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Rant #236
(published July 21, 2005)
Why We Aren't Stealing Music
by the PMjA Staff
In a time of national malaise, depravity and decadence, we at Poor Mojo's Almanac(k) are taking a bold stance: We aren't stealing music.

We are publishers and "content producers", in the ugly parlance of our times: we make stuff and we distribute stuff. In the past five years, via this fair Almanac(k), simply among our own staff (and largely thanks to the weekly writings of our own Giant Squid), we've written and distributed over half a million words. That's the equivalent of five Stephen-King-sized novels, 400 New York Times articles or 2500 of those little AP Wire blurby-type stories.

At no cost to anyone other than ourselves. And this doesn't even take into account music, graphic art, the Newswire, or the scads of poetry and prose submitted by independent writers over the last five years. It's entirely likely that we've distributed 1 million words in total, at no cost to you, the end consumer.

Now, just because we make this all available for you for free (as in "no charge") doesn't mean that you are free (as in "at liberty") to do with it as you please; all of our writers retain their copyrights. For the forseeable future (that is, their own lifetime plus 70 years) each of them has the sole right to profit from their work and derivative works. We dig that.

Copyrights are funny things, aren't they? Why, we recall that just a few years ago, when the Internet became a household term, and kids started sharing their music (golly, is there anything more important to a teen than his or her music?) via Internet (as opposed to doing so via casette tapes, as was at that time still the mode), there was such a hubbub from the Recording Industry Association of America.

"What's the problem?" America's young ne'erdowells whined, "We're sharing. Doesn't everyone want us to play nice and share!"

Chagrined, the poor RIAA gasped, "You're violating our copyrights!"

And all the teen slackers replied, "Nu-uhn; we aren't profiting from this, and the arguments that we're hurting your bottom line are pretty paper thin—like, remember when you said filesharing was killing the music industry in the same year that they posted a 400% profit?"

And the Corporate world allowed that those damn kids had a point, and so they rephrased their dissent "Well, you're stealing!"

"Stealing what?" Teen America asked, looking around shiftily and shoving their cigarette lighters and candy bars into the pockets of their voluminous denim trousers.

"Stealing . . ." the RIAA felt around for while "Intellectual Property!"

Theft is "to take without right or leave, and with intent to keep wrongfully"; it is a crime against tangible property—I have the skate key or you have the skate key, and if the skate key is mine, and you have it, and you won't give it back, then there is no more skate key for the "property owner"—sadness ensues. Once I buy property, I own it until such time as I dispose of it as I choose. Perhaps I'll ultimately sell the skate key, perhaps I'll throw it away, perhaps I'll be buried with it. It is my property, and in America, I can do with it exactly as I choose.

But in this magical turn of phrase "intellectual property," "content producers" (in the parlance of our times) transformed a limited monopoly on copyrighted treatments of original ideas for the purpose of encouraging developments in science and the arts so as to have certain properties inhering to physical goods—such as it could be "stolen" (which in this context means "used in some manner in consistent with the producers intent.") Additionally, their "intellectual property" still maintains some of the qualities of copyrighted work, such as that monopoly. Not only do they own the skate key, but they also get to determine who can take their skates off when. It's a brave new world.

Why do we, as content producers and intellectual property holders, bring this up? Because we want the charity of what we do to be seen properly: Copyrightable content is, in the parlance of our times, "intellectual property." It's property, and thus our putting it out there for the whole world, for free, is an enormous act of charity.

We are very charitable people, like the Catholic church, like America in general; charitable people don't steal things. It's simply not done.We don't steal music.

But we download just about anything that we come across that catches our interests. And we aren't stealing, because we've already paid for it, in half-a-million words. We like Casiotone For The Painfully Alone; we came across his stuff and downloaded it. In turn, he's welcome to everything we've put up. Share and share a like; we're all fellow celebrants at the same big cultural pot-luck, and there's simply no need for the RIAA or MPAA to come and stick their collective dick in the mashed potatoes.

"But art is not fungible!" The stodgy, uncharitable intellectual property owners wail, "Who are you to say that your ramblings are anywhere nears as valuable as those of the esteemed Mr. King?"

Well, didn't the Supreme Court just rule that, essentially, real estate is as fungible as a greenback dollar bill? That one piece (your home, for example) is just as good as another (the tiny apartment you'll be obliged to move to once your home is taken by the city and given to a private company to develop for greater economic benefit.) Or, as Dulcinea sings in Man of La Mancha, "One pair of arms is much like another." Why should any property be any different? Why should intellectual property be any different? If something as personal as a home—where you've made your life—is fungible, than anything is.

"But this exchange isn't voluntary!" Metallica stammers, "We have no choice in the matter!"

And neither do the folks' whose houses are seized and purchased, than torn down to make way for an office complex or shopping plaza. You're still getting fair market value—all of the Squid Columns where he talks about love are worth at least as much as "Enter Sandman," in a fair trade "I'll give you my Twinkie for your PB&J"-type situation. The community has determined that there is greater economic value for the whole to share your work freely than for you to keep it locked up, and so have seized it, and offered you a fair market exchange of all the porno, movies, TV shows, songs, paintings and poems the Internet has to offer.

We're not stealing music (or movies or words or what have you), we're bartering for it. And hell, everyone else who hasn't made the first bytes of their art present on this Internet, free as in beer, they aren't stealing art, either, their developing it. Something terrific is cooking out there, and we all get to have it.

You're stealing from us!

No, we're not.

Then where's our payment?!?

We're paying you in kind; we left it all over the Internet. Go get it. But don't fuck with our copyrights.

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