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Pirates have a proverb: if your boat is sinking, don't sue the water - Pirates have a proverb: if your boat is sinking, don't sue the water - click opera Page 2 — LiveJournal
February 2010
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Thu, Apr. 6th, 2006 10:37 am
Pirates have a proverb: if your boat is sinking, don't sue the water

More tales of piracy today. A story in the LA Times, Sinking a music pirate, details the cautionary tale of one Mickey Borchardt, a student arrested by the FBI and involved in a criminal trial for illegally trading music files online. The RIAA are not sueing him, but are clearly behind this, and have recorded a propaganda video in which Mickey "repents". Mickey talks in the LA Times article about his deep shame about his former life as a buccaneer on the high seas of P2P. He has become a collaborator, a shill. The message is that property is property and theft is theft. He pled guilty in March and will be sentenced in May "in the same courthouse as Zacarias Moussaoui", which, symbolically at least, can only mean one thing: the death penalty. But, while that's no less than Mickey seems to think he deserves, it won't mean much; he's already ritually disembowelled himself on behalf of the RIAA and its message.

I have a few things to say about this. First of all, Mickey, as a recording artist I have to say "Thanks for dying one thousand deaths, but you have not died for me. NOT IN MY NAME!" The RIAA's cause is not mine. If I have to choose between being an industry bod and being a pirate, well, I choose piracy every time. The free blue waves of the high seas of musical adventure win out over the fenced green tombstones of the money-property graveyard. Of course they do.

Let's take a case in point. Some reckless buccaneer with a music blog has posted the whole of the new Stereolab album Fab Four Suture. Here it is. Now, I know Stereolab personally. I wouldn't say they're exactly friends, but we've played together, appeared on panels together, and so on. How do I feel about downloading their stuff? Well, I feel it's okay. I agree with the general impression that (like the music industry itself, some might say) Stereolab have been coasting for a while. They keep releasing the same record. It's a nice record, subtly arranged, pleasant. But I've bought it quite a few times already. So I feel justified in just downloading this new one.

No doubt some people will feel the same way about my new record, Ocky Milk, and that's fine too. These "unconvinced" listeners will at least listen, even if they don't buy. That may not matter to the RIAA, but it matters to me as an artist. And even if these people don't buy this record, they may buy another one, or they may come to a live show, or they may pay for a track off iTunes or E Music.

Or, you know, one of these downloaders may have sex with me, or give me a column in a magazine, or ask me to come and give a talk at an art school, or collaborate on a project, and that will lead to, you know, marriage, or a surprise twist in the career path, or something equally amazing. "Peer-to-peer" can mean much more than just sharing music. To the RIAA, a "peer" is simply a freeloading customer, a source of monetary loss. But to me a peer is a person, the source of all sorts of possible gains, quantifiable or not. To the RIAA, with a business agenda but no human agenda, that peer engaging in P2P can only mean the loss of dollars. To me it can mean the possibility of barter (the theme of artist Carolina Caycedo's work), but also friendship, communication, and a million other human possibilities.

Live At the Witch Trials is an article on Pitchfork about the RIAA's persecution of P2P pirates. "Recorded music sales worldwide have dropped by more than 15% since peaking at nearly $40 billion in 2000," says entertainment lawyer Steve Gordon. "Although sales of digital singles on iTunes and other authorized digital services have multiplied in volume, they have not earned nearly enough income to offset lost income from declining CD sales... I tend to believe there is a cause and effect between P2P and declining music sales -- but that the record companies exacerbated the impact of P2P by (a) Overpricing CDs, and (b) Failing to give music lovers a high quality low priced alternative to P2P."

Exactly. But it's bigger than that. The record industry pays too much attention to incremental changes in sales figures and too little to the big picture: the sea change the internet has brought, and the big navigational changes we need to make in order to respond to it. The important questions are the ones the RIAA isn't asking. Does music want or need to be property? Does it want or need to be an object? What happens when you get a number one single without selling a single CD? Is it worth becoming a beastly, litigious and unpopular person for the sake of a lost 15% and a rigid adherence to an outdated (and unjust) business plan? Shouldn't the music industry instead be thinking about the post-atom bit and the post-bit atom, developing a new focus on non-digitizable forms (concerts! performances!), or looking at how physical music objects might enhance themselves as niche products?

