January 21st, 2012

Uh oh, he’s blogging. What happened?

I wrote this thing on Twitter this morning about the MegaUpload shutdown, and it’s gotten some crazy traction on the old internet. In addition, I’ve just done a couple of interviews for NPR on the subject, and I think I may have said some crazy, provocative things. There are many comments and questions out there already with more to come, and rather than have a bunch of separate discussions on a bunch of different social media platforms, I thought I would put some of my thoughts here.

First of all, I was being sarcastic. I did not see an uptick in sales because one piracy site got shut down, nor do I expect to.

Second, this was a tweet, so it was <=140 characters of ha ha, and not designed to be a thorough discussion of all the issues. I recognize these things are complicated. Obviously none of us knows the complete truth, but I'm guessing that the people who ran MegaUpload were knowingly profiting from the unauthorized download of other people's intellectual property (including mine). Probably they were making a lot of money that way. That's certainly illegal, and it doesn't exactly give them the moral high ground either. In fact, it's kind of a dick move. Essentially, they did bad things and they got in trouble for it. Here are the issues that, for me, make this complicated. Along with all the illegal stuff happening on MegaUpload was some amount of completely legal stuff. People used MegaUpload to send large files around. Some number of those files were personal files owned by the people sending them. I have no idea what the ratio was, and probably it would be impossible to figure that out with any certainty, but let's stipulate that it was a very large percentage of illegal activity, and only a very tiny percentage of the users were there for anything other than downloading content that they didn't buy. Still, today that tiny percentage had something taken away from them, without warning, maybe just a service they liked using, but maybe a piece of digital media that belonged to them - if they uploaded something and didn't keep a copy, that thing is now gone. Them's the breaks I guess, but in evaluating whether this shutdown was a net positive for us humans, you have to take that into account. Even some of the illegal usage was likely the kind of activity that approaches what I consider to be victimless piracy: people downloading stuff they already bought but lost, people downloading stuff they missed on TV and couldn't find on Netflix or iTunes, people downloading stuff they didn't like and regretted watching or hearing and never would have bought anyway, people downloading a Jonathan Coulton album (oh let's say, Artificial Heart, the new Jonathan Coulton album, which is an awesome Jonathan Coulton album called Artificial Heart) and loving it so much that in a year they decide to buy a ticket to a Jonathan Coulton show and walk up to the merch table and hand me $20. I know not everyone will think all of those things are victimless crimes, and even I can admit that some of them maybe kinda sorta have victims, but my point is that you can’t easily say that every illegal download is a lost sale, because it’s a lot more complicated than that. So when you evaluate the “damage” that a site like MegaUpload is causing, you have to think about these things too. The grand jury indictment against them says they’ve caused $500 million in damages to copyright owners. Given the complexity of actual usage on a site like MegaUpload, how can they possibly know that?

The real question in my mind these days, and what I was trying to get at with my little tweet, is: how much does piracy really hurt content creators (specifically, me)? Professional smart person Tim O’Reilly posted something that made me think about this question again in regards to SOPA/PIPA. He points out that any proponent of SOPA/PIPA starts with the assumption that all this piracy is causing great harm to lots of people and companies. Here’s his pull quote, taken from a recent statement about SOPA issued by the White House:

Let us be clear—online piracy is a real problem that harms the American economy, and threatens jobs for significant numbers of middle class workers and hurts some of our nation’s most creative and innovative companies and entrepreneurs. It harms everyone from struggling artists to production crews, and from startup social media companies to large movie studios. While we are strongly committed to the vigorous enforcement of intellectual property rights, existing tools are not strong enough to root out the worst online pirates beyond our borders.

Is it really as dire as all that? It’s an emergency is it? Tim points out that he and a lot of other content creators have been happily coexisting with piracy all this time, and I’m certainly one of them. Make good stuff, then make it easy for people to buy it. There’s your anti-piracy plan. The big content companies are TERRIBLE at doing both of these things, so it’s no wonder they’re not doing so well in the current environment. And right now everyone’s fighting to control distribution channels, which is why I can’t watch Star Wars on Netflix or iTunes. It’s fine if you want to have that fight, but don’t yell and scream about how you’re losing business to piracy when your stuff isn’t even available in the box I have on top of my TV. A lot of us have figured out how to do this.

