White Collar Criminals

ANTHRAX’S SCOTT IAN: THE CONSEQUENCE OF ILLEGAL DOWNLOADING SHOULD BE THAT “YOU LOSE YOUR INTERNET”

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Broward Palm Beach published an interview with Scott Ian today, in which they discussed with the Anthrax guitarist, amongst other subjects, illegal downloading. And Ian’s comments seem to have created an uproar on the band’s Facebook page. (Although the band obviously saw it coming a mile away — they humorously noted that “This post will get no negative comments” when they linked to the interview.) And since we love a good argument, and this particular topic is obviously of great interest to us all, it seems worth discussing what Ian had to say on the matter.

The conversation begins when the interviewer congratulates Ian on the first-week sales of Worship Music; Ian concedes that those numbers were great for 2011 (especially by metal standards, I might add), but also feels confident that the number would have been even higher in the days before illegal downloading. “It’s a double-edged sword,” Ian says, “because on one hand it’s like, ‘Woo-hoo, we did great,’ but then it’s also like, ‘Yeah, but how many other people stole the record, and you should have sold 150,000 copies this first week?'” He continues:

“Before the Internet, the only way to steal music was to walk into a music store and physically walk out with something, and you were stealing, and you knew it. You knew, unless you’re a fucking maniac, that there was a consequence. If you got caught, you were going to get in trouble.

“On the Internet, there is no consequence for stealing. Nobody gets in trouble for stealing music, nobody gets in trouble for stealing movies. Illegal downloading has no consequence. So until there is a consequence, it’s going to happen more and more and more, and people are going to see less and less original and good content from the record industry and movie industry.”

And here’s where things take a turn for the piss-off-the-internet-ier: the interviewer asks Ian “What do you think the consequence should be for illegal downloading?”, and here’s his response:

“You lose your Internet. That’s it, no more Internet for you. Seriously! Like you drive drunk, you lose the privilege of driving. You download illegally, you lose the privilege of having the Internet. The punishment fits the crime. Why these service providers don’t stop the torrent sites and put a consequence on this, I have no idea. Everybody complains about the trillions of dollars being lost, but nobody does anything about it.”

He continues:

“Picture the guy just sitting at his laptop downloading all this free shit, and all of a sudden his connection goes off. He’s off the Internet, and he starts pushing buttons and checks his Wi-Fi and all that, and all of a sudden he’s not connected any more.

“That’s when it will stop, when people actually know that there will be a consequence for what they’re doing. Throwing people in jail isn’t the answer, and even fining them and all that, I don’t think that’s the answer either. Just stop their access, because these people live on the Internet, and that’s all they care about. So stop their Internet access and they’ll stop stealing.”

There’s too many comments from the aforementioned Facebook peanut gallery for me to really read them all and quote them in this post, but here’s the gist of the anti-Ian argument (in bold) along with my thoughts (in not-bold):

  • If I hadn’t illegally downloaded the record, I never would have become a fan and come to concerts and bought merch. I actually understand the twisted-logic behind this argument, and I think it speaks to a reality of the modern age: you are not going to be able to make your living from selling physical albums anymore, period. It sounds weird to say, but in 2011, the album has to be advertisement for the tour, and the tour has to be an advertisement for the merch. And you shouldn’t really feel to bad about that, ’cause ultimately people won’t come to your shows if they didn’t like the album, and they wouldn’t buy the merch if they thought your band sucked live — so it all comes down to the quality of your art, anyway. (This is why Vince and I are both pro-Spotify: because you need people to hear your music, and you’re not going to make your money from album sales. End of story.) That being said, I am an old, old man, and I remember a time, seems like it was just yesterday, when illegal downloading was not an option, and we all seemed to be able to discover great new bands anyway, so, uh, yeah. I accept the reality, but I don’t know if I’d call that reality a “good” thing, y’know?
  • Piracy is not like stealing a CD, because there’s nothing lost. The gist of this argument is, if I steal a CD, that CD is gone, and can no longer be sold; if I steal a digital copy of an album, the band didn’t actually lose anything. Again, there’s a kind of logic to this that almost makes sense… except you have to wonder, as Ian does, how many more people would pay for the album if illegal downloading wasn’t an option. Which brings us to —
  • You didn’t lose an album sale when someone illegally downloaded your record, ’cause that person probably wasn’t going to buy it anyway. This argument makes no sense to me. For one thing, it’s impossible to prove; we have absolutely no way of knowing how many people would buy an album if not for illegal downloading. So MAYBE you didn’t lose an album sale… but MAYBE you did. Can’t say for sure. Also… if I don’t like an album enough to buy it, I should get to own it anyway because…?
  • Piracy existed before the internet. Hey, that’s true, for sure. People recorded cassettes and swapped ’em with friends all the time — hell, I did it. I remember Slash, who was a MASSIVE rockstar, even endorsed the idea when the Use Your Illusion records came out — he basically said “Buy one, have your friend buy the other, record ’em and swap ’em.” But, obviously, this form of pirating didn’t have nearly as negative an impact on record sales as illegal downloading has. The record industry really went right in the shitter around the turn of the century, when suddenly services like Napster blew up. If you think there’s no connection between those two events, you’re not living in reality. As long as there is a product, there will be people stealing that product — that’s just a fact of our society — but it’s the SCALE on which people are stealing that product now which is the issue here.
  • Anthrax are just a bunch of greedy fucks, like Metallica. Well, I can pretty much guarantee you that the Metallicats make way, way, way more money than the dudes in Anthrax — I mean, the guys in Metallica make more money than pretty much any other artist in metal. And while I agree that Metallica are about one step removed from Kiss in terms of ridiculous greed (see: Metallica Monopoly), I think it’s important that we all continue to loathe Metallica because they haven’t made a listenable album in twenty years, not because of their stance on illegal downloading.
  • Your band sucks, your albums sucks, and who would illegally download that shit anyway? This one just makes no sense to me. Why are you following Anthrax on Facebook if you thought they sucked? And it’s very clear that there are plenty of people who download Worship Music, so, like, whatever, y’know? This argument can be completely ignored.

Look, the bottom line is this: there’s the way things should be, and there’s the way things are. And the way things are, illegal downloading isn’t going anywhere, and everyone in the music industry — from record label employees to musicians to lil’ ol’ bloggers like me — need to figure out a way to work within this new system if we’re going to survive. But that doesn’t mean Scott Ian is WRONG about what he’s saying.

In fact, there’s really only thing that Ian says which I believe may be way, way off-base — and that’s when he says that unless illegal downloading stops, “people are going to see less and less original and good content from the record industry and movie industry.” This is also an argument in which there’s some gray area, and I could probably devote an entire other post to this topic alone, but it seems to me that the one GOOD thing about there being less money in the entertainment business these days is that hopefully it will drive out all the rockstar-wannabes who are in it for the wrong reasons… because it certainly won’t deter those with an insatiable desire to create their art from doing so. Believe me, I know that there’s value in being able to devote all your time to your work — believe me, I know, I am the luckiest guy in the world with the best job ever — but Scott Hull has never made music full-time for a living, and that dude is still like ten-thousand times more brilliant than anyone. So, uh, yeah. I don’t think the loss of money will ultimately have a negative effect on the quality of the content.

So if you wanna be mad at the Scott Ian, be mad at him because he let Joey Belladonna back into his band, not because he thinks there should be consequences for illegal downloading.

-AR

Thanks to everyone who e-mailed us about this.

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