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About this weblog
Here we'll explore the nexus of legal rulings, Capitol Hill policy-making, technical standards development, and technological innovation that creates -- and will recreate -- the networked world as we know it. Among the topics we'll touch on: intellectual property conflicts, technical architecture and innovation, the evolution of copyright, private vs. public interests in Net policy-making, lobbying and the law, and more.

Disclaimer: the opinions expressed in this weblog are those of the authors and not of their respective institutions.

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In the Pipeline: Don't miss Derek Lowe's excellent commentary on drug discovery and the pharma industry in general at In the Pipeline

Copyfight

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June 26, 2012

Answers to Lowery, with Facts

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Posted by Alan Wexelblat

A week ago I pointed out that most of the valuable points David Lowery raised in his response to Emily White were getting lost in a froth of illogic. I also noted that he continues to wave around unsourced numbers to back up his contention that the music business is sucking more now that it's digital, while ignoring the fact that most of what he's unhappy about has been true for far longer than there have been MP3s.

Lowery's open letter also got some responses from people with access to actual numbers, and yesterday Techdirt published a round-up of some of those responses. You should read the whole thing and follow their links to the original responses; here are some key talking points.

Jeff Price of Tunecore - a business based on helping individual artists release and sell digital music - notes that Lowery is ignoring how badly musicians had it, before. Price also disagrees with just about every factual number in Lowery's post, pointing out that while it's true that labels are making less money, more money is flowing to the artists. Sale for sale that's clearly true - what's less true is what the overall picture of the industry is now versus in the big-label era. There just aren't good independent data available for an apples-to-apples comparison.

Unfortunately, much of the response to Lowery has been of the "quit whining" variety. While I sort of sympathize with the idea that it's important not to shed too many tears for old dead businesses it's also important not to lose sight of the fact that what Lowery was "whining" about was the self-confessed theft of thousands of song copies, many of which could easily be paid for via a few clicks on iTunes or Bandcamp or the artists' Web sites. Jonathan Coulton is noted as responding about how great it is that so much more cool stuff is now available free. I agree, that's an awesome thing but it has to be the artists' choice.

I love free tracks. My disk is full of freebies I've gotten from performers I love. But it's also full of tracks I bought from them. That's the choice I get: pay for what they sell, or don't. Their choice is to sell, give away, or use some combination/new model. Again, I feel this is an important point that is getting ignored because of how Lowery constructed his response.

As several of the respondents note, simply being a musician is no guarantee of making even one thin dime. If you price your stuff wrong, or nobody likes your stuff, or whatever the factors are, then you're not going to make a living. Maybe you have to bust your hump for years until one day dawn breaks and money appears. Nobody owes you money because you're making the art you love. But I don't think that's really what Lowery was trying to say.

I think what Ethan Kaplan, cited in the Techdirt summary, and others are saying is also what Amanda Palmer said: the old music business is based on the idea that you have to trick people into parting with their cash. The new model is that you do something so awesome that those people who share your vision of awesomeness will trample down the gates in their eagerness to give you a few bucks.

Where you go from there is what makes this all very exciting. I'm just not sure Lowery gets that.

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