So if you can stand me sounding a little crazy, listen: where is the proof that piracy causes economic harm to anyone? Looking at the music business, yes profits have gone down ever since Napster, but has anyone effectively demonstrated the causal link between that and piracy? There are many alternate theories (people buying songs and not whole albums, music sucking more, niches and indie acts becoming more viable, etc.). The Swiss government did a study and determined that unauthorized downloading (which 1/3 of their citizens do) does not create any loss in revenue for the entertainment industry. I remember but am now too lazy to find links to other studies that say the same thing. I can’t think of any study I’ve seen that demonstrates the opposite. If there is one, please point me to it. So I have a lot of trouble with the idea that the federal government is directing resources toward an ultimately ineffective game of piracy whack-a-mole (with some unknown amount of collateral damage to law-abiding citizens), when we are not even sure that piracy is a problem.

And if you can stand me sounding even crazier, here is this: making money from art is not a human right. It so happens that technological and societal blahbity bloos have conspired to create a situation where selling songs about monkeys and robots is a viable business, but for most of human history people have NOT paid for art. I don’t want this to happen again, and I would be very sad if this came to pass, but it’s not up to me to decide. We are constantly demonstrating through our actions what we believe to be the norms for acquiring and consuming content. Right now a lot of us think that it’s OK to download stuff through illegal sites under certain circumstances, and a lot of us think it’s totally fine to use those things to make videos and put them on YouTube even though YouTube profits from it. That’s not ME saying that, that’s US saying that – we’re a nation of pirates and infringers. Based on our behavior, you would not be wrong to deduce that some of us think funny videos on YouTube are more important than honoring intellectual property rights. This kind of thing has happened before. Entire industries rise and fall as the world changes and our priorities shift. Sorry.

I believe in copyright. I benefit from it. I don’t want it to go away. I love that we have laws and people to enforce them. But if I had to give up one thing, if I had to choose between copyright and the wild west, semi-lawless, innovation-fest that is the internet? I’ll take the internet every time.

Now you may comment. I’m going to watch this thread and respond when I can, and we’re going to have a nice discussion. We’re not going to have fights and call each other names, and if you’re a jerk, I’m going to delete the jerky things you say. (And if you infringe on my copyright I’m going to send federal agents to your home and throw your computers IN THE GARBAGE.)

442 responses to “MegaUpload”

  1. Victor says:

    I don’t pirate music.. You see I would rather not listen to most of the whiny little bitches that create it. My friends are the same. I do not mind from time to time paying for a musicians works or efforts.. and I believe we are are entitled to be paid for our labors. At the same time I see many more musicians and other artists or would be artists living near poverty while the bulk of the monies go to an elite few.. Suits and Stars.. It’s all crap.. as is most of what they create.

    I certainly value both contemporary music from country to industrial rock.. and classical pieces produced well… classically. I played and studying privately for 15 years. Not to perform for cash but for my own development and enjoyment. I have always believed there are a great deal more talented people in the arts than the concentrated effluva disgorged by Hollywood, Nashville or any other mega media center..

    Seen them performing in small town plays and ensembles at coffee houses in some bigger cities. Without the coke and narcissism.. it is a pleasure to enjoy people just being people.

    Maybe that’s the trick… we all just vote with out feet and wallets.. seek out the unknown talents of this world the unwashed.. who like our selves bear little resemblance to Lady Ga Ga or the next big PR Creation and drop $5 in their guitar case as we walk by.


  2. Eric says:

    In this, as in most discussions about “piracy” there is no discussion at all about the underlying fairness of the copyright laws. What seems to be forgotten is that there used to be a concept of the public domain. The original idea of copyright, like patents, was to give the creator of intellectual property exclusive rights to it — but for a limited period of time. After a reasonable period of time – originally something like ten years – the content passed into the public domain, where people could freely access and use it for whatever purpose they desired. All intellectual property created with government funding was in the public domain from the beginning, based on the valid principle that if taxpayers paid for it the taxpayers own it. When the creator of the content died it passed into the public domain automatically.

    What’s wrong with this picture? Media corporations have lobbied successfully over the years to steadily increase the time of copyright until today any intellectual property is essentially owned in perpetuity by the copyright owners. If it was written after 1920, copyrights can be renewed indefinitely. Government now happily participates in the copyright and patent mess, selling taxpayer-funded innovations to private corporations for their exclusive exploitation and gain.

    I would argue that the first step in combating “piracy” is to restore fair use, limit copyright periods, and rein in government and the media corporations so that the creation and distribution of art – and the monetary arrangements related to that – begin to flow in an unfettered manner and artists and consumers can make their own arrangements for how they pay and get paid for their work. An unfettered Internet is key to this model.

