An intern for NPR’s All Songs Considered might be learning a valuable lesson: If you’re going to steal the creative work of others, it’s probably best not to broadcast it on your company’s website.
Intern Emily White penned a column for All Songs Considered this week, and doesn’t see it that way. She writes that she didn’t illegally download most of her songs in her iTunes Library, but it was clear she didn’t pay for most of them either.
But I didn’t illegally download (most) of my songs. A few are, admittedly, from a stint in the 5th grade with the file-sharing program Kazaa. Some are from my family. I’ve swapped hundreds of mix CDs with friends. My senior prom date took my iPod home once and returned it to me with 15 gigs of Big Star, The Velvet Underground and Yo La Tengo (I owe him one).
During my first semester at college, my music library more than tripled. I spent hours sitting on the floor of my college radio station, ripping music onto my laptop. The walls were lined with hundreds of albums sent by promo companies and labels to our station over the years.
All of those CDs are gone. My station’s library is completely digital now, and so is my listening experience.
She’s heard from nearly 400 readers, some of whom think not paying for music is theft, and some who think it’s the nature of 2012. It clearly is, however, a generational conflict, as defined by one commenter.
It’s amazing to me how an entire generation that prides itself on its progressive behavior and how much they all “care” about global issues like economics and the environment will without fail turn around and behave with a callous, me-first rapacity that would leave a robber baron speechless with awe.
The more a progressive a generation claims to be, the more you’d better hold onto your wallet. Yes, I’m bringing up generational issues — because she did first. If she’s going to hide behind her age bracket, that’s where I’m going to aim. Stop pretending you’re sticking it to the man, that you are forever forgiven for anything you may do wrong in your life because you voted for a black guy, that you can get away with anything you like because you’re vegan and wear fair-trade hemp sandals, that your Occupy Whatever cred outweighs your gimme-gimme attitude. Stop pretending all of that nonsense. Just drop the pretense — you’re about screwing those beneath you in the hierarchy while pretending to be on their side.
Commenter Mark Farre, however, discourages a generational tsk-tsking…
The more I think about it the more I believe that Emily was simply voicing a fact of life that many of us older-and-more-precious human beings simply don’t like. Emily is not causing others to steal music. She’s simply reflecting a new Zeitgeist that includes not just technology and music but commerce.
Bashing her (and her generation) is not going to change anything. Better to listen and try to adapt to the new, while still standing for the principle of art as HAVING VALUE.
That said, the analogy to public radio is irresistibly ironic. Public radio is “free” in the same way file-swapping is “free”. Although public radio serves a more civic purpose than making music, it is similarly freighted with very REAL cost. If all public-radio supporters adopted the attitude revealed in Emily’s post (“why should I pay if it’s free?”), well she’s not the only person who would lose her job/internship.
David Lowery, who writes The Trichordist: Artists for an Ethical Internet, has written an extensive response.
Lowery says he teaches — or tries, anyway — college students the economics of the music business, and finds most share Ms. White’s attitude, and have an uncanny ability to rationalize their (lack of) ethics.
But he has a more personal reason for being opposed to the practice:
I have witnessed the impoverishment of many critically acclaimed but marginally commercial artists. In particular, two dear friends: Mark Linkous (Sparklehorse) and Vic Chestnutt. Both of these artists, despite growing global popularity, saw their incomes collapse in the last decade. There is no other explanation except for the fact that “fans” made the unethical choice to take their music without compensating these artists.
Shortly before Christmas 2009, Vic took his life. He was my neighbor, and I was there as they put him in the ambulance. On March 6th, 2010, Mark Linkous shot himself in the heart. Anybody who knew either of these musicians will tell you that the pair suffered from addiction and depression. They will also tell you their situation was worsened by their financial situation. Vic was deeply in debt to hospitals and, at the time, was publicly complaining about losing his home. Mark was living in abject squalor in his remote studio in the Smokey Mountains without adequate access to the mental health care he so desperately needed.
But Lowery says he empathizes with Ms. White’s generation. “You have grown up in a time when technological and commercial interests are attempting to change our principles and morality,” he writes. “Rather than using our morality and principles to guide us through technological change, there are those asking us to change our morality and principles to fit the technological change-if a machine can do something, it ought to be done. Although it is the premise of every “machines gone wild” story since Jules Verne or Fritz Lang, this is exactly backwards. Sadly, I see the effects of this thinking with many of my students.”