Law in the Internet Society
-- JianweiFang - 08 Nov 2008

Jianwei Fang's First Paper

Note: This paper is not finalized yet and welcome comments from everyone. As English is my second language, I also welcome editing on the language and style.

Is the Internet killing or (re-)making our musicians?

Just a few weeks ago, I visited a law firm for a summer program position interview, as many other 2Ls were busy with these days. “So, what music do you like?” started one interviewer, noticing that I put music as one of my interests on my resume. To be honest, I did not really expect such an off-the-topic question. “Well, I used to play guitar a little bit, and I like pop music.” That was the end of the music conversation and he started to ask questions that really related to the interview.

After I got back home, however, I realized that I have not really been following the pop music for a long while, probably since out of college. How much do I know about the current pop music? Alicia Keys may be the only active singer I could name. (This is because I happened to listen her music on the radio during a road trip last year.) Although I am only in my twenties, I am a fan of old songs, really old. I loved, and still love Beatles, Carpenters that swept the pop music world long time ago. For recent decades, there were Whiteney Houston, Celine Dion andMariah Carry. In the Chinese music world where I grew up, I don’t even know any single still active in the industry (though I am sure there will be more stars). I remember, however, I had many favorite Chinese bands and singers from 1980s and early 1990s. I had a chance to listen to the recent pop music, but I never wanted to listen the shits for a second time. Believe it or not, there is no so much good music nowadays, at least for me.

I started to wonder why there is not much good music. Has the younger generation simply lost reactivity and gift in arts and music? Surely I will not buy this explanation. In fact, I started to believe that it is the music industry which killed a generation of musicians.

A lost generation: Music industry killed our musicians

The business model of music industry is to make as many new stars very year as it could, to replace those that fade as quickly. Musician controlled by the industry, could bring more profits if they are celebrity rather than good musicians. As a resule, The music industry, which is highly monopolized by a few labels, have every intention to turn good musicians into celebrities. In stead of gifts in music, the industry wants people who is beautiful enough to catch public attention. They do not have to have a long list of award-wining albums, but they must have extensive exposure to the media.

As a result, instead of providing opportunities to musician so they can present good music to consumers, the music industry has degenerated into a celebrity-making machine. The industry will make every efforts to make their stars exposed all the time by all means. If the media has not reported a star in a week, the company will always arrange some events, disclose some privacy or relationship news of the star, or even simply create some controversy to attract public attention. They hope that by excessive exposure, that the celebrity will sustain their status to be sold as a commodity to the public.

On the other hand, many people who are really good at music are turned down by the industry simply because they are not “beautiful” enough. People who are beautiful and also lucky to have music gifts, are expected to be a celebrity. Many really gifted musicians may also indulge in the feeling of chased by media and fans, and they lost their own identity as a musician, thus also their tenants of making great music.

Does the Internet download hurt musicians?

The music industry has seen dramatic sales drop in recent years. The industry, notebaly RIAA and NARAS, attributes it to internet downloading, and claims that illegal downloading will kill the industry, and thus hurting musicians. They argue that consumers are not buying more music because they are downloading or copying their music for free. That is not true, at least in my case. I would be happier to buy good music if they are available, I just don’t like the quality of music that is being produced.

Many other writers have already pointed out that internet download is not the reason of declining sale. In a 2001 research report, Josh Bernoff, a most frequently quoted research analyst at Forrester, suggested that the CD sale drop is due to economy and competition from other industry such as video game and movie. He predicted that once the industry endorses a standard download contract that supports burning and a greater range of devices, downloading will start to soar as finding content becomes effortless and impulse buys easy, which will bring the music industry a lot of revenue. His prediction actually proved true. According to US Market Research Firm NPD Group, iTunes recently surpassed Wal-Mart as America's largest music distributor.

What internet sharing can do for musicians?

The internet sharing has reshaped the music world since it started decades ago. Rather than hurting musicians, I believe it will do many good to them. Online sharing, just as radio has been doing for more than a century, would promote music only at a faster and more effective and cost-efficient way. Compared with radio, online sharing does not need heavy radio station equipment, personnel, or even government license. It also enables consumers to easily find and listen to the music of their tastes. The internet better targets the younger generation growing up surfing the net, rather than listening to the radio every morning and night.

With internet technology, selling music does not need an audio store, or even shipment. Music can be sold easily online, which can boost sales of their music. The CD sales by the music industry, will not likely be benefited because the consumers have already got tired of the idea to buy a CD with only one or two hit needed (the Warner Music once tried to sell three songs e-labels, but it does not solve the problem all together because consumers can still not to choose which three songs in the e-label). However, for musicians, their hit songs and other songs that is really good will likely see better sales. As reported in Feb 2008, ITunes, which sells individual songs rather than CDs, has already taken Best-Buy as the number 2 music retailer in the US.

More importantly, the internet also frees the musicians. It has enabled musicians, especially those independent, to sustain on their own, without subject to heavy exploitation by the label companies. Websites like has been selling music by independent yet talented musicians for years. Without all the overhead charges and unnecessary marketing expenses by the label companies, the musicians are paid 50% of the sale revenue, which is much higher that what they will get paid from label companies.

Even free or illegal music download will help musicians in some ways. Not all musicians want a whole lot of money from their music sales. For some of them, music is just expressing themselves, whether an expression of affection or point of view. Some just enjoy the practicing of their musician skills, no matter what others think. For some musicians, it is having their work appreciated and continues on in the hands of others. Finally for the rest, music is a way to earn a living and pursue riches. Therefore, for many musicians, internet downloading, even totally free, will well serves their goals of making good music, and keep them highly motivated to produce more good music.

Lastly, we should bear in mind that music sales is not the only way to make musicians rich. With free yet effective internet promotion, our musicians can easily gain a massive base of fans, therefore to improve their images or even earn celebrity status. Once they have loyal fans, they can make easy money by holding concerts, publishing books and appearing in TVs and commercials, though they do not have to do all these. Under this model, a musician must first take good care of his/her first job (that is, making good music), all other things will then work out for them automatically. At the end of the days, good musicians will emerge and those not very good will be forgotten. Doesn’t that sound good to musicians? And also to us?

It does sound good, but so would an idealized description of the existing recording industry. The question isn't whether an idealized picture can be created but what is actually happening, on one hand, and what should happen on the other. If we understand precisely what is currently going on, and we know what we are trying to accomplish, we may be able to shape social and legal strategy to get from here to there.

But I don't think the present text corresponds in that sense to either an assessment of current circumstances or an articulation of a goal. Are we seeking the welfare of musicians, the improvement of music, the freedom of intellectual exchange, other objectives, and in what combination? The criterion of "everyone currently doing all right will do all right except the music recording companies" might seem to unify objectives with current situation, but I would not regard mere harm to those companies as an indication of success.

So I would suggest a clearer consideration of the purpose of the essay: to explain what is happening, to indicate the goal we are trying to achieve, etc. Then I think rewriting the draft to be more clearly directed at the achievement of that purpose will be both simple and valuable.

-- EbenMoglen - 15 Nov 2008



Webs Webs

r2 - 15 Nov 2008 - 18:55:44 - EbenMoglen
This site is powered by the TWiki collaboration platform.
All material on this collaboration platform is the property of the contributing authors.
All material marked as authored by Eben Moglen is available under the license terms CC-BY-SA version 4.
Syndicate this site RSSATOM