    The next step would be to reconsider what piracy is. For most of history, one artist using and expanding upon the work of another has been a standard way they learn and create. My favorite example is a Bach organ sonata that is actually a transcription and reworking of a Vivaldi double violin concerto. This one I know about because I have heard (and own legitimately purchased recordings of) and love both versions. Under today’s laws and ethos, Bach would be a pirate and a plagiarist! Yet this was common practice all the way through the nineteenth century. Everyone did it, everyone knew about it and expected it, no one thought that the composer or painter or whatever was doing anything wrong – or was less of an artist because of it. I could cite hundreds if not thousands of examples but that would be totally boring. How is digital sampling in the creation of a new recording all that different?

    “Piracy” will continue as long as the complex, burdensome, unfair and crippling copyright laws remain in effect. I would suggest that we reconsider the whole environment, and try to create something fair to artists and all content creators that allows just compensation to those who create and breaks the stranglehold of the current giant media companies on the process.

  3. Nick says:

    What is free and fair? To simple words. Why does the monetary note have the highest value in our world? It seems that all can be solved easily if our current financial structure was more humane. It’s cold and unfeeling. Maybe it’s time for a real r(evol)ution wherein real is a way of being. All in this world are tired of the treadmill. Yes you too. We have been bred and manipulated to see what is before us. A better world awaits where fairness and freedom is first and foremost. I am different and I care. Success is a feeling of being understood and acknowledged. A note is just a barter of what we can’t produce ourselves.
    Arguing complexities is a diversion. It’s really really simple. Change and change will follow.
    I disagree. I believe all these global company’s are controlling and corrupting our world, especially the entertainment industry. We’ve lost control to these entities that sit behind our finger puppet governments. We are but popcorn, popping one kernel at a time.

  4. Erin says:

    Bravo! I am now going to go over to your music portion and buy the songs that I listen to all the time for free on your website. Am I doing this because I want to be a good citizen? No, I’m a crummy citizen. Am I doing it because I care about your well-being? No, I don’t know you from Adam. I’m doing it because you make a damn good product and I don’t have convenient internet access every time I want to listen. I could try to steal the songs elsewhere, but you make it SO much easier to just buy them, and I know I’ll get a high quality version from your site.

    So there you have it. Make a good product and make it easy to buy, and you don’t need all the red tape.

  5. David Maggard says:

    One of the biggest problems I have with the RIAA types is that they always portray themselves as fighting for the artist, the poor poor artists, when it is really the labels that are pushing for these laws. I would have a lot more respect for them and their position if they were just honest about it. I think a lot of the industries worry over the internet is that execs are worried that if Joe Shmoe can share an album over the net with 1000s of people with virtually no cost then the artists will realize it as well and their days as the middlemen making money of the artists work will be over. They claim that every song is a loss of the amount the song would have cost, but how many pirates have more songs and/or movies then they could have ever afforded? Would the pirates have taken to robbing banks just to buy all the same music they just had to have??? Of course not, my bet is that, like me, virtually any music/movie they would have bought w/o piracy they still buy, and likely many buy more because it is no longer a gamble because they know they like it because they can try it before they buy. I believe that artists and those that do work are entitled to compensation, but the anti-piracy laws that we are seeing are similar in logic to castrating all men to combat rape, it may work to a degree, but the consequences are far worse than those that we are trying to avoid.

  6. Tim says:

    Regardless of political affiliation… if you were in the Republican primaries right now you’d get a lot of votes.

  7. Tim says:

    PS I have to think that services like Spotify/Rdio are hurting musician’s incomes a lot more than piracy ever will.
    PPS As a consumer I love Rdio
    PPPS As a musician I kinda hate it

  8. Thomas Weatherly says:

    I like your craziness. I am a poet and agree that intellectual property rights are important, but I would not get bent if someone quoted my work with attribution. If they profited I’d sue them in civil court. IP rights do not belong in criminal court in most cases; although the corporate stealing should be a crime.

    I do not steal.
    I depend on lots of freeware computer software for which sometimes the authors ask for donations. If I find a program that is useful and good, I donate to the creator. I feel that I should pay the creator something, what they suggest, and it’s usually well below the program’s worth.

    I like to buy music directly from the music makers. I can get it autographed. I’ve become friends with the members of some of my favorite bands. I know that my money, all of it, goes to the band or writer or composer.

    There is no need for creators of art to go to industry, except for booking agents maybe, because they can sell their work from a web site.

