quo or defending the record industry. Rather, he’s saying “how can you call yourself a music lover when you are so disinterested in actually helping me make music for you to enjoy by paying for it?”

    Sure, there are plenty of very good arguments to be made for improving the music industry, and other industries that create and distribute creative works that are not tied to physical objects. Yes, the record industry did itself no favors by resisting the internet and digitization before finally making a half-hearted entry into selling its wares online. But that does not ethically justify someone simply taking all she wants without any regard for the real cost of that item.

    I don’t think Emily White should be put in jail, and I don’t support the absolutely awful tactics the RIAA pursued against alleged file sharers. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a real ethical dilemma faced by those who actively and purposely obtain copies of music without any apparent regard or attempt to compensate the artist who made that music.

    Perhaps Spotify or a similar service will emerge that creates that intermediary that can fairly compensate artists while giving listeners and fans fair, “convenient,” access to their work. But as of yet that market is still being sorted out, and artists and labels have every right to choose not to participate with a platform that they do not believe fairly compensates them. But, again, just because an artist doesn’t participate with a Spotify or Rhapsody doesn’t mean that it is ethical for anyone to download without limit.

    If Emily White had written about how she had amassed a collection of 11,000 paintings but never paid for one I think we’d be hearing a very different argument.

  6. Paul Riismandel June 19, 2012 at 2:57 pm #

    Also, I agree with Jenny about how the old iTunes terms of service on music were bogus, and that the terms of service for a lot of other digital content is bogus. I agree that if you buy a song/movie/book it should be yours outright, like a physical item is. Not subject to near-arbitrary revocation by digital rights management.

    However, now iTunes, Amazon, eMusic and countless other services offer downloads in DRM-free formats like AAC, MP3, WAV and FLAC that are very convenient to buy and download, and which cannot be unilaterally reclaimed by the seller.

    Even with DRM I still maintain that it doesn’t justify taking work without paying for it. Even if prices for MP3s don’t make sense when compared to CDs, this doesn’t justify just taking it, any more than stealing a Buick because it shouldn’t cost that much more than a Chevy.

    I don’t think Dave Lowery is whining, I think he’s making a very clear argument against entitlement.

  7. jenny June 19, 2012 at 3:03 pm #

    Paul–I don’t think the 7-11 example is comparable (the rights situation is a little different/more complex I think), but I literally walked out of a sandwich shop with a stolen sandwich after attempting to pay for over 10 mins to no avail. So actually I would do that!

    I have no problem compensating the actual artist. Purchasing their CD infrequently does this.

    I also don’t think Emily is saying she won’t pay artists. She’s saying she will if there’s a really easy way to do so.

    I agree it would be different if we were talking about paintings because it’s not a digital file. It would be different in the other direction if we said 11,000 news articles too–you should be paying for that too, but you’re not. How industries digitized their product inherently changed how people monetize something. People feel justified to read NYT articles for free even though before they had to pay for them but no one accuses them of being thieves. No one accuses someone who checks out a library book of being a thief.

    Also, how come the music industry has no issue with resale stores devaluing their content? That seems worse based on the fact that someone else is profiting off of it! Their argument is totally inconsistent and based on a fear of technology.

    When I say “make it easy” to pay them I mean put a paypal button on an artist’s website. I will give them money in a second.

  8. Paul Riismandel June 19, 2012 at 3:46 pm #

    Reading the New York Times online for free is not comparable to ripping CDs instead of buying them. This is because the New York Times decided to give you access to their new stories online for free; it was the company’s choice. Just like how an alt weekly like the Reader chooses not to charge you for the physical copy of their paper, while the Sun-Times chooses to charge you. Or how the local NBC affiliate does not charge you to receive their over-the-air signal while HBO does charge you to receive their programming over cable.

    Of course, we all understand that this “free” content was actually paid for by advertisers. Those of us who enjoy this content should feel justified to do so for free because that was the explicit bargain the creators/owners signed up for.

    The point is that the creator/owner entered into terms willingly for you to have their content. Whether or not it’s free is beside the point. What is the point is that the person who created and owns it gets to choose.

