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Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Dear Emily...

Yesterday I wrote about how I thought that "security" had become a replacement for respect, privacy and morality here in the 21st century.  Today I'd like to take this idea a little further with respect to music.

A producer/sound engineer I know posted this link on Facebook to a blog post by an Nation Public Radio (NPR) intern named Emily.  Emily is an almost 21 year old who, by her own description, is an "avid music listener, concertgoer, and college radio DJ."  Emily has some 11,000 songs in her personal "library."

What's more interesting, though, is Emily's idea of stealing music, er, rather what's not stealing (from her blog): "But I didn't illegally download (most) of my songs. A few are, admittedly, from a stint in the 5th grade with the file-sharing program Kazaa. Some are from my family. I've swapped hundreds of mix CDs with friends. My senior prom date took my iPod home once and returned it to me with 15 gigs of Big Star, The Velvet Underground and Yo La Tengo (I owe him one)."

Clearly Emily see's that Kazaa (a now ancient and defunct "free" music sharing network) was not something exactly above board.  But beyond that she seems to have little idea of what it means to legally acquire music.

If you read the entire blog post it seems clear that Emily has some idea that what's she's doing is not exactly "right" with respect to the copyright owners of the music files she has - but she's not exactly sure.  In her closing paragraph she says she'd like a music library hopefully with"... more money going back to the artist than the present model."

So if we think about the cost of Emily's library with respect to the artists we find she's paid for about $150 USD worth of product (given an average $.99 USD per track iTunes cost).  But she has some 11,000 songs, or nearly $11,000.00 of material.

The bottom line is that Emily sees no real problem in all this and merely hopes for the best for all artists in the future.

Of course, I am not to first to comment on Emily's activities: see this "Letter to Emily" as an example.

Emily is not alone, I think, in her perspective of what theft is with regard to music, nor, for that matter movies.  The ubiquity of internet content and the ease of which it can be accessed has, as Emily admits, given her a different perspective than an old geezer like me.

She admits in growing up in a time when, from her perspective, there was no such thing as a CD (or vinyl for that matter).  To her the entire world of music is digital - no album art, no CD sleeves, nothing.  Just digital noise in a file.

Clearly who ever raised Emily did little (or perhaps couldn't do much) to turn Emily against the tide of "free music."

But what's Emily left with?

She cannot even comprehend that acquiring music "freely" is the same as stealing it.  Certainly there is some apparent nascent idea in her head that the artist is "not getting paid" but it seems clear that from her perspective its simply some "abstract" fault in society.

So given this background would we expect Emily to have any sort of nascent respect for the digital privacy or rights of others?

My guess is no - but to be fair to Emily she may have some basic notion that friends handing her a CD of passwords and logins might be "wrong" in some way.

So its little wonder that everybody and their brother is so concerned about security nor is surprising that everyone feels they must "lock down" their computer systems and data.

Yet even the "Letter To Emily" starts out with "My intention here is not to shame you or embarrass you...."

What's up with that?  Why not shame and embarrass her.  She's stealing.

The author of the piece claims to be a college teacher.  I wonder if he has a problem simply photocopying textbooks and passing out the result without compensating the authors.

In fact, should he write a text book or paper how would he feel if the same was done to him?

Today we see the signs of music everywhere - ear buds, iPhones, clouds of music, and so on.

Unfortunately everyone's "feel good" vibe seems to come at a very high price of those who actually produce what makes them feel good.

As a musician, someone who makes a living from creating intangible software, and as a performer I can see all sides of this.

I wrote "ASCAP" a while back and have covered the actions of the RIAA.

In general I think that strong arm tactics never work. 

Musicians instead need to educate everyone else about what it means to be properly compensated - but it will take a generation so that Emily's offspring know better...

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