  9. marcyt says:

    I’d never heard of Megaupload until this thing got reported in the news, so I can’t comment on it specifically, but I suggest that the government should call a meeting of artists from different media (as opposed to the owners of big media companies) and ask them their opinions. It’s not for me or any user to decide, but if you’re ok with it and other artists are ok with it, then let the illegal downloading, etc continue.

  10. Nathaniel says:

    I hate piracy with a passion, and I take pride in knowing that everything I have ever downloaded was legal, but that being said… I consume a lot of music via youtube or other free sites (thankfully most are legal now) or I wouldn’t be able to listen to much at all. I’ve gone to concerts for artists from whom I couldn’t afford to buy a cd until after I had seen them live, which is crazy. I don’t think piracy is the big problem the media makes it out to be, but I certainly believe it’s wrong. However, I agree fully with your viewpoint, Jonathan. Anti-piracy plans should be about making it easier for consumers to purchase things, not bashing them over the head repeatedly because they think 18 dollars is too much to pay for an album. 100% of the money I’ve spent on music in the past 2 years has been on artists who sell their albums for cheap (less than 10 dollars) or give away their music for free and ask for donations. As a musician myself, I want to release music this way if I ever start sharing things good enough for people to decide it’s worth money.

  11. Anton says:

    My wife is very fond of east asian “dramas” (live-action soap operas) which are non-existant here in Sweden. There is no other way for her to consume this other than downloading or streaming these fansubbed (yes, fans take time to translate without any monetary gain) series.
    But to be honest, this is pirating.
    There was a discussion on the radio a few years ago about an now 70-year old Spannish immigrant who had found out that she could find old Spannish tango on the ‘net. This was music only available on very expensive vinyl collections.
    The interviewer on the radio asked two anti-piracing advocates about this, one of them said that she wasn’t really the target, but the other was furious that she downloaded this music. That is not for sale unless second hand. Where there is no creator that can get paid.

  12. Angelbane says:

    Well to be honest anyone that supports the shutdown of Megaupload, or any site like it, I take issue with.

    I purchased tickets for the they might be giants show that you are opening for, had you made this statement before i bought tickets … I would not have and i will most certainly not give you ANY more money or support your music in anyway.

    The problem is not piracy the problem is the music industry … the industries attitude and behavior is the reason people do not purchase more music.

  13. orkestrzhopa says:

    i don’t get how angelbane up there got ‘jonathan coulton is supporting the takedown of megaupload so i will not buy his music ever’ from this post.

    that having been said, i don’t disagree with anything you wrote, especially in regards to music/other things that just aren’t available in certain countries.
    a whole lot of russian music, for example, isn’t available for purchase online or as hard copies in any stores i know. the only way to get it is to either visit the country or scour the internet for downloads (which are also pretty rare), and damned if i’m going to go through all that effort in getting a visa and paying for plane tickets/lodging /and/ trying to find my way around, all just for one cd

  14. Adamm says:

    Jonathan, I infringed on your copyright I think. I made a cover of “Nobody Loves You Like Me”, and put it on YouTube. I didn’t mean to do you any harm, (in fact I bought your entire AH album via iTunes, which is where I first heard that song). I was just trying to reach a girl that left me and I wanted to woo her back with my skills on the vocoder. I’m sorry. I didn’t really seem to work anyways (it never does) Please don’t send federal agents to my house.

  15. Angelbane Fails at Reading Comprehension says:

    Angelbane: Are you an idiot? Did you even read the article, or did you skim it? He clearly states that he’s against the shutdown. He also states that he puts Internet rights above his own Intellectual Property rights as a matter of principle.

    You clearly can’t read.

    Most people don’t respond to a well thought out opinion piece that mirrors their own opinion in a negative way.

  16. Matt says:

    [b]”Make good stuff, then make it easy for people to buy it. There’s your anti-piracy plan. The big content companies are TERRIBLE at doing both of these things”[/b]

    Well said Jonathan. That’s the quote that’s going to stay with me. I grew up in the ’70s and ’80s (pre-Internet) and if I wanted to hear “niche music” I had to take a bus to New York City, go downtown and comb the record stores for music (or magazines, etc.) that I enjoyed.

    The internet is a miracle.

  17. Ollie says:

    Jonathan you are a hypocrit! I see that you are selling your music?
    Why not just give it away as you are such an advocate for piracy.
    Be sure to share your views with Ellen here



  18. Niedec says:

    Wow. So we have one person that now thinks Jonathan is so against piracy that they are boycotting his music entirely, and another that thinks he is Piracy Santa Claus (or something).