I still like CDs. As an artist, that's one of the things I make. I want you, ideally, to buy my CDs. They're the best platform for me to communicate from, and I put a lot of work into getting them right. I commission beautiful sleeves from James Goggin, I get John Talaga to design morphs between tracks that make no sense at all if you're listening on an iPod shuffle. I prefer the AIFF format to the mp3 format. It sounds a bit better. I have other issues with mp3, but they're mostly about music saturation and the risks of audio pollution of the environment (the subject of my next Wired column, as well as a Click Opera entry last month). I do think buying CDs is virtuous, but it won't always seem that way if the people selling them appear as vicious as the RIAA currently does. We pirates have a proverb: if your boat is sinking, don't sue the water.

There's no high moral ground when you're at sea, but if you want this whole thing in landlubber language, nobody puts it better than Saint Matthew, apostle and evangelist: "Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knows that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you."


Thu, Apr. 6th, 2006 08:27 pm (UTC)

Y'know, I've read lots and lots of articles smearing the RIAA. Hell, back in my heady columnist days I wrote quite a few. But this one takes the cake: it gets to the real crux of the biscuit, as Zappa would say -- what is property? Can music be "owned"?

And you're absolutely right: the P2P platform does open itself up to some exciting collaborative possibilities. Are you familiar with the "demo scene" that is an integral to the Soulseek community?

-Rob R.

Thu, Apr. 6th, 2006 09:17 pm (UTC)
Re: Well-played!

so, can you explain then why your music on emusic.com is restricted and cannot be purchased by people here in New Zealand? (and other countries i'm sure)

emusic sez "We're sorry. This album is unavailable for download in your country (New Zealand) at this time. Please check back later."

(meanwhile itunes is yet only selling in a handful of countries so far)

I'm happy to pay for it... but it's a question of how much effort i want to put into finding somewhere that will actually sell it to me.

hence P2P is my friend

ReplyThread Parent

Thu, Apr. 6th, 2006 10:16 pm (UTC)

i really like the design for the ocky milk cover. did you say it was to be released in august?


Thu, Apr. 6th, 2006 10:39 pm (UTC)

If someone offers something for sale, you either buy it under their conditions or not at all. If you take it sureptitiously and make up your own conditions to justify the "transaction" it is nothing other than theft. If you don't like the conditions, don't take the product!

Fri, Apr. 7th, 2006 12:45 am (UTC)
This is sort of a reductive and american way of thinking about it..

You really shouldn't buy things always necessarily on the seller's terms though. This allows too much manipulation of the consumer by the seller. You shouldn't really buy from anyone that would use your need to succumb to their conditions and turn it against you. Of course, music is arguably not a "need," as far as tangible survival goes. It is, however, in demand. This allows for the same "need-want" based manipulation. Their terms become very self serving, because they can!

Learn to be a little more selfish. sensually.

ReplyThread Parent

Thu, Apr. 6th, 2006 11:50 pm (UTC)

I love how the article "sinking a music pirate" only briefly mentions that he thinks pirating music is wrong because of it's effect on the people who make the music. The primary message seemed like "Piracy is wrong because the FBI will come and get you because it's wrong."
No musing on the consequencies or effects, just good old fashioned fear mongering. Love it.

Dave Nold
Fri, Apr. 7th, 2006 12:45 am (UTC)

Sharing music is a small part of what we do on the internet. The internet is a huge colaboration. People are connected all over the world peer to peer. Corporations would love to contol the internet. They will use music downloading as an excuse to clamp down. They'll use pornography as a reason to clamp down. Pornography and music are billion dollar industries and they want to keep it that way.

I had a dream the other day that Disney puchased the internet. It was a nightmare.

Get Involved


(no subject) - (Anonymous)
Stanley Lieber
Fri, Apr. 7th, 2006 06:07 am (UTC)

You know, hyperlinking is patented.

ReplyThread Parent

Fri, Apr. 7th, 2006 05:46 am (UTC)
RIAA Propoganda Video

Do you have a link to the Propaganda Video? I got to see this.

