The best way to fight bullies is to fight bullies. We saw what happened to Lily Allen last year–both when she was savaged by the mob of digital natives after her extraordinarily brave statements opposing illegal file bartering in support of independent artists and songwriters–and when she got a standing ovation from the Featured Artists Coalition. Many members of the Featured Artist Coalition (not to be confused with the Future of Music Coalition–no relation whatsoever) signed a statement supporting the view for which Lily was attacked by the mob. (The statement was signed by dozens of artists from David Rowntree and Ed O’Brien to Billy Bragg and Annie Lennox.) Sir Elton John and Lord Mandelson have also expressed similar concerns about the fate of British creative industries before crowd-sourced kleptomania.
This week, Bono published a very thoughtful op-ed in the New York Times in which he discussed a wide range of topics, one of which was his concern that illegal file bartering was making it nearly impossible for the next generation of professional songwriters to make a living from songwriting–i.e., from being professional creators.
Not to take anything away from Bono, but he is reinforcing many of the same views that were expressed not only by Lily Allen and the Featured Artist Coalition, but also by Rick Carnes, president of the Songwriters Guild of America. Rick has been making this point wherever he can for a long time, from this blog to the halls of Congress.
Of course, Bono was also savaged by the mob (which he had to know was coming), which is the same brutalizing that started with Metallica. What is different this time is the reaction from other artists who are supporting Bono and fighting back against the bullies. In particular is another op-ed by Krist Novoselic (“Why I Agree With Bono“) published in the Seattle Weekly. (Thanks to Dean Kay for the link.) Krist will probably find himself the victim of crowd-sourced anger as well.
Krist Novoselic makes many good points, but this one crystallizes both the problem, the challenge and the solution:
“Yes, even Utopia has rules, based on respect of ownership, and in limited circumstances, you could get censored.”
Let us all accept as a given that neither Bono nor any other artist has even the most remote desire to engage in repressive censorship of ideas. And I believe that to be true no matter how many times the mob of digital natives mouths off about China this and China that. (Google has a lot more work to do explaining their bona fides on this issue than Bono ever would in the wildest recesses of the most deranged imagination.)
What Krist Novoselic has put his finger on is the exact problem that needs to be solved online–contrary to the popular cant, there is not a market failure online.
You cannot have a market failure if you have no market, and you cannot have a market without enforceable property rights. Just ask any independent artist, book author or songwriter what it’s like to try to enforce their rights online–to the extent it works at all, notice and takedown is only for the rich who can afford to send the notices and track down the offenders. And negotiate with the big companies who routinely take their works with a “sue me if you can” business model (like Google did to authors in the predictably disastrous Google Books). The bedrock of any market is a working legal system and governments of the world have essentially tendered their job to keep creators safe by privitizing law enforcement for copyright infringement.
Yet, as we have seen recently in France and the UK, governments are starting to wake up and take action. There is also encouraging news regarding international agreements that may be of some help.
Until there are legal rules that are enforceable at a market clearing price and are respected by the majority (yes, even including the “Don’t Be Moral” crowd), professional creators will live in a first world economy offline and a fourth world economy online.
It is encouraging that artists are standing up together and opposing the utopians and swarms of digital natives–not only in their own interests but also in the interests of people they don’t even know. We have a word for people who are willing to sacrifice for others.
The best way to fight bullies is to fight bullies.
See also: Why We Love Lily Allen pts 1-4
See also: The Man 2.0 in the Gray Flannel Suit