    Just a thought: maybe the entire purpose of measured, serious discussion is to AVOID pinning arguments as “pro-Team 1” or “pro-Team 2” and actually reach some logical consensus on an argument’s merits alone.

    Personally, I’m in a weird place with piracy, because I’ve always been a huge fan of the honor system, and that’s how it seems to me: “take as much of my music as you want from the bucket, then pay what you think it is worth.” But of course, that’s sheer idealism, and I suppose that’s the problem with the debate. As Jonathan pointed out, there’s a distinct lack of data surrounding this, especially US-specific data, and it’s a bit strange that we’d be creating new anti-piracy laws without these numbers in place. Sure, we have a handful of stats in support of each side, but mostly, I think it’s still being decided as an ethical question.

    Question for Mr. Coulton: do you know how much money you personally receive from each ticket at your concerts? I go to a lot of shows, but I rarely buy anything at the merch booth. I’ve always been curious how much I’m actually paying you.

  19. Niedec says:

    Quick addendum:

    Wish I had seen the length of some of the other posts people have made here. Haven’t read through all of them, so I might just be parroting points from a two-week-old conversation. Oops.

  20. RP says:

    Ollie: there is actually no hypocrisy in making something available for sale and then saying that some piracy is victimless and that what we do from now on should be determined by consensus of everyone in society. Could it be that Mr. Coulton here would like to give you the option to buy his product and would indeed be happy if you did so, but yet also thinks it isn’t a huge tragedy if some people choose to “pirate” it because buying won’t always be the best solution for all people? Seems like it to me. Seems like he is in fact saying that sales and piracy can co-exist.

    Hypocrisy would be if he made this post which says, to radically over-simplify, “piracy is not big media’s real problem” and then formed a task force to eliminate piracy called “Jonathan Coulton’s task force to eliminate all piracy for all reasons, because it really is the worst thing ever (yes even worse than the bubonic plague) and definitely the media industry’s biggest problem.”

  21. Ollie says:

    That would be hypocrisy in it’s pure uncut straight from Wikipedia form.
    What I was aiming at is more like double standards, than hypocrisy.
    Piracy has never been victimless, it’s just that the various institutions effected have accounted for it in their budget. It was at one time a stable amount of around 3% of revenue. No big deal. But if you recall, there was stil plenty of anti piracy campaigns, reason being is even though they except that some residual groups in society are unreasonable enough to justify piracy. If they didn’t raise the awareness it would escalate into being the norm because everyone is doing it. As humans we tend to follow, we mimic the behavior around us.
    Piracy use to be victimless, but it isn’t now, it’s unreasonable to say well it’s ok for some to do it, you must apply the same principles to all. Piracy should be tolerated at a minimal level but in no way advocated.
    Most of us are all in aggreance, it’s theft, but where the grey area is, is who should be held accountable.

  22. jochen knochen says:

    hi jonathan,
    you are 100 % right with what you are saying, thanks

  23. Joel P says:

    I agree wholeheartedly with you, but in answer to your request “If there is one, please point me to it” (a study showing that piracy causes economic losses to the entertainment industry), yesterday’s New York Times piece, “The Perpetual War: Pirates and Creators”, by Eduardo Porter, claims:

    “Of course, not every pirated download displaces the sale of a book, album or movie. But when it comes to music, most economic studies have concluded that piracy accounts for the vast majority or even entirety of the sales decline.”

    NYT piece:

    The study he links to:

    I very much disagree with his piece but am not qualified to challenge the study (especially since it’s paywalled and I will neither pay for nor torrent it), but I wanted to add it to the discussion here.

  24. Adrian says:

    @Ollie Umm, Coulton does offer his music for free. Almost everything he writes is released under a Creative Commons license that allows everyone to, quote:
    You are free:
    to Share — to copy, distribute and transmit the work
    to Remix — to adapt the work

    AND on his downloads page ( you can listen to every song *in its entirety* (not clipped previews) before buying. He offers his music to purchase out of convenience and happens to make money off of it, because most people prefer to pay for awesome music.

    That’s not hypocrisy, that’s an adaptation to new social norms, which is precisely Coulton’s argument.

  25. RP says:

    Ollie: that’s not even a double standard. I can summarize his statements and actions as “content creators don’t have an unalienable right to get paid, but I do enjoy that fans have volunteered to pay.”

    That is just a statement with two semi related parts. A double standard is when you apply different standards to different groups that should be treated the same.

