Thursday, January 7, 2010

Because We All Should Listen to Rock Musicians when They Stop Singing

Okay. Bono apparently got himself in trouble again. Actually, it took one of my students to tell me about this one; I wasn't reading the right stuff.

In this case, the right stuff is Bono's editorial column in the New York Times. If you have missed it, he has one. He writes regularly, and they print it. That says about as much as anything, doesn't it?

Now, I am not a Bono basher (see earlier U2 blogs). I have heard all the stuff about how they use tax shelters and encourage people to buy overpriced Red items rather than just giving the money to charities. So what? Bono knows his audience and what works with them. More power to him. And he never claims to be anything more than he is. And, anyway, he does his homework a lot better than some members of Congress. But, no, he is not my source of knowledge on global warming or poverty. On the other hand, his information is usually correct according to the places I do follow.

So why is he in trouble now? Because he defended artists against illegal downloading and suggested using the same techniques that China does to block information. It's that last part that got him so much grief, although some people seem to think they can justify illegal downloading despite knowing that the artist loses money on it, whether you are talking about U2 or your local starving folk artist who self published a CD.

So let's set a little context here. First of all, Bono wrote his editorial as a top ten list of things he hoped to see in 2010. The first item was something about American cars getting back to being sexy again. For most people, that should have been a signal that this was not the deadly earnest Bono preaching about unrest in southeast nations. He was having a bit of fun, at least for part of the column. Some peoplemissed that.

Second, he was talking largely about the film industry and said that he hoped they took steps to stop illegal downloading before downloading movies became as fast as music. He pointed out that the download services are getting very rich from this activity while the musicians are the primary ones being hurt. And then he added this self aware line: "Note to self: Don’t get over-rewarded rock stars on this bully pulpit, or famous actors; find the next Cole Porter, if he/she hasn’t already left to write jingles."

In other words, he knows he is not the person to sell this issue. Is it just possible that he might not be as self serving as the naysayers want to make him out to be? At least give him credit for the self awareness. Besides, the sad reality is that he is the one who does have the NY Times column. Joe folk guitarist does not; he can scream until he's blue and not be heard.

As for the China business, what Bono really said is that the way China censors information simply proves that the technology to stop illegal downloads already exists. he did not suggest that the U.S. start censoring information, only that we use our ability to stop illegal activity. Notice how many times I have used the word illegal so far.

The justifications people use for stealing intellectual property boggle my mind. Just buy the damn music people. We got along for generations buying it, and the cost of music, despite all the bitching out there, has gone up far less than inflation. If you don't want to deal with all that ITunes authorization stuff (they got rid of it recently anyway) do something novel like buy a CD. Then you never have to worry about which machines you authorized to play it.

Now, I am not going to pretend to hold the high road here. I used Napster a lot when it first came out. Mostly I was downloading copies of music I have in vinyl for because that was cleaner than copying to records to my computer and took a lot less time. But I did see things out there that I did not have and downloaded them as well.

But that was the past, and anyway, I have since either deleted that stuff or bought a licensed copy. My conscience got to me. And so did the ten commandments. The only things left are those things I cannot find a way to buy.

Stealing is stealing, and doubly so when it is for something that would not even slightly count as a necessity. We're not talking food for starving orphans folks. We're talking about music and movies.

Even if the artists are stinking rich, that does not give me the right to steal from them. Try using that argument to steal a painting from one of the Wyeths. "They're rich, so I'll just take this landscape." Sounds stupid doesn't it.

The argument that most of the money goes to the downloading service (see solution above) or the record company doesn't wash either. It's still stealing. But, I suppose, when students can buy papers on line from established companies and don't know how to avoid plagiarism because they apparently don't understand the concept, the idea of intellectual ownership simply sounds archaic. Just wait until someone takes credit for their work and see how they react. Until the, I'm with Bono on this one.


Rev. David Lawrence said...

Confession time. I have used Limewire. I have used Pirate Bay.

And then I met Richard. Richard is my friend who is also in a Christian band start up. Affix has a CD out and is selling it. This is a portion of his income and illegally downloading his work demeans our friendship and my value of his gifts.

Also, illegal downloading is exactly that-illegal. Would you walk into a store and take a CD of DVD? Downloading is exactly the same. Theft.

Downloading is just wrong. I don't like the hassle of DRM, but as long as sin is in the world and we have computers, illegal downloading is gonna be an issue.

Klaus said...

Would you walk into a store and take a CD of DVD? Downloading is exactly the same.

No it is not.

Stealing from a store deprives the store of what they're trying to sell. There is a limited amount of what they can sell and taking it means they lose money because they can't magic up another one.

Downloading deprives nothing from anyone. If I copy a song from your computer then you still have it in full capacity.

I could copy your exam, or I could take your paper and put my name on it. Only one of those deprives you of your paper.

It's more than fine if you think it's theft or wrong, but it's not same as depriving someone of a physical object. Same goes for stealing a painting, which is a physical object which cannot be copied in full capacity.

My issue with Bono is that he is wealthy enough to fly a hat on a jet for over one grand yet whines about supposed starving artists. Which, by the way, have starved since the dawn of time and will likely do so till the end of time.

And this China noise, China uses its firewalls to quiet dissenters and censor whatever they think their people should not know. We should not be using China as a model on handling internet shenanigans. Bono seems to know the basic details about what he preaching about. Child pornography is censored in China simply because it's porn, not because it is child pornography. China has laws against ALL forms of porn.

Furthermore it's a waste of time. China's firewalls can be easily circumvented if the user wants to do so, so even that is fallible.

There will always be file sharing. Period. These people, like Bono, don't understand that. They want to move backwards or at least stagnate and that's not happening. If their goal is to reduce piracy to 0% then that is impossible. I think the goal should be to create things that are;
a) not easily copied.
(like concerts, giveaways, contests and what not.)

b) stuff good enough to warrant people buying it.

Bono is at a point in his career where U2 could throw out a crap album and make more money than many starving artists could make in a decade.

This is pretty long, sorry. I'm just annoyed with privileged millionaires living in non-third world countries' harping about how unfair the world is for them or worse people like them. And no, I don't care for his cute self deprecating attempt at humor. If he recognizes he's an "over-rewarded rock star" then maybe he shouldn't be flying his hat first class on planes. Because I believe that is much worse than downloading some Beatles songs.