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Saturday, January 10, 2009

Janis Ian's Article on File Sharing and the Music Industry, an excerpt

My brother Zac over at Reflections in the Void mentioned a great article by Janis Ian about file sharing and the music industry. (More from the artist at The article is from 2002, but it's still very relevant today. This is why I'm going to law school, people.

Here's a particularly pertinent excerpt in which Janis counters the claim that the RIAA et al. are fighting against file sharing to protect the interests of the artists:

I object violently to the pretense that they [the record labels] are in any way doing this for our benefit. If they really wanted to do something for the great majority of artists, who eke out a living against all odds, they could tackle some of the real issues facing us:
  • The normal industry contract is for seven albums, with no end date, which would be considered at best indentured servitude (and at worst slavery) in any other business. In fact, it would be illegal.

  • A label can shelve your project, then extend your contract by one more album because what you turned in was "commercially or artistically unacceptable". They alone determine that criteria.

  • Singer-songwriters have to accept the "Controlled Composition Clause" (which dictates that they'll be paid only 75% of the rates set by Congress in publishing royalties) for any major or subsidiary label recording contract, or lose the contract. Simply put, the clause demanded by the labels provides that a) if you write your own songs, you will only be paid 3/4 of what Congress has told the record companies they must pay you, and b) if you co-write, you will use your "best efforts" to ensure that other songwriters accept the 75% rate as well. If they refuse, you must agree to make up the difference out of your share.

  • Congressionally set writer/publisher royalties have risen from their 1960's high (2 cents per side) to a munificent 8 cents.Many of us began in the 50's and 60's; our records are still in release, and we're still being paid royalty rates of 2% (if anything) on them.If we're not songwriters, and not hugely successful commercially (as in platinum-plus), we don't make a dime off our recordings. Recording industry accounting procedures are right up there with films.

  • Worse yet, when records go out-of-print, we don't get them back! We can't even take them to another company. Careers have been deliberately killed in this manner, with the record company refusing to release product or allow the artist to take it somewhere else.

  • And because a record label "owns" your voice for the duration of the contract, you can't go somewhere else and re-record those same songs they turned down.

  • And because of the re-record provision, even after your contract is over, you can't record those songs for someone else for years, and sometimes decades.

  • Last but not least, America is the only country I am aware of that pays no live performance royalties to songwriters. In Europe, Japan, Australia, when you finish a show, you turn your set list in to the promoter, who files it with the appropriate organization, and then pays a small royalty per song to the writer. It costs the singer nothing, the rates are based on venue size, and it ensures that writers whose songs no longer get airplay, but are still performed widely, can continue receiving the benefit from those songs.

Please note that I am not advocating indiscriminate downloading without the artist's permission. I am not saying copyrights are meaningless. I am objecting to the RIAA spin that they are doing this to protect "the artists", and make us more money. I am annoyed that so many records I once owned are out of print, and the only place I could find them was Napster. Most of all, I'd like to see an end to the hysteria that causes a group like RIAA to spend over 45 million dollars in 2001 lobbying "on our behalf", when every record company out there is complaining that they have no money.

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B.R. said...

The very problem here lies with the fact that the artists' interests are not being given due attention.
I can't think of many artists who would object to their work being implemented for the purpose of creating yet another piece of art. Inspiration, I say, is a form of flattery. What the artists need and deserve!, is actual legislation that protects and supports them.

Sra said...

Amen. That's what I hope to work toward in my career. Legislation that protects both artists and users of art fairly.

Sra said...

Amen. That's what I hope to work toward in my career. Legislation that protects both artists and users of art fairly.

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