    There its a difference between liking something and being legally or morally entitled to it. I would like a million dollars, but I have no right top demand that you give it me. Piracy is not theft precisely because it does not deny anyone of his or her property. To equate them is to equate your unwillingness to give me a million with stealing a million dollars from me.

  26. Adrian says:

    FYI – Ellen Seidler, which @Ollie mentions above, *is* a hypocrite. Her movie, And Then Came Lola, was ripped off of the foreign film, Run Lola Run, only remade to be about lesbians. Yet she has the audacity to complain that Google AdWords is stealing her movie? This smells like satire, or a really cruel publicity scheme. The first thing I thought when I read that interview was the elephant-in-the-room question: “Have you ever thought of streaming your own movie through a website supported by AdWords?” Then she’d be the benefactor of all those pennies she’s so vigilantly fought.

  27. ajollynerd says:

    On an unrelated note: Where on Artificial Heart are the robots and monkeys? You claim that the market provides a place for artists to sell songs about robots and monkeys. I demand more robots and monkeys on the next album. Pretty please?

  28. Craig says:

    I’m currently listening to a fascinating podcast that references this very blog post and talks about the issues with PIPA, SOPA and MegaUpload. Also one of the podcasters is a JoCo fan:

  29. Media Pirate says:

    I pirate music, basically, because I’m lazy. I could start a rambling argument that the first people to play notes, the people who discovered these sounds, own them. Fact is, all the notes known have been played, all the chords. Words used in literature and songs exist in everyday speech before being used in art. Who owns words, or notes? Who owns the idea of teen love, an unfair society, darkness, happiness, revenge? Society. Art is merely the observation of its environment. So who owes who in that arraignment? That being said, I gladly lay down money to see my favorite artists in concert, I buy their t-shirts and what-nots. I give them money to allow them to continue doing what they love to do. But, if it is too difficult to give them that money, remember I’m lazy, I will just get it from a pirate site.

  30. Skippy says:

    I like the take on piracy. Most will either rage for it (the internet) or rage against it (US government). I personally believe that piracy is a completely vicimless ‘crime’. For intance, I go online and download an album by Kanye West or something. I didn’t pay for that. So thanks to me, he’s gonna have to make do with with a solid gold mansion and millions of dollars. Poor Kanye. The same goes to the film industry, with the addition that millions of people will see your movie in a cinema. So their argument is even less valid

    Of course, not everyone is Kanye West or Warner Brothers. So, if, lets say, your first ever album gets passed around excessively on the internet, it’s still a win. Now you have an internet fanbase. These fans will listen to your next album, perhaps some will do so illegally. Even so, you still have fans. They will come to our live shows, which can’t be pirated, and, as JoCo said, they will slap $20 down at the merch table.

    In short, any publicity is good publicity

  31. smr says:

    “It harms everyone from struggling artists…”

    I consider myself a struggling artist of sorts, but I’m sorry, it’s the saturation of socially engineered content (made foremost to turn a buck) brought on by big companies who seek to industrialize expressive art mediums that cause me suffering.

  32. smr says:

    I think you make a good point on how our actions as a whole define what we see as ‘moral’. The large amount of piracy speaks volumes to the current climate of copyright law, and that it needs a total rewrite to take into account the rapid spread of information this age allows. For example, I believe the time it takes for a work to enter the public domain should be far shorter than it currently is.

    Seriously, with the Internet it only takes a few months for the majority of the public to hear and make a decision of whether to support a song. And if you look at music sales charts, you can see they really taper off after a year or two. Unless, of course, some awesome YouTube video sparks up popularity again (Rick-roll anyone?), in which case the artist really doesn’t deserve credit for that sudden spark in popularity – YouTube users do.

  33. Alexander Ingvarsson says:

    I have never actually downloaded nor bought your music, but I have abused my Youtube rights :) Your songs are so good that when I first heard them I was tempted to downlaod them as they were not for sale in my country… Ir esisted the temptation though and waited through 2006 until they were on the good old radioblog.

    About your discussion, Your views on Piracy mirror mine almost completely, which is odd. Everytime i mention my opinion to either party I get hissed and boo’d at 😛

    Sadly, I just think the world hates itself so much It is inclined to argue int he msot silliest fashion about the silliest things, and frankly, I don’t care if someone who makes 13 million$ / year loses 1$ a year, especially if they are bad (cough* rap music *cough)

    just my 2 cents

  34. Louie says:

    Lets make a little calculation. Megaupload costed the copyright owners 500 Million dollars in a total over 5 years. Everyday Megaupload had 50 MILLION users and an overall 1 billion people user base. Now on the other hand we have the american goverment that have spend more than 2500 billion dollars over the last 5 years on military equipment. Now why do U.S.A buy military equipment? Well simply because that’s the way they try keep peace in the world (except half the money goes to the war in Irak).

