An Editorial Response to an Article By Marci A. Hamilton
I appreciated your article from last month entitled “Why Suing College Students for Illegal Music Downloading Is the Right Thing To Do.” You brought up some worthy points, however for every argument you made on the behalf of the RIAA, there is an opposing – and equally valid – counterargument.According to your article, copyright law is what helps create culture, maintain it, and ensure the survival of new and unknown artists. Of course much of this is true; without their name attached to a number one hit an artist might not make their first million dollars, or even their first dime. Yet let’s be honest, it’s not the law that defines who receives payment for music – it’s the fame. There are many cases in which an artist’s popularity and success is not defined by their ownership of a song, but by their performance. Ask yourself how DJs can be popular and make a living, when they do not own any of the copyrights for the songs that they perform. The same goes for cover bands who perform specifically songs that are owned by other artists, yet manage to make a living on their music performing. I can guarantee you that Britney Spears does not own the copyrights for most of her songs, rather the people who write them do. In all likelihood she owns no copyrights, certainly Jive Records owns her image. Yet she managed to buy herself a condo in L.A. recently, and is apparently doing just fine.
Perhaps then it is the songwriters who deserve to retain their copyrights, and thus make a profit. Yet most of those songs that become billboard-toppers are in fact commissioned, not copyrighted by the authors. Who owns the rights for them then? The record companies, of course. You see, in pop music today success is not based on whether you own your own song or even if you write songs, but is instead based upon your image and the image your company creates for you. Artists are “cast” into their roles, they do not claw their way in. Spears, Avril Lavigne, *NSYNC, The Backstreet Boys, and many other pop stars are paid for their beauty and dancing skills, not their talent at creating music. Not until Spears’ third studio album Britney did she have any writing credits, and only co-writing at that. (For independent music where expression is more sincere than their pop counterparts, file sharing can only help these artists – as I will explain later in this letter.)
This proves that many artists do not receive proper payment for their music because of copyrights, but instead because of royalties that are defined through their record contracts. But unfortunately as recent events have shown, labels are in fact stealing millions of dollars per year in royalties from their artists (according to a Senate hearing on record labels’ accounting practices in California last year).
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