    It happens to be the case that the record industry did have an issue with resale stores. Garth Brooks was the industry spokesperson for a campaign against used CDs in the mid 90s. At the time the industry attempted to put the squeeze on stores that sold both used and new CDs while privileging stores that only sold new CDs. The fact that they failed in this initiative and the right of first sale remains intact doesn’t mean they didn’t try to undermine it.

    Furthermore, periodically publishers have attempted to push laws through state legislatures and Congress to limit the ability of libraries to lend books, movies, CDs and software. Again, it’s a good thing that the right of first sale was not diluted. And, I think it’s a bad thing how publishers are trying to use ebook lending as a way to much more strictly limit library lending, even more strictly than is possible with physical books.

    I can understand how if I don’t make it easy for someone to buy my work, then I can have no complaint about it going unsold. I understand that if I price my work too high then I can’t complain if nobody will buy it. I agree that artists have no inherent right to be compensated for creating work.

    What I don’t understand is how a listener has the right to own my work without compensating me, just because I couldn’t stop the listener from stealing it. I don’t see how not making it “easy” to pay me for something you already took justifies the fact that someone took it.

    Digitization changes the nature of creative works by making them easy to duplicate and share. I agree that creative artists would be best off, and would benefit most, if they embraced this aspect and found ways to make a living by exploiting this. I agree that resisting it is probably futile.

    I also agree that an artist (or company) that refuses to embrace the facts of a digital world then faces the likelihood that fewer people will find or buy their product. I do not believe these artists or companies have a right to have their products bought.

    The fact that an artist makes it difficult to acquire his/her art through purchase (if the artist is selling it) justifies not buying it. I still have not heard an argument as to why it is therefore ethical for someone to rip/download/copy that work simply because it is not “easy” to pay the artist.

  9. John S June 19, 2012 at 7:18 pm #

    Paul, Emily’s ripping CDs is EXACTLY like the New York Times giving away content for free if she had permission from labels to do so as a college radio DJ .. which she most likely did. That’s why she has such an airy tone – she forgot that she had an explicit license to rip almost 11,000 songs in a way that most consumers don’t.

    Lowery should have suspected she had a license, of course. He either made an enormous blunder or is lying to make Spotify users look bad.

    “I find it interesting, but vexing, that Emily White is a college radio DJ who doesn’t buy music. I wonder if that’s more generally true for today’s college DJs as a whole.” – First of all, my friend, i was a college radio DJ at about the time Cracker’s records were coming out. We got almost EVERYTHING for free from the labels because they wanted us to hear it. I almost never bought new music for five years.

    I’m still in college radio as an old man, and that practice has been replaced by distributors giving the DJs explicit permission to copy releases into their collections for review and playback.

    Emily says that when she inevitably pays, she’s going to pay for a Spotify service, which is legal … and that’s what makes Lowery really mad. She has found several ways to LEGALLY get COMPETITORS’ music at terms he rejects.

  10. John S June 19, 2012 at 7:24 pm #

    “I still have not heard an argument as to why it is therefore ethical for someone to rip/download/copy that work simply because it is not “easy” to pay the artist.”

    Again, Paul, your thoughts on whether minor copyright violations are ethical are irrelevant in this case.

    David Lowery and his fans are attacking legal activity – that’s why his post has touched such a chord. He’s saying you have a right to yell thief for no other reason than you think someone “should” give you more money. People find that idea very attractive these days, especially people who want to break strikes, boycotts and protests.

  11. Paul Riismandel June 19, 2012 at 7:35 pm #


    Where do you get the conclusion that Emily had permission to rip the CDs to HER hard drive? Just because some labels might give permission doesn’t necessarily mean it’s true for all CDs, all labels or all artists.

    Furthermore, the permission that you cite is copying for “review and playback.” (I’m taking from your use of these terms that “playback” is short for “playback on air.”) However, there is no indication in Emily White’s post that her PERSONAL collection in reserved for this limited use.

    Yes, the STATION had received the CDs from record labels for the purpose of airplay. Yes, the STATION had the right, and the explicit or assumed implicit permission from the labels, to rip the CDs for the purposes of airplay and review.

    However, there is no explicit nor implicit right or permission for Emily to take personal possession of those ripped files for her personal use.

    Even if she were taking possession of those files, the consent would be for the purposes of “review and playback,” correct? And so, ethically speaking, once Ms. White graduates college and is no longer a DJ, she shouldn’t walk away with those files, correct?

