OK, now before all you copyright maximalists jump out of the woodwork to explain the errors of my ways to me, let me point out that I’m not the one saying that filesharing is an act of civil disobedience. It’s Jeff Tweedy, lead singer of Wilco, as reported in the New York Times’ Exploring the Right to Share, Mix & Burn who said it at a forum with Larry Lessig at the New York Public Library (click here for the webcast). So if you have a beef with my title take it up with Jeff. Though of course I’m extrememly sympathetic to Tweedy’s position on the subject.
Last August, I wrote a post about Bela Fleck’s embrace of filesharing. In this post, I pointed to the many musicians who not only do not hate filesharing, but who actually use this technology as part of their marketing to their fans. My point was to say that filesharing does not have to be looked at as theft pure and simple as the copyright purists do. Instead, it can be seen as a means of expanding one’s audience and deepening their connection to the music, which in turn will increase sale of concert tickets, band merchandise and CDs. Several readers took me severely to task calling my views "support for piracy and out and out theft."
I’m pleased to say that the Times story linked here contains a fascinating passage which fully confirms what I wrote in my earlier post about the positive effects of filesharing on a band’s audience and on the band’s bottom line:
Jeff Tweedy: some musicians opposed to
filesharing "so rich they never deserve to
be paid again" (credit: Jim Newberry)
Mr. Tweedy, who has never been much for rock convention, became a convert to Internet peer-to-peer sharing of music files in 2001, after his band was dropped from its label on the cusp of a tour. Initially, the news left Wilco at the sum end of the standard rock equation: no record/no tour, no tour/no money, no money/no band. But Mr. Tweedy released "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot" for streaming on the band’s Web site, and fans responded in droves. Wilco then took on the expenses of its tour as a band.
The resulting concerts were a huge success: Mr. Tweedy remembered watching in wonder as fans sang along with music that did not exist in CD form. Then something really funny happened. Nonesuch Records decided to release the actual plastic artifact in 2002. And where the band’s previous album, "Summerteeth," sold 20,000 in its first week according to SoundScan, "Yankee" sold 57,000 copies in its first week and went on to sell more than 500,000. Downloading, at least for Wilco, created rather than diminished the appetite for the corporeal version of the work.
This is a perfect example of my contention that filesharing does not DECREASE a band’s revenue as the music industry claims–it actually INCREASES it. I want to make clear that such a strategy might not work for some acts that are heavily focussed on conventional marketing and conventional record company strategies. A band has to be willing to tour heavily and regularly to promote themselves. It has to have a deep fan base–fans willing to drive hundreds of miles to see them. But if a group embraces this technology rather than fearing it, then it will redound to the band’s credit and success.
If I’d said the following statement some of my readers here would flay me. I’m glad to say Jeff Tweedy said it for me:
Mr. Tweedy has little sympathy for artists who complain about downloading. "To me, the only people who are complaining are people who are so rich they never deserve to be paid again," he said.
Take that Don Henley! Henley is a leader of musicians who reject filesharing and support industry efforts to criminalize it.
Larry Lessig wrote an excellent piece in Wired Magazine about Wilco’s approach to music downloading.