( ... )
Fri, Apr. 7th, 2006 07:00 am (UTC)

terrifying stuff. im horrified that the authorities are persecuting these poor kids just to make examples of them.

after living in china for so long i think ive forgotten how seriously piracy is taken back home, since here it's such a large part of the economy. aside from DVDs and CDs, i can't even walk home from work without being offered fake Gucci bags and Rolex watches. there are even knockoff Starbucks, KFCs and Taco Bells here.

interestingly enough the selection of DVDs is far superior to CDs, because music is so much easier to download than movies. CDs are also more expensive, usually selling for $2-3 versus DVDs which are usually less than $1. online piracy actually puts market pressure on the disk pirates!

Fri, Apr. 7th, 2006 07:29 am (UTC)

Thanks, Nick, for one of your best ever posts.

Have you read this?


It's one of the better articles about where the music "industry" (oxymoron) is headed. Obviously you've read the "Long Tail" too?


Fri, Apr. 7th, 2006 07:45 am (UTC)

I find people who boast that they have "200 GB of music!!! lol!! w00t!" also greedy and unpleasant, and not romantic pirate-like at all.


Fri, Apr. 7th, 2006 08:18 am (UTC)

Is this actually you on morrissey-solo.com (commenting on Morrissey's "Life is a Pigsty")?

its his most perfect piece of Whitechapel Music Hall art since Rubber Ring

don't you agree


The online preview of songs has to pass the "is it worth buying?" test. Most don't pass. Richard Hawley's "Coles Corner" has passed with flying colours.

Fri, Apr. 7th, 2006 10:14 am (UTC)

Image hosting by Photobucket


Fri, Apr. 7th, 2006 10:20 am (UTC)

I agree with you on many points, Nick. I have bought brand new 20 VODKA JELLIES, PING PONG, OSKAR TENNIS CHAMPION,LITTLE RED SONGBOOK and FOLTRONIC. These seem to be the easiest for me to locate. Alot of the older material I had to download just to hear it. I stumbled on a promo of OTTO SPOOKY used and couldn't pass it up. Never seen SUMMERISLE anywhere!!!! I think it all rounds itself out in the end. Mostly , I try to download mostly live things or commercially unavailable things, but a few things slip through the cracks.

Fri, Apr. 7th, 2006 10:50 am (UTC)

"Recorded music sales worldwide have dropped by more than 15% since peaking at nearly $40 billion in 2000," says entertainment lawyer Steve Gordon.

The RIAA trots out this argument, but never bothers pointing out the reasons why their sales have decreased.

The music industry releases fewer records than it used to, promotes its artists less, and keeps raising the price of CDs, while sales for other piracy-prone industries such as DVDs and videogames have increased, despite the ubiquitous nature of P2P and CD/DVD burning equipment.

The RIAA also fails to point out the economic slump, and its effect on CD sales. During the recession in 1991, CD sales also decreased considerably. Why should it be any different now?

It's also worth pointing out that a recent study by the Canadian Record Industry Association counters many of the claims made by the RIAA, and indicates that P2P users actually buy more CDs than average.

XWSF Tassell
Fri, Apr. 7th, 2006 12:23 pm (UTC)

The music industry releases fewer records than it used to, promotes its artists less, and keeps raising the price of CDs

It also refuses to recognise or invest in new talent. Its' hubcore rests on the laurels of the vile logjam of MOJO culture - i.e. each new generation of adolescent young men subscribing to the myth of rock-lore and buying up continuously repackaged back-catalogues of Bowie, The Velvet Underground, Beatles, etc. Either that, or new groups that sound like old groups.

ReplyThread Parent

Fri, Apr. 7th, 2006 10:58 am (UTC)
New Stereolab

That first song was absolutely awful - skipped it.

But the second track was so good! It sounded like a new and interesting direction for Stereolab to take - like Stereolab scoring a blacksploitation movie.

To my dismay, the rest of the tracks fit your review to a T. So boring.


Fri, Apr. 7th, 2006 01:39 pm (UTC)

another day in the vineyard of song. as the great robert fripp said "music is the wine that fills the cup of silence" - i feel slightly tipsy and my ears are ringing. tonight we went out on a boat and saw some sort of world cup of firework displays - canada played tonight. then i came home and listened to radio 3 on the internet. it is quite an extraordinary existence. by the time the tour begins i will have been working with rob for three years and we only thought we'd write a couple of songs. talking of songs i almost have enough i like to record a lilac time album and enough guitars to start a shop. the first three lilac album reissues will be ready for an end of may release i think. they look beautiful and sound the same as they always have but with many extra tracks. take care everyone - music begins where words end x

ReplyThread Parent