Friday, July 18, 2008

On YouTube, Prince, formerly known, and copyright controversy

The Prince copyright controversy and WMC #54

Jahsonic makes a somewhat convincing, yet flawed argument in favor of artists like Prince being right by blocking their content on You Tube:

Look around on YouTube, how many TAFKAP clips do you find? That’s right, none. TAFKAP is convinced that if you want to be entertained by him, you have to pay him. He is right of course, even if it does not make him very likable.

Why is he right?

Companies such as YouTube (a Google owned company) are making millions of dollars on the backs of “minor” artists (the long tail) who do not have the funds to employ an army of lawyers to police YouTube in search of their content. These minor artists should be paid for their work. TAFKAP may set a precedent for this to happen

A few scattered points to keep in mind when you read Jahsonic's post:

(update: I shouldn't suggest that you filter his post with these thoughts, rather you should read what he has to say and then view my points as rebuttal.)

a). The YouTube medium barely qualifies as content. The image is small and even in high-res is largely unsatisfying. The sound in usually crap, too. (One could say the same for MP3s.) People that would ordinarily buy music will not see these videos as a viable addition to their music collection.

b). YouTube came well after the P2P piracy issue and doesn't hold a candle to it in relation to volume of appropriated content. YouTube is not the problem in this regard. And remember this: "Pirates" buy more music. (update: You cannot tax YouTube for the damage done by P2P. Let's keep this separate. These two are often spoken of hand in hand by music industry types.)

c). Back in the day of record stores, labels released promo recordings for free. These were usually plain wrapper vinyl and cds that were used as teasers and means of exposure-- a way for reviewers to get the word out, for record store managers to promote and prioritize content and for DJs to get the material out in the clubs. YouTube videos help serve the function of promotion today.

d). Artists like Prince and Madonna make money on reputation, name recognition and exorbitant concert tickets. They might view YouTube as a loss of revenue, but let's face it, the YouTube generation by-and-large cares less and less about these dinosaurs, daily. Look at the most viewed items and you'll see where they're going.

e). "Minor" artists do not have name recognition, reputation or the ability to fetch high ticket prices. They are barely noticed by the media and have to rely largely on word of mouth to get their material noticed. YouTube is now "word of mouth" and I'm sure most "minor" artists are stoked when they see their videos being viewed untold thousands of time on the Interenet. In the process they know they are gaining, not losing. They know that YouTube is not riding on their backs. The benefit is mutual. It's good for business. In the end, they will likely be paid handsomely via this exposure, if they merit it.

f). Established acts like Radiohead understand these models and are well engaged with them. The old-school will fade away, life and commerce will go on.

g). YouTube and P2P help create more educated and savvy consumers. No more blind-buying crap records at the store. This will force content creators to make better music to keep up with the quality standard. Did the record companies ever think that sales might be down because people aren't buying their bullshit anymore? They'd be well served to consider this a probability.

h). Micropayments for YouTube videos? See point a).

i). I would not begrudge the right of an artist to block their content on YouTube. I just think it would be a pointless waste of time and resources and a counterproductive business move.

j). I might add a few more points as they come to mind, including those supplied by my readers. I know some of you have something to say about this.

In light of rapidly dying, old-timey methods of conducting the music business, Jahsonic's argument bears more weight. Transposed to the new economy of the Internet, it loses its lustre. However, it is still a valid and interesting argument and it is very much worth reading.

update: repost: Reality Check: Five Words on Why the Music Industry is Still Scrambling to Cope with Digital Reality: "If we don't, we're dead." (link)


Anonymous said...

I totally agree with your points (except with J). When I heard the buzz about Prince's Creep cover at Coachella, I got half-interested for the first time since Batdance, couldn't find the video, and moved on (didn't buy a Prince album)

Seeing the video, might have moved me to full-interested.

John M. said...

Well, 9 out of 10 ain't bad.

I agree about the Prince vid. If I could have seen it, I might be more favorably inclined toward him in the future. Nothing gained or lost in the process, as is. Still don't care about TAFKAP.

Anonymous said...

"I'm sick of mother fuckers trying to tell me that they're down with Prince"

-Hot Chip's Down With Prince

almost missed that one.

John M. said...

Let's just hope he doesn't go as long as Mick Jagger. The thought of reaching old age with Prince still making music is kinda scary.

Anonymous said...

