The MegaUpload Shutdown

Story at USA Today.

Now, while some people may view it as a mass overreach by the government, especially in light of the ongoing battle against SOPA (another post on that later on), but…there’s something to be said about copyright infringement.

First of all, what you may not know is that Swizz Beats is involved with that site. There are some articles to contrary, but I have my reservations. This guy had multiple musicians endorse that site, most of whom are now in very hot water with their labels. But one thing is for sure: if a musician has been running a shareware site, this effectively shoots his own industry in the foot.

But this just got me nice and pissed. Not because of the government shutting down a website, but because people are very quick to forget what’s what with copyright of creative product.

In the early days of shareware, I’m sure you have ventured to Kazaa for a quick download of that song you heard on the radio. You’d borrow a CD and rip it to your computer. You probably thought nothing of it.

Sorry, but that’s theft. Copyright infringement, if you have to be exact, which breaks down to theft if you look at how money plays into this.

You may say, “Hey, I bought this, and this means I do whatever I want with it!” – No. Let me get one little thing straight per the US Copyright Act: you bought your right to use it, but not the actual master copyright. So think about how you distributing something that you “own” affect other people. You own the right to use it, but if you give it away, you’re devaluing it. That CD that you have no problem passing on to a friend is now half its value because two people have the product. The artist never sees a whit of income from your friend ripping the CD. If your friend is using his/her computer as an upload source with that CD, that CD loses in value with more and more people downloading its contents via shareware. What does the artist get for these extra people listening to his material? ZILCH.

Let’s do some cashflow analysis here. Suppose that you buy a CD for $20.

Of that $20, the distribution medium takes its cut. Let’s say, for argument’s sake, it’s $5.

$15 remains. Money goes to the label next for overhead costs, which include publicity, representation, etc. $10 will be their sample cut. You now have $5.

And of that, guess who also needs to take a cut: the press. You know, the guys who actually make the physical CD.

Using this example, the artist sees $2.50 from the sale of that one CD, if and only if they hadn’t made enough to offset the label’s advance, which was given to them to compose the music for said CD to begin with.

In other words, there’s a solid chance that the artist won’t be seeing money from this CD for quite a long time.

Think about that for a second. And you think, “So what if someone borrows my CD and makes a copy of it?” Less money to the artist. Less money for future production. Less money for the label, which will drop the artist because of said lack of revenue but still continue to make its profits off the existing sales until the advance is recouped, which will take much more time, and until then, the artist will not see a drop of royalty money.

It’s pretty similar to traditional publishing, wherein you won’t see a penny of royalties until you recoup the advance.

And if you’re bootlegging an indie artist who doesn’t have label backing, that artist may see more money faster, but again, it’s all going against the out-of-pocket costs incurred in creating the CD.

Still think that CD or venture to Kazaa is no big deal?

If you like the artist, great. Want to keep listening to the artist’s future music? Awesome. Now, let me ask you this: if the artist doesn’t make enough money off that CD, do you think that artist will put out another one? If you say yes, or, “They will if they love music”, then you need a wake-up call. The love of the music only goes so far, it doesn’t pay the bills, and doesn’t put food on the table. Money does. If you want to get  a quick song, then please, iTunes or Amazon mp3 has the right to distribute, and the cost to you is a whopping dollar. Of that dollar, the artist will be lucky to see 30c, by the by, but there’s benefit to quick access and volume. There are other distributors who will let you download songs for a fee. Know where that fee goes? To pay the artist.

An argument that I heard is that the government had interfered with the way people share their things. Okay, fabulous, but make sure it’s actually yours first! Because guess what: when you buy that CD, or that mp3, you are buying your right to consume the product, and nothing more! You’re listening to the music, that is your consumption. But you are not the master copyright owner. That’s either the artist or the label, and they dictate their product’s distribution and how it’s heard. Therefore, that music you’re enjoying? You bought your right to enjoy it. You never actually bought the ownership of it. The masters are owned by either the artist or the label.

And please don’t start about MegaUpload being used to share family pictures, etc. That usage is in the very, very tiny minority for shareware site usage. The majority use is to disseminate copyrighted material, first and foremost. I mean, come on: Kazaa was NOT used for family pictures. It was, however, the go-to one-stop shop for media.

Oh, and also, for family pictures, make a private album on Photobucket or Flickr. They’re legit sites that protect your photo copyright. You can also use Dropbox, which is free up to 2gb (expanded with heavy use; mine is 4gb I think) and ad-free, and works with literally every operating system.

I won’t deny that the current distribution system for music leaves much to be desired, but until people actually recognize what copyright infringement does for the industry overall, then the industry will stay as it is for a while. I don’t like it, and my musicians don’t like it either.

Oh, and as far as Swizz Beats? What utterly annoys me is that a musician is involved with a shareware site. The disputes on who to best distribute music aside, of all the people in the world who would be involved with a shareware site, I did not expect a musician. That is the one person who would have a major problem with copyright infringement as opposed to facilitating it.

Look: the majority of musicians are not wealthy. Those who are and who are of the current generation – mid-twenties – are probably so because of clever marketing, performances, and endorsements. Not because of sales. If it’s not a popular genre, then the artist is just plain screwed, because they’re never going to know exactly where their music had ended up.

Also, there are better ways to share. You see artists on YouTube putting up segments of their songs as promo – but again, segments. Promotional material; enough of the song to pique an interest, not enough to where someone can attempt to de-embed the music from the video and then share the rest. And YouTube, just FYI, links to where this song can be bought in full – iTunes or Amazon. There are ways to harness the digital sharing realm without said sharing infringing on copyright, but few people see that and instead focus on their right to do something that is,  for all statutory intents and purposes, illegal. You may have that right to share things, but the people whose material you’re sharing without their consent or permission have the right to not like it and do something about it.

And look…I’m an independent author. I have my book uploaded in e-form to several mediums. And yes, it’s probably being bootlegged here and there. On one hand, it’s flattering that I’m being bootlegged, but I would much rather have my potential readers respect the work that had gone into the book and pay the whopping three bucks to have it legitimately.