The BYOB Kids Are Back With a Free Lunch and Hugs for Everyone

I’ve been reading some of the coverage on Amanda Palmer’s efforts to tour.  (Frankly, I have never listened to her music which could be great.  Update: I watched her latest video which was really cool visually.)  What’s funny about all this to me is that no one has said that what’s happening is a symptom of what we sidemen call LSD.  (Lead Singer Disease–work for me for free because it’s good for you.  The telltale “my band” instead of “the band” or “our band.”)  Maybe it’s just me.

But there was something familiar to me about the words she used to describe her plan.

Some of you will remember the “study” by Felix “BYOB” Oberholzer-Gee and Koleman “Jaegermeister” Strumpf that attempted to “prove” that piracy is good for you because:

“A…decline in industry profitability might not hurt artistic production [or] artist motivations. The remuneration of artistic talent differs from other types of labor….[Artists]might continue being creative even when the monetary incentives to do so become weaker [because] many of them enjoy fameadmiration, social status, and free beer in bars – suggesting a reduction in monetary incentives might possibly have a reduced impact on the quantity and quality of artistic production.” (My emphasis.)

BYOB and the Jaegermeister’s study has been favored by anti-copyright organizers–note that it was cited favorably by the UK Open Rights Group in their efforts to implement the Hargreaves Review in the UK (aka the “Google Review”).  We’ll come back to them presently.  (For a critical view see “The Oberholzer-Gee and Strumpf File Sharing Instrument Fails the Laugh Test” by Professor Stan Liebowitz and “Assessing the Academic Literature Regarding the Impact of Media Piracy on Sales” by Professors Smith and Telang.)

Now according to Andrew Orlowski in The Register:

Amanda Palmer, the artist who raised $1.2m from her fans on Kickstarter [amost $50 a head to the penny] to fund a new record and tour, is now asking classical musicians to work for her for free.

The money has been on lavished on studio time, a luxury booklet, and an abundance of expensive promotional material. But there’s nothing left for the classical musicians she wants. The cabaret singer, who is married to writer and Open Rights Group patron Neil Gaiman [and Sandman creator], put out a request for “professional-ish horns and strings” – local volunteers for each tour date – who would be required to rehearse before performing, before joining Palmer’s ‘Grand Theft Orchestra’ for the performance.

“We will feed you beer, hug/high-five you up and down (pick your poison), give you merch and thank you mightily for adding to the big noise we are planning to make,” promised Palmer, who explained that the $35,000 required to pay seven or eight musicians for 36 tour dates at union rates was too much.

It’s hard to pay the rent in beer, and classically trained musicians are less than impressed.

Free beer and admiration or free beer, hugs and high fives.  Amanda Palmer is almost directly quoting Professor BYOB in a call to musicians essentially to prove up BYOB’s theory.  Kind of interesting.

I don’t know much about Amanda Palmer or her husband (aside from his successful copyright infringement prosecution lawsuit over the “Domina” and “Tiffany” characters in Spawn), but I do know quite a bit about the Open Rights Group, which is second cousin to the Electronic Frontier Foundation (in fact, they share a prominent member in the Anthony Weiner of the Copyleft aka The Hipster, whose BoingBoing blog is promoting Palmer, says Orlowski).  You’ll remember the EFF from the Google Shill List and as recipients of piles of money from Google in various indirect channels.  The ORG was responsible for creating Winning the Web, the anti-copyright organizer’s manual (funded by the Open Society Institute).  That essay suggested that anti-copyright crusaders wrap their anti-copyright argument in a civil rights flag because artists who were harmed by file sharing are too sympathetic to take on head on.  Civil rights, you know, like free expression protected from censorship.  Sound familiar?

Another striking omission from the Oberholzer-Gee study, Amanda Palmer’s repeated emphasis on giving music away (or “pay what you feel”), and of course ORG’s efforts to promote Google’s IP agenda is that none of them mention that the sites that most widely facilitate “sharing” do so at a profit, frequently by selling advertising for major brands–about as Wall Street as it gets.  The same major brands whose ad publisher agreements prohibit their ads from appearing on these illegal sites.  And yet they do, as we have seen on the Wall of Shame.  (Check the Wall of Shame posts for some ideas about which sites I mean–I’m not talking about Bandcamp, so please no “gotchas” from the Shill List crowd.)

So the files aren’t “free” and the sales aren’t “lost.”  The transactions are monetized and those are not “free” or “shared” in any definition of those words that aren’t idiosyncratic.

Just because the users aren’t being charged a per-track fee doesn’t mean the transactions aren’t monetized.  They are.  Read the Megavideo indictment and you’ll get the idea.  Read the Google no-indictment agreement and you’ll get the idea.  Google’s being sued by its shareholders over drug advertising misconduct, read that complaint and you’ll get the idea (or the stipulation Google requested to keep their board members from being deposed).

It’s not that the sales are lost, it’s that the sales are lost to the artists.  If the Megavideo case shows you anything, it should show you that people…ahem…are getting rich by profiting from “free.”  There is no free.  No discussion of this, though.

But free beer, that’s the point.  And admiration, of course.

Then there’s the fear meme–musicians don’t know where their next paycheck is coming from so they are scared so they express their fear as anger at technology or at Amanda Palmer, poor things.  Think about this: Musicians never know where their next paycheck is coming from.  That’s probably been true from the dawn of time and it has nothing to do with technology adoption.  And think about this, too: Sometimes when people get angry it’s because they’re mad.  Because they don’t like how they are being treated maybe.  It just seems awfully condescending (or symptomatic of LSD) to say that when someone demands respect they’re doing it because they are scared of technology, poor things, and–here’s the LSD part–lack the singer’s singular vision.  If anyone has seen Amanda Palmer criticize the Wall Street brands making money from selling advertising on pirate sites–courtesy of you know who–please leave a comment because I would welcome being wrong about that but I haven’t seen it.

So am I surprised by all this?