This is all about honesty, and honesty is inextricably tied to judgment. People constantly judge art. The “politically correct” mentality is that art just IS and cannot be judged. However, to be human is to have likes and dislikes. Some art speaks to us while some remains impenetrable. Finding shame in declaring a piece of art not to your liking only perpetuates this false utopia in which all art is equal. Every time you consider buying a CD and decide not to, you decide that the art does not mean enough to you to be worth the money they ask, which is a perfectly valid and practical decision. This proposed business model for the music industry eliminates the binary choice of “to buy or not to buy” and establishes a continuum between the two, beneficial for both producer and consumer.
To be clear, I am not advocating negligent theft of intellectual property, nor am I generalizing my views to anything outside of the recorded music industry. Most other commercial sectors of the arts are perfectly stable even if no system is without its share of flaws. The marketplace for printed material is arguably the music distribution industry’s nearest runner-up in terms of volatility and instability, but not all of these concepts can be immediately or directly applied to that arena. Remaining within the realm of music business, the handling of grand rights, mechanical rights, small rights, etc. has been negotiated thoroughly enough by interested parties to protect those institutions for the time being.
On the other hand, the recording industry is compromised every time you receive an MP3 file from your best friend, every time you make a mix tape for your partner or spouse, and every time you listen to a song unofficially posted on YouTube. Nearly every Internet user in America (and probably their parents as well, for that matter) is complicit in or directly responsible for at least one of these forms of music piracy. The reality is that these practices exist not as the consciously subversive actions of a small part of the population but as a generally accepted part of everyday life. Unless and until the music industry and their lawyers shake their denial of the fact that music piracy has grown beyond their power to stop it, maybe even to control it at all by this point, they will continue putting knots in their own noose. To draw a legal analog, albeit a grave one, a friend astutely pointed out that America rests on the backs of an unacknowledged slave class. The government upholds the unilateral view that undocumented entry into America is illegal. As a result, the government has no grounds to acknowledge the dehumanizing work conditions and living situations these people face, much less regulate them. Any judgments regarding the morality of undocumented immigration are irrelevant; the fact remains that it is a reality, and by not facing the reality, it becomes “unmitigable”.
After I outlined these ideas to my colleagues, they argued that my proposition is simply not the principle by which the music industry operates, and I cannot force my ideology on them.
The question is not one of “can” or “should,” but one of “must.” The rules of the game have been disintegrating since the game began and are now in shambles. The onus falls on us both as artists and as consumers, independent of corporate entities, to instate a system that not only embraces the realities of piracy and technology but also takes advantage of them instead of fighting them. A musical artist’s ability to make a living depends entirely on flexibility. If artists cannot adapt to change, they face inevitable financial failure. If consumers refuse to find a better system, the current system will soon become the instrument of its own destruction. The music industry will collapse; the initiative we must take as artists and consumers is to have an alternative ready to take its place when it does.