Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Letter to The New Yorker on Music File Sharing

The New Yorker cover from
Here's a letter I recently sent to The New Yorker (which, incidentally, is my favorite publication for cultural criticism, all-around interesting writing both fictional and nonfictional, gorgeous clear-out-the-cobwebs copyediting for this part-time editor's brain, and vicarious hit on my favorite city in the world after Oakland, Calif.) on a rather cavalier remark made by one of the writers on sharing music files:

Dear Editors:

In her review of Elvis Costello’s television talk show, the usually reliable Nancy Franklin (“Intimate Persuasion,” December 22 & 29) writes an aside about wanting to buy digital music from Amazon instead of iTunes, because “all the music that Amazon sells is unlocked, meaning that it can be shared limitlessly with friends.” (Apple since announced that it too will unlock iTunes files.) Franklin then writes, “Music wants to be paid for, but, after that, it wants to be free.” She’s echoing a phrase batted around in discussions of the internet: Information wants to be free. I know she’s making fun of the anthropomorphizing that gives information, or music, the ability to want anything, but she’s serious about her wanting to share purchased music files. Well, while music wants nothing, I want to get paid. As a recording singer-songwriter-poet and indie label owner, my income stream is already precarious without people giving away songs of mine they’ve purchased. Does Franklin feel that when she buys a ticket to a live show, she has the right to give away a limitless number of seats, because the show wants to be free? Custom and commercial practice forbid it. In contrast, computer technology and practice have taught us to pay for the digital carrier (computers, blank CDs, email service) but not its content. How to pay content originators in a digital age is a muddle jeopardizing the survival not only of music-makers but also of newspaper and magazine owners and writers  as The New Yorker surely knows. Until the muddle is clarified, I ask Franklin and other music enthusiasts to send their friends links to Amazon, iTunes, or indie music sites, instead of sending the bootlegged music itself.

Lisa B (Lisa Bernstein)


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Thanks for adding your voice!