Orson Scott Card on the MP3 piracy issue.

This was shown to me by an EverQuest friend of mine, and I thought you guys might be interested to read something on the issue from an artist’s point of view.

Orson Scott Card is an author, primarily of the fantasy genre (his best-known works likely being Ender’s Game and the Alvin Maker series).

I thought about posting this in GD, because of the nature of the subject, but then I realized I don’t really have a debate about this article, I just wanted to share it with you all, so here we are.


Note that Card is a pretty much alone on this issue among writers. The vast majority understand the RIAA’s position and are against the massive copyright violation of file sharing.

Or maybe there are many writers who support it, they just haven’t taken the time to write Op-Eds like Clark?

BTW, did you know that every American who didn’t attend a protest supported the war against Iraq? :rolleyes:


Or maybe there are many writers who support it, they just haven’t taken the time to write Op-Eds like OSC?

BTW, did you know that every American who didn’t attend a protest supported the war against Iraq? :rolleyes:


shrug It made perfect sense to me.

From Orson Scott Card:

Aah! The liberation of the artist! Thanks to the advance of technology, artists are beginning to realize they can create, publish and advertise on their own.

We are seeing the beginning of the end of the war between record companies and musicians. The big money will make the fight last, but the outcome is inevitable. They will use ugly tactics, but in the end, we’ll buy stuff we like, and the good stuff will float to the top. Record companies will have to make money in more honest ways.

Musicians and their fans will win.

No, I think you’re misreading that.

What we’re seeing is more the end of mass entertainment. With movies perilously close to going the way of the recording industry we’ll see this with the MPAA, too.


But really, I think the end result of this will be the end of large scale music and acting all around.

  1. Filesharing will eventually destroy the large scale recording and motion picture industry.
  2. Musicians will make less money because there will be less money chasing music.
  3. Ditto for actors.
  4. Bands will be able to release music (as now) through the Internet and it will or will not be picked up on by fans through random chance and word of mouth. Fine.
  5. Odds are fewer bands will hit ‘big’ and gain fame and fortune but more will be able to ‘make a living’ on a smaller scale.
  6. More bands succeeding with smaller audiences means fewer large tours and more club dates (a big damn plus in my book). However that also reduces the money chasing musicians in the overall picture.

So if you expect bands to stay larger than life without the labels you’re fooling yourself (IMHO) but that’s not a bad thing altogether. Just don’t expect the status quo to continue when the large money is pulled out of it.

I also expect, without mucho money out there, fewer people will begin to play music as a major incentive will be removed. Having played in several bands as a kid I can confidently assert that two of the major motivators for picking up and instrument and dreaming are cash and girls. Remove cash and you remove a big section of ‘girls’ from the equation, too (sad but true).

A boon here might be (from my jaundiced POV) that the one’s who will NOT go for the musician life will be those who weren’t really good. The one’s who love music for its own sake or for the skill involved will still play.

The thing is with more bands making a livable income out there, there will be more music. As it is now, most bands fail and go bankrupt whereas a few become multimillionaires. I’m all for copyprotection of original works but I think that most record industry professionals are crooks.l

Well, that’s silly.

Most of them are just Joe Blow Guy who’s just been hired to do a job.

Trim that brush down to size.

Finally, some good sense about the subject. I would have thrown in some legal/philisophical stuff about the purpose of the public domain and free speech. And I would have added some hysteria about this being the most important issue of our times. But overall, a very clear and hard-to-argue against article. I wish more artists with similer beliefs would break the silence.

Wanna free book?

Here’s a couple more.

Or some public domain goodness.

There’s plenty of people out there who support the sharing of information, and who (rightly, IMO) view the RIAA style arguments as little more than “The sky is falling!”

They just never make the news.


How could I forget Project Gutenberg!

What you’re really seeing is the democratization of art. Technology is eliminating central control of the product of art.

The result could be the end of the mega-artist, but the revitalization of local, regional, and niche artists.

Think of the effect of cable on television. Rather than having a ‘big three’ of networks, you have hundreds of channels.

If you want to listen to radio, you’re no longer stuck with the handful of 50,000 watt monster stations in your region. Internet radio, XM radio, and now low-power radio is opening the airwaves and communications channels to everyone.

In music, sales of the mega-stars are down, but there is a mini renaissance of independent music. Small-label musicianss are seeing their fan bases grow like crazy. Bands that not long ago would have been playing 300 seat bars are now selling out 2,000 seat venues.

Card is exactly right. Record companies as they are structured today are dinosaurs. When an artist can produce a record in a home studio, market it on the internet, and produce CD’s on demand, huge monolithic record companies are way overkill, and the amount they want to skim off the entire transaction is completely out of line.

Not long ago, internet radio stations tried to cut a deal with the record companies whereby they would pay the same royalties per song played as regular radio stations. The record companies refused, and forced most of them out of business with outrageous fees. The reason: because internet radio threatens their marketing structure and their control over what does and doesn’t get heard. As long as record companies control the distribution channels, they can force artists to deal with them. Want to go independent? Fine. Now go try to get your record on the local Clearchannel affiliate.