    If U.S.A just spend 0,001% just small 0,001% of those money to pay the copyright owners we would be able to maintain freedom on the internet. These small 0,001% yearly would make 1 billion people happy around the world.
    As i’ve always said –

    The internet is our freedom.
    Freedom cost.

  35. William says:

    Content providers should be rewarded because not only do they deserve to be rewarded but it benefits society as a whole to give them the incentive to produce. On the other hand, copyright and patent law, which are basically earned monopolies, are extremely clumsy ways to reward them. Does anyone seriously believe Microsoft deserves all of the money it has gotten for Microsoft office? I mean, it took a pittance to develop those programs,they are puny, they have been around for decades, and Microsoft charges hundreds of dollars for them and hundreds of millions of copies have been bought-and Microsoft gets away with this because they are the “standard”, initially became so through bait and switch, and for a very longtime practiced file incompatibility until the EU or someone forced them out of it. Given how many copies are sold of it, even windows itself, though a lot of work to make, reflects this ill-gotten profits model.

    J Co points out that the music industries profit has gone down, but what about its output? Yes, Bill Gates should be rich, and I very much respect what he has done with his fortune visa ve charity, but from the perspective of trying to make our markets efficient, does he really deserve tens of billions of dollars for windows and office, or would he have contributed just as much to society for far less? Doesn’t it cost jobs when you give one person way more incentive than they need at the expense of many other people who would’ve done more for that money?

    The extremes highlight a generalism, which is that content providers are often overpaid, and I think this means a lot of piracy can happen before it really starts hurting us when it comes to the big names. The people who piracy really threatens to cut off the supply from are those on the margins. Those who are already rich quite often are overcompensated. So copyright law needs to tweaked before I could back fully effective enforcement even if there was a way to apply it without it doing a lot of collateral damage to things almost everyone agree are fair use. It needs to be more or less as was for the little guy, but it needs to take the big guys down some notches.

  36. dropOut says:

    I see it as this. In a world where the corporations are still making billions, still aren’t creating jobs and the unemployment rate continues to climb, does the government have a right to shut down websites that are keeping people employed?

    I mean I don’t know how many people it took to ran Megaupload, but I’m sure there was at least a 100 or so people who were just doing their job that caught in a vicious crossfire and now are unemployed. Piracy may be immoral, and I would be lying if I said I haven’t engaged in it before, but is it really worth it for however much money they’ve estimated it to be worth, to destroy one of the few entities in the world that is almost infinite in it’s job creating possibilities?

  37. ProgFox says:

    You raise many valid points here Jonathan. For years and years Megaupload may have profited from illegal downloads and media usage, but has the american economy really suffered because of that? Is it really fair for the government to bitch about piracy when gas prices get so high that people have to take second and third jobs just to pay for gas to keep going to their eighteen areas of employment?

    The fact of the matter is, not a single person from our generation has seen office. Every person who holds the power to make these kinds of decisions has NO clue what they’re really talking about. Sure they may have studied, and clicked a couple of silly YouTube links, but have they REALLY seen what the internet does? The internet itself is a form of art, communication, sex, innovation, anything you can imagine the internet can somehow do and the only thing limiting that is the people who can put the content onto it.

    Whats worse is thanks to ACTA, which has quite daringly circumvented democracy, is going to allow certain icky things from SOPA/PIPA to become international law. The citizens have no say, because big business is wearing their big-boy pants.

    Don’t get me wrong, piracy is indeed bad, but again its not entirely evil. Like most things in the world its a gray area. Like leeches in days past, people once believed they could cure illness and the pirates of the high bandwidth might be taking a large cut from big industry to give to those who could turn it into something truly unique and wonderful.

