DANGLING CONVERSATION… On December 5, the Pew Internet & American Life Project released a study of 2,755 artists entitled "Artists, Musicians, and the Internet." According to Pew, only 14% of artists are deeply concerned about on-line file trading, only 5% of artists say free downloading has hurt them, and 60% of artists say that the RIAA's lawsuits against music fans will not benefit musicians and songwriters.

Jay Rosenthal, a lawyer who heads the Washington D.C. office of the Recording Artists Coalition (RAC), immediately condemned the methodology and the results of the Pew survey: "Certainly our membership doesn't feel that way." RAC is mostly made up of very successful artists (Mary J. Blige, Bruce Springsteen, Seal, Linkin Park), some of whose members have clashed with their own record companies over the issue of giving music away for free on the Internet.

But Rosenthal isn't interested in having a dialogue. He dismissed Pew's year and a half of work by saying it was "like going to Fallujah and asking how they feel about Americans."

Rosenthal is merely echoing the industry's fear that the file-sharing genie has escaped from the bottle of the traditional music industry model and can't be put back inside. Since this fear is completely justified, those with a stake in the old business model are very threatened when their voice isn't the only one in the discussion.

Everybody's all caught up in the disruptive shifts caused by new technology. We're all scared of a future that's so uncertain. Who's we? According to the Pew study, there are "roughly 114 million Americans who play musical instruments, sing, do creative writing, draw, paint, dance, act, or make films." Don't we all need to be heard?

RAC might argue that those with a direct economic stake in the outcome of the file-sharing wars need to be heard more than "amateurs" do. For the sake of argument, OK. The Pew study estimates that 10 million American artists receive income from their work while 2 million of them make enough from it that they don't need a day job. According to the Census Bureau, there are 500,000 Americans who list an artistic profession on their tax return. 116 of them are members of RAC. Given the narrow nature of the current file-sharing debate-in which the music industry depicts itself as the sole defender of artists' rights while music fans are portrayed as terrorists-it's as important to broaden the discussion as it is to obsess over who's right and who's wrong.

It's also important to listen to artists such as Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy who are midway between the stars in RAC and the starving artists playing for tip money in local clubs.

In an interview with Xeni Jardin in the November 15 Wired News, Tweedy said: "What if there was a movement to shut down libraries because book publishers and authors were up in arms over the idea that people are reading books for free? It would send a message that books are only for the elite who can afford them. Stop trying to treat music like it's a tennis shoe, something to be branded. If the music industry wants to save money, they should take a look at some of their six-figure executive expense accounts. All those lawsuits can't be cheap, either….A piece of art is not a loaf of bread. When someone steals a loaf of bread from the store, that's it. The loaf of bread is gone. When someone downloads a piece of music, it's just data until the listener puts that music back together with their own ears, their mind, their subjective experience….Treating your audience like thieves is absurd. Anyone who chooses to listen to our music becomes a collaborator….I don't want potential fans to be blocked because the choice to check out our music becomes a financial decision for them."

We invite any of the members of RAC, including Jay Rosenthal, to respond in our pages.
 

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