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Frank Turner

Angry Thoughts On A Tired Subject

August 26, 2009

A rant today, if you’ll allow me. Earlier this morning I posted, on the 21st Century fuckfest that is Twitter, a link to this article at The Daily Mash. As per usual, it was both very funny and incisive, addressing the recent change in legislation with regard to illegal downloading. I can’t say I’m a huge fan of either Mandleson or Geffen, and the propsed legislation is dubious both in origin and content. The part of the article that I enjoyed the most was the satirization of the common adolescent justifications for illegal downloading (or, as I prefer to call it, “theft”). My post gave rise to a deluge of replies on the subject, some heated exchanges, and basically ended up with me wanting to smash through the 140 character barrier and say what I think here.

This is a tired subject, and I don’t want to rehash the whole thing. Obviously you can’t un-invent the internet (nor would I want to, it’s one of humanity’s highest achievements), and obviously illegal downloading happens, and is here to stay. To be philosophical about it, the industry structure that has successfully rewarded musicians and others (engineers, producers, PRs, agents and so on) for their labour since the 1960s is in the process of dissolving. I’m confident that the wonders of capitalism will, within a few years, throw up a new system. But that hasn’t happened conclusively as of yet. The basic fact of economics is that we reimburse people for enjoying the fruits of their labour. A situation where people labour and are not reimbursed is untenable and unjust.

So my thoughts for the day are these. Firstly, while I am confident that we will realign, it’d be naive not to notice the danger that a generation of people are coming up who do not understand why they should pay for music at all. It seems churlish to restate, but let’s put it this way: recording isn’t free, instruments aren’t free, session players, producers, engineers, artists aren’t free. My time isn’t free either – I work hard and I expect to get paid for it. Maybe we are heading for a world in which all recorded music is free, but if so, be prepared for gig and T-shirt prices to rise.

Secondly, the idea that by stealing music from the internet you’re somehow crusading for justice against the big bad record labels is absolute fucking bullshit and needs to be stamped out. Britney Spears and David Geffen aren’t going to downsize their condo’s because you didn’t pay for a Fugazi album. The people hit first and foremost are the low-level workers in the industry and smaller or independent artists. Telling yourself otherwise is, in my opinion, more often than not a lame attempt to salve a guilty conscience.

This brings me onto point three: most people don’t know very much about the mechanics of the music industry, but feel qualified to theorize about its economics at length. I actually find this pretty insulting. I don’t spend my time wandering into hospitals / shops / schools / banks telling staff how much they should be being paid, or how much they should charge for any good or service, because I don’t know enough about it. Having worked in the music industry for a few years, I do a fair bit about it, and I think illegal downloading is a bad thing. As a point of proof, find me any indie record store or independent artist who thinks that file-sharing is a boon for them and their career. QED.

Point four is just a reply to one point someone made to me earlier. They said that by “stealing” my album they’d come to buy gig tickets and T-shirts which they would not otherwise have done. First up, lose the quote marks, it’s stealing, plain and simple (basically shoplifting for cowards). Secondly, that’s like saying it’s OK for me to steal a car because I’m going to put petrol in it. Duh.

Finally, if you’re going to be a thief and enjoy the products of the labour of strangers without paying for it, don’t fucking tell me about it! I know people are going to nick my music, at the end of the day. But fuck, don’t email me about it!

End rant. Sorry to go on and on about this. But like I say, I wanted to get it off my chest. Carry on.