If you only added value: more self-serving from apologists for tech oligarchs

“When your fans are making love, would you rather they listened to your music or wore your t-shirt?”
John Pointer, founder of Patronism.com in the MTP Interview

Michael Geist is on everyone’s mind this week due to the recent revelations in Canada’s National Post, but I ran across this statement from the guy who’s never sold a record in his life that I thought warranted further emphasis:

The truth is that you can compete with free content if you provide value. One of the really exciting things about the Internet is that we’re seeing innovators coming up with all kinds of different ways where they can add value and entice the customer too.

We have heard this trope before and it could have been said by any one of the numerous tech industry apologists.  If only the artist provided something of value–besides the music.  The way the story goes is that because the music is of no value because it is “free”–that is, it has no value because it is widely stolen and has become at best devalued and at worst something for which payment is voluntary.  

So the artist now has to “add value” to the music (such as by offering a T-shirt, something that has not yet been sold digitally (although with stolen 3-D printing files available on the Pirate Bay, even the sainted T-shirt may no longer be a “value add”).  And I’m sure when t-shirts can be sold digitally, these goods will be devalued, too.  Because, after all, information wants to be free.

The song–well, the song is always omitted from the equation.  Songwriters are magically lumped in with artists–who may well be the same person, but not necessarily and even then often co-writes with producers or non-artist songwriters.  Songwriters and producers don’t sell t-shirts.  We are told that songwriters don’t deserve to have their children benefit from the fruits of their labor and that somehow they will get higher “fees” and “royalties” in their lifetimes if they have a succesful song–which I guess means that the song succeeds somehow outside of the sale of records.  This mixes concepts of course–songwriters are rarely ever paid a “fee” to write songs for artists, that compensation is generally reserved to soundtrack scores, commercials and more one-off arrangements.  “Royalties” are usually the “minimum” statutory rates (or tariffs ex-US)–minimum rates that are not negotiated anywhere but lower by even the most successful songwriters.  The “minimum” rate essentially is a maximum rate and getting the “cut” usually means taking the “controlled comp” rate or at least 3/4 of “minimum statutory”. 

So once again, this rationale is just another way of undermining the value of the creators of music and excusing the monstrous behavior of the tech oligarchy.  Make sure you add something of value, because the music and the songs are valueless, so why should Isohunt or Limewire or Megavideo pay the artist for them?  All that subscription and advertising revenue that Megavideo and Google made off of piracy?  That compensates these innovators for providing the promotional opportunity because obscurity is the artist’s biggest enemy, right?

Wrong.  Because as Gavin Castleton points out, music is nothing like water.