QUESTION OF THE WEEK: IT’S UP TO U TO SUE WHAT DO U DO?
Banner by Cysquatch
Aw jeez it’s Friday and your brain cells are about retire for a nice 72-hour nap. But but but before then, tantalize them wildly with this week’s very thought-provoking, thoughtful, provocative, proughtful, and thovocative MetalSucks Question Of The Week, in which our staff sounds off on the issues that rock your heavy metal world.
Fearless. Controversial. Half-baked. We give it to you straight every Friday afternoon. Straight to the enemies lists of our major label budz lol. Here’s this week’s question:
Inspired by Century Media’s new lawsuit against illegal sharers, we asked our staff the following:
Two consultants knock on your office door, introduce themselves, and explain that u have a legal grievance against a few thousand people. A juicy settlement might help your company’s bottom line and your job security — but u risk backlash from watchdogs and a few customers. So question: Is there a strong justification to NOT sue? Will your bosses accept it?
Wat u think? The MS staff’s expert answers after the jump!
It’s rare for even a small company to move as one unified body, so actions can often fall to one or two individuals. Those a floor or two below decision-makers on the power structure look up and wait for instruction; those above take a step back and practice neutral expressions and buck-passing for when initiatives blow back. So it’s lonely and scary when an unpopular, dicey, or risky project arrives on your desk, especially one accompanied by suitcases stuffed with bad PR, lost profits, and moral midgetry. Squarely in this discomfort zone is any record company’s battle for solvency and control of their catalogue; if charged with determining the wisdom of legal action against illegal music sharers, I’d surely spend my day wincing and sighing. Why? Cuz there is no easy option.
But I’d greenlight a suit like Century Media’s. Trusting long-term measures against online swapping to other departments, I’d want to make a show of protecting my company’s health. U can bet that neither Lacuna Coil nor Iced Earth reaped profits for their partners, and if a morally dubious but financially righteous suit results in less screaming in my direction at this quarter’s sales post mortem, then I am in there asstight, my friends. I’d explain to my superiors that a group of several thousand “customers” have received our product but have yet to settle their bill; we shall now wave our lawyers at these folks and collect our $11.99 the hard way. Plus statutory damages.
As my superiors sit back and stroke their watches, I would, however, speak loudly and clearly to this point: Legal action is a short-term solution, one that comes with a season or so of ill will, name-calling, and chill around our brand. Plus, our action makes hostages of the products’ designers (Cristina Coil, Iced Earth) who surely don’t appreciate the stink by association. (Though in private I wouldn’t be bothered by that if each was nearing the end of their contract period.) Plus, I’d warn upper management that we may catch so-called “good downloaders” in the crossfire; a number of our targets will have downloaded illegally only before then making a legitimate purchase. That’s a unwelcome side effect to be considered.
Most of the time, a hard-working music dude is shaking his/her head about the out-of-touch boss, or a few departments’ antiquated thinking, or the slow death of trends. Even when given the reins, dude must treat that not as carte blanche but as a multiple-choice test: There are only a few politically acceptable options, and only a few ways to frame, justify, sell, and enact each. To indict all of Century Media or whomever is reckless painting with an oversized brush; that goes for Spotify, 360 deals, and all the other ugh-worthy modern music biz stopgaps. It’s tough to make good decisions.
But that we must carry silently. Buttt before ceding the floor, I would hammer at the fact that we cannot go back to the well for more forced collection and hardline legal tactics. Illegal sharing can not be prevented. It can only be folded into our operations and deterred. With this as a basis today, we build modern music business tomorrow. But for there to be a tomorrow, we sue today.