Before the internet, the work of artists new and old was promoted on radio and television; before the AM/FM cassette recorder and the VCR the public couldn't "download" audio tracks or music videos for free. This new age of piracy seems driven more by the availability of consumer recording devices and recordable media than the malicious intent of consumers to deprive the artists of their livelihood. But the fact that technology is forcing the industry--and all of human society--to reconfigure their conceptions/perceptions of Property is, to me, fascinating and exciting.

John, as Bucky Fuller devotees you and I can imagine a world that flips the capitalist creed of "What's good for me is good for everyone" to "What's good for everyone is good for me." Those who cling to the old ways do so from a lack of vision and courage, and their paralysis at the helm has turned the world economy into a runaway train.

Two thousand zero zero
Party over
Oops out of time

John M. said...

Thanks, John. You pretty much nailed it.

I'm all for free markets and artists getting paid for their work, but to try to squeeze every penny out of every play seems a bit psychotic to me.

For buying Dark Side of the Moon 37 times on six different media, multiplied by millions, you think they'd chill, just a little.

I often think they view their actions as a stopgap to prevent what they fear as a sort of runaway train type situation.

The new media market lends itself to more egalitarian and fair-play modes and memes. Only a small percentage of people paid for the Radiohead record that was posted online, and yet they made a lot more money than was anticipated.

Who's getting edged out here is The Man, and he don't like it. Prince is just a scarecrow.

breaking, relevant and kinda funny:

"According to her manager, YouTube owes teenybopper pop star Avril Lavigne around $2 million for playing her videos. There's just one problem: Her YouTube play count appears to have been gamed by an automated web page that generated publicity for the video."


crow said...

I couldn't agree more. Especially: "I'm all for free markets and artists getting paid for their work, but to try to squeeze every penny out of every play seems a bit psychotic to me." TAFKAP is pure BS. Youtube reaches the previously unreachable. Maybe.

John M. said...

It reaches more unreachables than anything previous. And quite a varied assortment of folks, too.

Alan Evil said...

I'm going to jump into this very late because I was attending America's largest free arts festival in Baltimore this last weekend.

1. Where else are you going to see a video if not on YouTube? On MTV? Do they even play music videos any more? If you're like me and own no television then YouTube or similar services are it. As far as I'm concerned if Prince doesn't want me to see his video on a site like YouTube then I just won't see it. I bought his records when he was good (remember back then?) and saw him in the Superdome so I'm pretty sure I've paid my dues to the sawed off fucker.

2. ONLY the biggest of the big "stars" ever see a single penny from record sales, radio plays, etc. For most of us recording and selling albums is a break even project at best and we usually loose money. The bigger your label, the smaller your chance of ever seeing a penny because the bigger your label the more they will insist you spend producing an album (money borrowed with interest from the label), the more they will insist you pay for marketing (again, borrowed from the label), and so the number of albums you will have to sell (your cut will be a few cents per copy) to pay off these debts will be in the millions. You are far more likely to end your career in debt than not.

Fuck Prince, fuck Metallica, and fuck Madonna. You've made enough money that if you're even vaguely intelligent you will never have to do anything you don't want to ever again. You will die comfortable. Fuck the lot of you. Most of the musicians you've stolen from over your careers died poor and broken.

3. The music industry as it is can only survive through litigation aimed at forcing the survival of a business model that is as outdated as radio orchestras. People will never consume music in the same way they did a decade ago and no matter how hard the RIAA tries (and they will try with all their might), they are going to have to shut the fuck up and find a new business model. If that means the death of Clear Channel, all the better.

I worked in a huge record store (the chain it belonged to has since gone bankrupt for good reason) and saw from there how sales charts are a fraud perpetuated by the mega companies. They force thousands of copies of a shit album into a store and leave it taking up space long enough that it appears the album is moving lots of copies so it gets on the charts. If you look at the Billboard charts from the late 90's you will see lots of really shitty black artists on BMG labels (like R.Kelly) that got there through this underhanded sales technique. The artists made nothing on these singles and albums because most of the copies were destroyed the next year. The labels made their money, all the middle management shitfucks got their paychecks, but the artists found themselves with a huge bill they have to pay off with the income from their performances and merchandise sales. The very idea YouTube is taking anything from artists is bullshit. The income has been stolen from the artists well in advance.

John M. said...

Good one, Alan. This really rounds out the perspective with a bang.

Pink Floyd tried to get this message across over 30 years ago and any half-awake consumer has likely figured it out by now. That's one big reason why there are over a billion people pirating. They want the music, not the bullshit.

New models will reflect what people really want, not what the media companies tell them to like and buy.

I almost cried when I found out that Alex Chilton had to wash dishes at Arnaud's to get by. It's a crime and a shame.