    You have not made the case that there is either a legal or ethical argument in support of Emily White’s behavior, especially given what she has told us in her post, absent assumptions we have to presuppose about the label’s intention and Ms. White’s limited use of the ripped files for “review and playback.”

  12. Paul Riismandel June 19, 2012 at 7:51 pm #

    John: I also challenge your second argument that an ethical consideration is “irrelevant” because Lowery is challenging legal behavior.

    First off, I do not believe that you have made a case that Emily West was engaged in legal behavior.

    Second, ethics and the law are two different things. There are many unethical actions that are legal, and many ethical actions that are illegal. If law trumps discussions of ethics, then we can hardly have a discussion about the validity of any given law, can we?

    Yet, even if Ms. White’s actions were legal, I still believe they were not ethical.

    If she had received explicit permission, consent or encouragement from the labels and/or artists for all the tracks she ripped for herself, to keep, then I would agree her actions are likely legal, and certainly ethical. However the overall tone of her argument and overarching point that she and her generation will not pay for music, make it difficult to accept the assumption (and it is an assumption) that the labels and artists gave permission for Ms. White and her fellow DJs to all go home with copies of these albums.

    Finally, nobody is yelling “thief!” In fact, Lowery’s argument is explicitly an ethical one, questioning how Ms. White’s behavior jives with her stated support of musicians and artists. He writes to her, “it is especially important for you to come to grips with these very personal ethical issues.”

    Lowery is arguing that artists ought to paid when people take, own and use their art. It’s a simple argument that so far I haven’t heard a single reasonable argument against. I’ve heard appeals to loopholes and “ease,” but nobody has said and defended out right, “listeners have the right to take any music they see fit, without paying the artist, especially if the artist doesn’t make it easy on them to pay for it.” But that, in fact, is the argument that Ms. West is making.

    Art is the result of labor, and I believe that artists have the right to be compensated for their labor, just like any other laborer. They also have the right to give it away, or choose their price. And NOBODY has the right to simply take it from them, even if it is easy to take away and can be done with virtually no threat of consequence. Simply put, it is not ethical.

  13. Tony Parodi June 20, 2012 at 9:25 am #

    Blah, Blah, Blah… Oh, such a headache! It would require a university degree in ethics, philosophy, business, law, etc., just to make sense of all these arguments and counter-arguments — and everyone wants to see their name in print and prove their position is THE correct one, and… so let’s just reduce these arguments to their lowest common denominator and see how it plays out: A creates or owns something, a commodity, that B wants. A can choose to give it away free, gratis and for nothing, or he/she can choose to sell it, barter for it, or find some way mutually beneficial and agreeable to both parties to part with his possession — bear with me folks, I’m simplifying, but it doesn’t require a huge leap of faith to see this, it’s not a convoluted science fiction film — and that, as they say, is that. However, it’s unethical in any culture, in any language, from any perspective, for B to simply take something that belongs to A without his/her permission, or without compensating A for it. In all cultures, in all languages, from all perspectives, that is simply theft… whether it’s a roll of toilet paper, a car, a stick of gum, or a work of art, yes, even a song. If not, try walking into a restaurant and ask them to feed you for free, or run into your neighborhood Gap, or even a Salvation Army store, and demand a free shirt because you need something new to wear to Starbucks (where you’ll probably ask for a free latte…). Get the picture? So, enough of the bullshit arguments and lame explanations, enough name calling and passing the blame on to “the old model” or the “free culture” folks. I was taught early on that nothing is free, even liberty has a price. Educate yourselves and stop living the good life at the expense of others… or, as George Clinton would say, “free your mind and your ass will follow.”

  14. C Lord July 30, 2012 at 8:37 am #

    wow, talk about “red herrings”…if this muddled ?conversation?-?debate?-?ego tripping? were visualized, it would be an ad for Swedish Fish! I wonder if we could have been saved the eye strain sifting through the diatribe if PR had shown some restraint in being snarky. hmmm, reminds me of another superfluous logical-fallacy-im-better-at-arguing-word: “ad hominem.” So, really, it’s not surprising that setting a tone of verbal abuse would get everyone all hot n’ bothered. Oh Internet!

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