I reject the very premise of this question, as it ostensibly renders null and void the aspect of this conversation which I find the most interesting and which, I would argue, is also the most important. Lengthy explanation follows:
Without getting into the actual legal designations of various crimes (e.g., felonies vs. misdemeanors), I think we can all agree that, broadly speaking, there are basically two kinds of crimes in the world: those which most people commit on a daily (jay walking) or near-daily basis and those most people will never commit (grand theft auto). What is the cause for the unique manner in which the majority of a relatively normal (as in “not in the throws of an extreme situation such an upheaval or apocalypse”) society will approach each of these crimes? You could argue that in the case of “crimes most people will never commit,” the weight of morality keeps people in check; to commit murder, for example, your conscience has to be okay with the idea of extinguishing a human life, and that in and of itself may be a deterrent against such a violent offense. However, I do not believe that moral imperative is what keeps people in line most of the time; deterrents do. If I jay walk — I do every day — chances are slim that anything bad will happen to me. I’m far more likely to be hit by a speeding car than I am to get in trouble with the law, and so as long as I can successfully Frogger it, I shall be crossing the street where and when I damn well please.
But why is it not more common for your Average Joe to throw a brick through the window of his local electronics store and steal an iPhone? It’s not because he gives a shit about Apple’s bottom line. Average Joe doesn’t steal the phone because he will likely be caught and prosecuted. Deep down he knows that stealing an iPhone is not a victimless crime, but he can convince himself otherwise because the effects of that crime are not at all immediate; the iPhone won’t beg and plead as it is being stolen, nor will its family grieve its loss that evening. So it has nothing to do with morals, really, and everything to do with consequences. The reward is simply not worth the risk.
Currently, illegally downloading music and other media is a very common crime because there’s no deterrent against it; prosecutory action is almost never pursued. When you say “Century Media is suing seven thousand people,” that sounds like a lot, but only because we’re so unused to anyone getting in trouble for using torrents; right now I can go on The Pirate Bay and download a high quality Blu-ray copy of The Avengers that is being seeded by 14,000 people, so 7,000 is not a big number. In case it’s not obvious, music is like an iPhone sitting at an open window, unguarded, with no witnesses around, no alarm system in place, no security camera watching over it, and no tangible consequences for its theft. People reach in and take the phone because why the hell wouldn’t they?
Thus, to answer this Question Of The Week without considering the long-term battle against piracy is to answer it in a very weird vacuum. Because how can we weigh the pros and cons of taking such action against downloaders if we’re not doing it put a system of deterrents in place? We can’t argue that it’s “justice,” because we don’t know how much money, if any, was really left on the table as a result of the downloads, because we don’t know how many of the downloaders, if any, would have legally purchased the album had a five finger discount not been so readily available.
And we can’t quantify the backlash because we don’t have a crystal ball; at the end of the day, things worked out fine for Metallica — though the guys in Metallica were already millionaire rock gods when they took on Napster. There’s no precedent for what this might to do to the career of a band on Iced Earth’s level. I would imagine that someone who just got charged three grand for the new Lacuna Coil album is way less likely to spend money on Lacuna Coil in the future because a) they are three thousand dollars poorer, and b) FUCK THAT BAND, THEY JUST SUED ME! So it’s possible that we’re actually costing the band money … in the long-term. But I can’t really argue that disregarding the possibility of such a backlash is short sighted, because by asking me not to consider a long-term fight against piracy, you’ve just asked me to be short sighted. And in the short term… sure, why not? Let’s sue all their asses off. Why wouldn’t we sue their asses off? Is this the same magic world where a consequence-free, cost-free iPhone wouldn’t be a major temptation?
The bottom line: Despite each side’s attempts to make it seem like this is a simple issue (“It’s stealing and stealing is wrong!” “It’s not really stealing at all!”), it’s not a simple issue; it’s actually kind of complicated, and all the more so because it’s still a newish phenomenon, and there simply is not enough precedent for us to know, definitively, what a lawsuit like this could mean. That being the case, we MUST consider the long-term consequences of such an action. To do otherwise is a luxury the labels don’t have, a luxury the artists don’t have, and a luxury that we, in weighing the topic, should not be allowed.
Bam! And that is that, a good ol’ fashioned point-counterpoint on the dangers and Icarus-style hubris of anti-piracy action in the courts. Don’t u admire how we at MetalSucks always consider the human element? Or are we just apologists for faceless corporate cock tactics? And what’s your best thinking on this? We need your plan of action before u go home today, so just file it below in the comments and have Lauren put it on my desk for Monday lol.