A common enemy for technologists and artists: The entertainment industry

A few days ago, Eric S. Raymond published “An Open Letter to Chris Dodd“. Dodd is a former Senator who followed the well-worn career path from legislator to lobbyist and is now CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America. Raymond is an Internet pioneer, accomplished programmer and developer, leader of the Open Source movement, editor of The New Hacker’s Dictionary, and general Cyberspace presence. The letter explores the tug-of-war between the technology and content industries that came to a head with the defeat in January of two pieces of anti-”piracy” legislation, SOPA and PIPA, a defeat brought about by an unprecedented organized protest from the online community.

Ever since their demise, Dodd begins his speeches on SOPA and PIPA with the mantra “Hollywood is pro-technology and pro-Internet“, and Raymond takes this phrase as his point of departure. He addresses Dodd on behalf of “the technologists”:

I’m not talking about Google or the technology companies, mind you – I’m talking about the actual engineers who built the Internet and keep it running, who write the software you rely on every day of your life in the 21st century.

And on behalf of those technologists, those engineers, Raymond makes a number of excellent points and makes them beautifully. Here are some excerpts (but do read the entire letter):

There are some things we will not stand having done to our network. We will not have it censored. We built the Internet as a tool to make every individual human being on the planet more empowered. Whatever else we Internet geeks may disagree on among ourselves, we will not allow our gift of fire to be snuffed out by jealous gods. One of the cardinal rules for any politician who wants to have a long career in a 21st-century democracy has to be “don’t screw with the Internet”. Because it will screw you right back.

Many of us make our living from “intellectual property”. Most of us are willing to respect intellectual property rights, but there’s a place where that respect abruptly ends. It stops at exactly the point where DRM threatens to cripple our computers and our software. Some companies propose, in order to support DRM, locking up computers so they can only run “approved” systems. If you imagine a sculptor told that his new chisel would only cut shapes pre-approved by a committee of shape vendors, you might begin to fathom the depths of our anger at these proposals.

We think Big Entertainment is largely run by liars and thieves who systematically rip off the artists they claim to be protecting with their DRM, then sue their own customers because they’re too stupid to devise an honest way to make money. Having laws like SOPA/PIPA/ACTA pushed at us on behalf of a special-interest group we consider no better than gangsters and dimwits makes it much worse. If you make the technologists choose between the big-media gangsters and the content pirates, effectively all of us will side with the content pirates as the lesser of the two evils. Because maybe both sides are stealing on a vast scale, but only one of them doesn’t want to screw with our Internet or cripple our computers.

And here’s the key point:

We’d really prefer to oppose both groups, though. Our sympathies in this mess are with the artists being ripped off by both sides.

In support of Raymond’s sympathies, we’ve seen a recent parade of artists telling us how badly they’ve been treated by the entertainment industry:

I am the former lead singer of a 60′s band. I performed before thousands. I did not squander my money on drugs. I went from 1967-1994 before I saw my first royalty check. One major TV network used our song for a national commercial and my payment was $625. I am now 72, trying to live on $1200 a month. Sweet Relief, a music charity, is taking donations for me.

  • Director of Repo Man says, “Pirate my stuff!” In recognition of the Blu-ray release of Repo Man in the UK, director Alex Cox was interviewed, and noted that there’s been no discussion of a US release. As it happens, Bloomberg News recently editorialized on the bizarre and self-destructive nature of the film industry’s geography- and format-oriented distribution system. Cox lays it on the line:

It’s so corrupt. Now they want to have longer copyright periods because they say the young artists are relying on this money. The young artists never see any money because they sign away that money to big media corporations, like Universal and Viacom. We, the artists, lose all of our rights to these massive corporations, who then come down heavy on these kids for downloading films and music that we never see a penny from. It’s complete bullshit. I want to encourage your audience to go and pirate a bunch of my stuff right away.

Ok so just a heads up, my weak ass label only shipped 55k physicals cuz they treated this like some indie side project tax right off. So i apologize on behalf of my weak ass major label. And I apologize for the lack of promo, again, my weak ass major label. They tried to rush me thru this so i can just give em another MOTM, but guess what? Next album is WZRD. MOTM3 on hold til 2014. who mad??? not me and @DotDaGenius. So its def gonna be tough to find one in the stores guys, I’m sorry about that. I gotta go out and find one too, becuz my weak ass label never even gave us a copy of our own album. FAIL!!! Im lettin Universal Republic have it. What they gon’ do, spank me?? hahahaha.

It is and has been for quite some time our position that Victory Records is an artist-hostile, morally corrupt and generally dishonest company, with whom we have had the displeasure of being associated due to a contract that was signed years ago. We’re not writing this today to air grievances, of which there are many; numerous bands’ struggles with Victory are well-documented (and many more are sealed by a court of law), so we figured we’re going to skip the allegations and try to solve the problem, as we see it.

We’re writing today to ask you to please boycott all Streetlight related items by not purchasing any of our records or merchandise from Victory’s website, any traditional CD stores, online third party retailers or any digital distribution service (iTunes, Amazon etc). Victory has a long-time reputation of pocketing all of the proceeds from a band’s music and merch, with shady accounting and generally bully-ish behavior. If you want to support Streetlight, our music and our ability to tour and continue to release music, please make all SM related purchases from our own webstore, The RISC Store (www.riscstore.com), or come out to a show and buy a shirt or cd from us directly. In regards to getting the music we make, you can buy directly from us, or, alternately, we’re sure you can find a way to get the tunes onto your computer that may not be, ahem, traditional… Speaking a Bit metaphorically, there is a Torrent of methods to accomplish this, and Google is your always loyal friend…

Motörhead, the hardest working, hardest touring band in the world, loves when fans buy their records, but not this time. A new box set, called Complete Early Years Box Set, has just come out by the company who has the rights to the band’s early recordings, and they are charging over $600 for it! “Unfortunately greed once again rears its yapping head,” says iconic frontman Lemmy Kilmister. “I would advise against it even for the most rabid completists!” Motörhead have no control over what’s done with these early songs, and don’t want fans to think that the band is involved in putting out such a costly box set.

No one who follows the entertainment industry will be surprised by these reports. What’s hard to believe is that, in the face of all evidence to the contrary, Chris Dodd and Cary Sherman continue to promote the MPAA and RIAA to Congress and to the world as champions of the artists.

/Steve/

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