  38. Max says:

    Users download movies illegally for the simple reasons that there aren’t any user friendly videos platforms. Until Itunes came with their 99cents model, friendly interface etc. most users were downloading music illegally – just because there weren’t any alternatives. In this is still the case today, what we need is a simple, user friendly and affordable platform. Whatever comes next, it certainly be legal, after,

  39. NessMonster says:

    JoCo makes a number of good points. A couple of my own:

    – I’m not sure that group consensus to do illegal things necessarily means that it’s right to do so. The fact that most people speed while driving doesn’t mean it’s safer or more fuel-efficient to drive 80 or 90 instead of 55, it just means that most people put their own convenience or schedule ahead of their own (and others’) safety. Which is why we still ticket people for speeding. Similarly, the fact that events have conspired to make it easy to take content without paying for it doesn’t mean that people collectively have made a societal judgment that materially rewarding content creators isn’t worth it, it just means that it’s easier and more convenient for them not to pay, and they put their own pocketbook ahead of the artists’ interests. Most of these people would probably object if their employers or the industry in which they work all of a sudden decided that it wasn’t worth compensating them for flipping burgers or doing marketing. They expect to be paid for their efforts – why shouldn’t artists be paid for theirs?

    – That said, I agree with the comment about how it’s unknowable whether there is the level of damage the government claims. I buy what I get online, and if there’s a Website I frequent that has a tip jar, I use it. Then again, I’m at a point in my life where I have enough disposable income that I can afford to do such things. There may be people out there who are just starting out, who aren’t able to do those things, but who will make up for it later when they are out of debt or employed or otherwise can afford to do so. You just don’t know.

    – I also agree with the point about making it easy for people to acquire things legally. I once bought a set of DVDs on eBay that was a bootleg of a complete TV series from the 1960s. This series has NEVER been released commercially, reportedly because two different companies own the rights and can’t agree on how to split the money. This is stupid on any number of levels, mostly because the fans of this show, who were kids in the mid-1960s, will start dying out before it comes to market, if ever. If it were ever released commercially, believe me, I’d be first in line to buy it. But since it appears it will never become available, I have absolutely zero qualms about paying for somebody’s set of episodes that they recorded off Canadian TV. So I think JoCo is spot on: make it worth paying for, and make it easy to buy it legally, and most people will buy it. There will always be those who won’t, just as there will always be shoplifters. But I think most people will eventually be happy to compensate those who provide them with content they like.

  40. Wait a second…
    “And if you infringe on my copyright I’m going to send federal agents to your home and throw your computers IN THE GARBAGE.” – Jonathan Coulton on his blog

    So all I have to do really, is to pick my computer out of the garbage can?
    By the way, I really want “Want You Gone” on iTunes. I didn’t find it on my shopping spree half an hour ago.

  41. NessMonster: “It just means that it’s easier and more convenient for them not to pay,”
    In many cases the DRM actually makes it worse… It is easier and more convenient beyond the money. I’d pay for a DRM free version instead of a gratis (free as in free beer) DRMed one, no matter how legal the DRMed was.
    Some things done by the industry punishes the honest consumers, but do nothing to the pirates. The hazzle of DRM is in a lot of cases the biggest inconvenience of buying “legal” copies. (the monetary one being negligible in comparison)
    Yes, you have a point, but at the same time, who are we protecting? The industry or the artists.
    I believe that Metallica appreciated me coming to *one* of their concerts a lot more than me buying all their CDs. And I’ll ask JoCo: What would you enjoy the most, assuming I did actually do all of them. (give you most satisfaction as an artist)?
    a) Me buying “Artificial Heart”
    b) Me showing up at a concert
    c) Me recognizing you at some arbitrary location, and telling you I love your music and ask if I can buy you a beer. (or something)

    I’d love C the most, but if you have enough of a fan-base, B would be the most likely candidate. (I believe, but I am not sure that Metallica Loves engaged audiences, like those in Norway)

  42. Sorry about this comment flood,
    Piracy is more convenient than buying, in addition to the money, that is the problem. Look at Leo Laporte, he had to cap his tip-jar when he went to “I only take my money from donations, TWiT give me no salary”. The problem is that good content is what matters in the modern days. In the nineties to early 2000’s the amount of skin in your music video determined how popular you were. (yes I am indeed hinting towards a certain blonde) Now you have to be a good artist, unless you are backed by a label. We live in a world where Jon Stuart(!) is the most trusted newscaster.
    But most of all you really need the engagement of your fans; if you appeal to fourteen year old girls, I have no idea what you should do in the internet world, sorry. But Jonathan should be able to make his living from his art, but I do not see a reason why anyone else should make their living from Jonathan’s art, sure the studio owner should get paid, and so should the poor guy with the task to edit it, but I’d rather have them charge by the hour than a percentage.

    The “piracy” problem is in many cases the middle men complaining, not the artists. Or lesser artists that believes the propaganda. I would never have bought any CoCo if I didn’t hear the portal songs, but what really sold me was “Mandelbrot Set” on youtube. <3<3<3