Friday, January 30, 2009

Songwriters Guild's Carnes on piracy and 'Cyber-Somalia'

Music attorney Chris Castle's blog has a terrific interview with Rick Carnes, President of the Songwriters Guild of America. The interview, which is both informative and highly entertaining, covers piracy, music industry business models, and the fantasies of the copyleft/"free culture" movement (Castle himself favors the even more colorful term "EFFluviati").

Proponents of strong copyright protection are often accused of being nothing more than shills ("running dogs," if you prefer) for giant corporations or their trade associations. Carnes -- whose mission is simple: "Protect Songwriters” -- provides a very effective refutation to that line of attack. His organization represents actual human beings who start with a blank piece of paper and create art -- and simply want to get paid for it, and not have their work stolen. And Carnes makes clear that he's not a big fan of the recording industry, which is often on the opposite side of the table from songwriters and publishers on business issues (though they both despise piracy).

Definitely read the whole thing, but here are a few of the highlights:
[T]he internet has turned into a Cyber-Somalia.
That description of the lawlessness of certain corners of the web definitely resonates with anyone who has chased pirate sites around the globe from the US to Australia to Malaysia to places unknown.
Professional songwriters used to live on advances from their music publisher. These advances were to be recouped from record sales only (“mechanicals” is the industry term for these revenues). Music piracy killed record sales so that made it impossible for music publishers to recoup the advances they paid songwriters so they stopped signing writers and let go of the ones they had when their contracts ran out.
That's a pretty grim picture of the songwriting and publishing world. I'm curious as to how Carnes squares that with the rosier picture painted in this recent Forbes article.

Castle: Anti-copyright organizations often try to tell musicians and the music industry that they have their eye on the wrong ball, that they can offset the decline in CD sales by selling another T-shirt to fans who it would be easy to find because they were all on email.

Carnes: Songwriters don’t sell T-shirts. We’re too ugly and we dress funny. Songwriter fan clubs meet in phone booths so the email lists are too small to monetize effectively.

But seriously folks, songwriters don’t sell concert tickets, or ancillary merchandise. We make our money on record sales and radio airplay. Or, we USED to make our money on record sales. Illegal downloading ended that. Now we are looking for new jobs.

And finally, Carnes on the copyleft:

The most infuriating thing about being lectured to by anti-copyright groups about how songwriters need to get a new ‘business plan’ is who gave them the right to tell us how to make a living? Who are they to say we shouldn’t fight to defend our rights? In truth, I find their suggestions are unbelievably arrogant and self-serving.


  1. my editing days haven't left me (though the misery of them has, thank heavens) -- there's an extra apostrophe in the paragraph under "post a comment" (entertainment companies' employees' -- ditch that second one)

    Hope you're well!
    Julie (Fromholz)

  2. Which is why I voted for you for Editor!


Comments here are moderated. I appreciate substantive comments, whether or not they agree with what I've written. Stay on topic, and be civil. Comments that contain name-calling, personal attacks, or the like will be rejected. If you want to rant about how evil the RIAA and MPAA are, and how entertainment companies' employees and attorneys are bad people, there are plenty of other places for you to go.