In the future, I see a record industry fragmented like publishing is - a mix of medium-sized labels, small labels, independent studios, artists agents, producers, etc. Large web retailers will accept MP3’s from anyone (by offering server space and marketing for a fee, perhaps), and songs will climb up the charts strictly on their merits. Artists will put out an album, have a blog on their album site, a discussion board, sell merchandise, etc. A critical part of the new distribution chain will be web housses that will sell you server space, design your web site, host streaming feeds, etc. Perhaps they’ll also offer management help, book tours, etc. We don’t know the exact structure of the new music industry, because its structure will grow from the needs of the market.

Somewhere in there will be some of the old record labels - those that could adapt to the new reality, restructure themselves, and stay innovative. Just like some carriage builders made the successful leap to manufacturing car bodies and other structures, and some vaudeville companies managed to move into movies.

In the meantime, the old dinosaurs are going to try to use the heavy hand of government to protect them from the opening of Pandora’s box.

The record companies are going about this all wrong. By trying to intimidate people or by inventing tricky copyprotections (which sometimes even downgrade the quality of the cd, when it involves the cd players error correction for example) they alienate the “honest” customers.

If the message is “Hey, you paid an outrageous price for a cd and now we´re restricting your right of a backup copy, because we are afraid of piracy, which will happen anyway.” then that sends the clear message that they don´t care about the customer. It should be no wonder that people only buy CD from bands they like and copy the occassional song from other bands then.

Of course it´s a tragedy when bands like Samian disband, because everybody just copied their songs and didn´t buy the albums anymore. But, I do believe that this is rather the exception and all the points Card had were quite valid. The industry needs to change and heed the signs of the times, instead of trying to turn back the clock.

Look, heeding the signs of the times leads nowhere but destruction for the large labels. So where’s the percentage in it for them?

There’s enough money at stake here to justify some nasty manuvering by those in power.

The ‘revolution’ isn’t going to come from the customers. It’s got to come from the artists. A few bands now are taking risks and doing self-promotion on the internet and relying on merchandise and concert sales for their income, plus smaller CD sales.

There will come a time when we hit a tipping point. There will be a few internet mega-hits, where artists disconnected from any label will become so popular that the traditional distribution networks don’t want to be shut out of the action. MTV will pay to produce their video, sidestepping the labels. Radio stations that play their music will gain market share over those who don’t. Etc.

This has come close to happening already. When Wilco made “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot”, their record label abandoned the album and sold it back to them, claiming it was unmarketable. Ten years ago, it would have gone in the dustbin and never heard except for maybe some bootleg tapes or something. But Wilco put it on their web site for free download - and word of mouth spread. Their music became some of the most downloaded on Napster. The attention got them some glowing reviews in the indy press, and then the mainstream press. Eventually, the record companies came knocking again - and this time paid twice as much for the album as they paid the first time around.

And here’s the interesting thing - despite being available totally free and legal on their website, and being heavily downloaded on Napster, the album opened at #13 - by FAR the highest debut for a Wilco album. All those people who downloaded the album and loved it went out and bought the CD the day it was released. Because when albums of real quality come along, people still want to buy them. Just like people would rather have a real painting than a print. You want the liner notes, the actual product, and the higher quality.

And Wilco was really smart - those who purchased the CD found a code inside that could be used to download bonus tracks from their web site. And they put some videos and trailers on the CD as well.

But really, for small artists like Wilco, record sales themselves don’t make them any money. The labels make sure of that. No, the records are really advertising - getting the word out, getting people listening, so that when the band tours it can sell out venues and sell tons of T-shirts and such.

The internet is perfect for that kind of promotion.

Out of curiousity, how much do you use file sharing? I, for one, can tell you that it is NOT representative of an equilibrium, and will need to evolve somehow. If the record labels get their collective heads out of their collective cornholes, the following will happen: Music will be free. You heard me right. Music will be free. How will the labels make money? Oh, that’s easy. They’ll charge for speed, quality, selection, reliability, novelty, lack of risk, accessories, and community. If you give file sharing enough time, however, not only will music be free, but a number of those other concerns will fall by the wayside. One of the better ways to implement this plan would be for labels to join hands with bandwidth providers and serve music to those who pay a flat fee, a la emusic.com.

On the copyright front, I would love to see copyright periods slashed; after all, they were initially 14 years, and that was during a time of sparse, lethargic innovation. Today, with culture moving as fast as it does, how can we afford to keep fundamentally free resources under lock and key for “forever minus a day”? But this is another debate. :slight_smile:

From the article quoted in the OP:

As long as this is the case, I find it ironic that the record labels are being screwed. They had it coming.

Not long ago, the morality of illegal filesharing was discussed in this very long and rather heated thread.

I said it there and I’ll say it here: the technology is going to force the industry to adapt. Reading about the example of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot shows that it is indeed possible to have a win-win situation for everybody. Except for the evil record labels. :slight_smile: