By: Paul S. Cilwa Viewed: 2/20/2020
Posted: 12/15/2006
Topics/Keywords: #Science #History #Music #Movies #InternetPiracy #Politics Page Views: 3531
Let's point out the REAL villains in the movie and music piracy wars.
Online piracy. Costume optional.

As early as 1398, the word "royalty" was borrowed into English (from the French roialte) to refer to the "office or position of a sovereign". In those days, the King owned everything. If you wanted to live on a bit of property, or cut down a tree, or hunt for a rabbit—you had to pay that royalty for the privilege. As centuries passed, people accepted "paying the royalty" as a fact of life. By 1839, the word was used to refer to paying any landowner (not just a King) for the use of a mine, and by 1857, payment to an author or composer for the use of his work.

Thanks to for the etymology!

Throughout most of humanity's Earthly sojourn, music has been free, and the making of it was considered an uplifting, even sacred, experience. Most composers worked for a church or a noble, the job paying salary and/or rent and, eventually, a pension. For many people, the religious experience was defined by liturgical music; the music alone could inspire religious thoughts and love of deity. Indeed, because of the subtle nature of music's influence over us, a point could be made that music defines us; that it has a power over our emotional states that is impossible to ignore.

Thus it was inevitable that those who would control us, would co-opt music.

Even today, some religions forbid secular singing; many also disapprove of people's natural reaction to music: rhythmic movement. (An old joke goes, "The reason Baptists are against sex is they're afraid it will lead to dancing.") The fact that just a few hundred years ago, all Christians were told that secular music was sinful, while now only a small percentage of them restrict themselves to sacred music only, just proves music's power over us all. It's not easy to get a church to reverse a moral stance on anything; yet most Christians did just that, forcing their respective churches, synods and dioceses to give up trying to suppress the popular tune.

Not that popular music can be avoided even if you want to. You can't go into a grocery store, a restaurant, or even an elevator without being serenaded by "The Tide Is High" or "Unbreak My Heart" or "I've Got To Get You Into My Life."

Over the centuries, philosophers have struggled to identify what, exactly, distinguishes humans from animals. Mark Twain observed that "Man is the only animal that blushes - or needs to." Astute, but not completely true; the various monkeys with bare faces all redden on occasion. William Hazlitt said, "Man is the only animal that laughs and weeps; for he is the only animal that is struck with the difference between what things are, and what they ought to be." However, he is also wrong; monkeys and parrots laugh; and we all know about "crocodile tears." Music, on the other hand, does set us apart. It's hard to tell whether chimps and gorillas in the wild would appreciate music, but beyond the simple bang-bang-bang drumming chimps sometimes do, they do not make music for themselves. Birdsong is basic communication, not music. On Earth, only humans and whales seem to sing for pleasure rather than communication. (For an example, listen to a five-year-old make up a song. If there are lyrics, they won't comprise an intelligible message, any more than the "words" to "La Bamba" or "Who Put The Bop In The Bop-Shoo-Bop-Shoo-Bop" do.)

However, music can include a message; and whatever that message is, for good or ill, by enclosing it in a song, the potency of the message is increased; and not only because songs by their nature are repeated (and heard repeatedly). There is also something about the music itself that drives the words it carries deep into the psyche. That's why educators know that putting lessons to music is a more effective teaching tool than anything else. That's why, when I quote, "Conjunction Junction, What's Your Function?" you not only know what a conjunction is; you also know where and when you heard that song before.

Humans and whales may both sing for pleasure, but only humans make musical instruments and then play them. (Certain trained chickens can peck out notes on a toy piano; but no chicken could make a piano, no matter how motivated.) In ancient times, being able to sing and play an instrument was considered a requirement for being a high-class adult. Even one hundred years ago, most Americans could play the piano; lessons for children were considered an essential part of growing up.

Still, as much fun as making one's own music is, there is an undeniable appeal in listening to songs and music created by people who are particularly skilled. That makes these people sought after, which means they can sell their skill. At least as far back as Greece, persons with particularly pleasing voices—and perhaps a touch of showmanship—were able to sing before audiences and were paid to do so. In the middle ages, composers attracted wealthy patrons who supported them so they could devote their time to composition. And, by the time of Mozart, the invention of the printing press meant that sheet music could be sold.

The problem with selling sheet music, however, is that, given a choice, a person shopping for sheet music will buy a tune or song with which he or she is already acquainted. For large-scale pieces in the eighteenth century, that meant hearing it played in concert—or, at least, hearing it recommended by someone else who'd attended such a concert. In the nineteenth century, musical presentations such as minstrel shows and vaudeville made new songs more accessible; and the fact that nearly every home contained a piano and at least one pianist, made the selling of sheet music a thriving business…which no longer profited only the composer.

Sheet music publishers now came into existence, inserting themselves between the composer and the pianist and taking a sizable chunk of the sale for themselves, even though they had created nothing. Still, composers tolerated this because the publishers provided marketing and distribution services that sold far more copies of a song, in the end, than the composer could ever have sold on his own.

The 1880s, however, added a new factor to this mix: the Gramophone or phonograph.

Edison's cylinder phonograph would need a frequent influx of new cylinders to keep it interesting. (He guessed most people would want to own four or five recordings.) However, it was very difficult to mass produce the things. One master was only good for about six copies. So Edison hired musicians to perform a piece over and over, creating a master from each performance. Thus, any two copies of a title by the same performer, might not be identical.

It never occurred to Edison, the performers, or the composers, that the composers should be paid royalties. After all, royalties weren't paid when a piece was performed at home; the composer was paid when the sheet music was sold—whether the piece was performed once or a thousand times made no difference. And public performances served as advertising for the sheet music—in later decades, composers would pay popular singers, such as Fanny Brice, to perform their work. It was a good investment, because it translated directly into sheet music sales.

It's important, at this point, to note that the music publishers, while making the songs of certain songwriters available to the public, also prevented the songs of far more songwriters from ever being heard, simply by declining to publish those songwriters' work. Now, sure—most of those unpurchased songs were probably pretty bad. But who knows how many of them simply espoused musical or lyrical viewpoints that weren't shared by the acquisitions departments of the various publishers? And thus the power of the corporate media to control culture and thought developed once again, intruding into an area that, ideally, should be completely free of restraint: The human impulse to create and share music.

It is impossible to understate the power of the corporate media to shape culture. While many people insist that they don't watch TV and no one is going to tell them what to think, the proof is that even these people wear the same outfits as the rest of us, speak the same language, and most know who SpongeBob SquarePants is. We pick these things up from the people we talk to, who in turn got it from the mass media. Only a true, long-term hermit can claim to be untouched—and if he (or she) doesn't know Ross Geller, he almost certainly remembers Eddie Haskell.

In the early days of records, there were myriad independent publishers and they were most certainly not aligned to the same page. "I Didn't Raise My Boy To Be A Soldier" was a big hit in 1915, big enough that Teddy Roosevelt, who wanted war, was motivated to object to it.

Rooseveltís retort to the popularity of the antiwar song was that it should be accompanied by the tune "I Didnít Raise My Girl to Be a Mother." He suggested that the place for women who opposed war was "in China—or by preference in a harem—and not in the United States."

Yet despite the song's popularity, the singer, Morton Harvey, found he was persona-non-gratis afterwards. His hit marked the end of his career, thus sending a not-so-subtle message to any other would-be protest singers. Think about it: Harvey had a hit song, yet record producers refused to hire him after Roosevelt's objection. It wasn't a "conspiracy" in the usual sense; there was no record producer's association determined to bend to the President's wishes. Nevertheless, a de facto conspiracy sufficed to keep Harvey away from the recording studio—and undoubtedly also kept other anti-war songs we'll never know existed, from being recorded, for decades to come.

Meanwhile, tunes such as "Would You Rather Be a Colonel with an Eagle on Your Shoulder, or a Private with a Chicken on Your Knee?" were featured in the Ziegfeld Follies; and "Over There" provided young songwriter Irving Berlin with a career boost that served him for the rest of his life.

Conspiracy theorists look at events such as these and claim they are proof a conspiracy existed at the time. Perhaps one did; but one can also use the same events as snapshots of a conspiracy in the making. Because whether or not there was a worldwide conspiracy of a handful of powerful elite in the early 20th century, there certainly is one now—because there are now just a small handful of global corporations that own all the music publishers, record companies, cable TV channels, and even billboards, as well as quainter media types as newspapers and radio. And those few corporations also have stock in each other…and in the pharmaceuticals and oil companies and defense industries. How can anyone think the media would not support Big Pharma, Big Oil, and Big War? It would be very bad for business.

Individual singers, songwriters, reporters, and authors are, of course, not active, knowing participants in this conspiracy. But they don't have to be. Anyone who failed to write an anti-war song because of what happened to Morton Harvey, or chose to write a pro-war song because of Irving Berlin's success—helped make the conspiracy work, no matter how unaware of its existence they may have been.

Likewise, the corporate media has used itself to promote the false notion that individuals—real people—have a moral relationship to corporations. A corporation, by law, is a "legal fiction"—a "person" that exists only to protect the corporation owners from responsibility if that corporation injures some other, real person. But while a corporation is a legal person, it is not a real person. It is illegal (and probably foolish) to steal from a corporation, but it is not immoral, any more than it is immoral to tell a falsehood to a tree, or to kill time.

At the turn of the previous century, when a person bought a book or a record, he or she was free to share it. The book could be loaned or read aloud; the record could be loaned or played to a group of people. Singers and musicians were paid to record; they did not receive royalties. Doo-wop singer Betty Everett made the news when the plight of the singer became publicly known. Everett had sung one of the biggest hits ever, "The Shoop Shoop Song (It's In His Kiss)" yet received no royalties from it. When Cher re-recorded the song for the soundtrack of her 1990 movie Mermaids, she gave Everett a check for $10,000 even though she wasn't required to. In addition, Everett hadn't received royalties due her from later songs, since the label for which she had recorded them had gone out of business and the royalties were not transferred when a new company bought the old company's catalogue.

Modern day artists generally include better royalty agreements in their contracts, but not all do. Especially session performers, that is, backup singers and musicians, who usually receive nothing beyond a days' pay for their work. A singer might make a very good living as an independent backup singer, performing for decades; yet have no royalties due him or her on which to retire.

What do these people have in common: The Andrews Sisters, The McGuire Sisters, Brenda Lee, Woody Guthrie, Helen Kane, Kaye Starr, The Mills Brothers, Billie Holiday? Two things: They were all popular singers of the first five decades of the 20th Century…and neither they, nor their children, ever received royalties for the recordings they made that are still repackaged and sold to this very day! Tony Bennett may have left his heart in San Francisco but his voice is owned by Sony.

When radio started broadcasting records in the 1940s (previously radio had mostly made use of live music and drama), the royalty issue came up. By now, the ability to listen to professional musicians on a phonograph or the radio had been accepted as part of life; there was no longer so much pressure to learn to sing or play the piano. Anyone could play a record or turn on a radio. And so, gradually, most Americans abdicated the responsibility—and joy—of actively making their own music, in favor of passively listening to others do it for them.

But that meant sheet music sales were plummeting, and composers began to demand a royalty of the record sales and airplay itself. The solution was the creation of ASCAP (American Society of Composers And Publishers) and BMI (Broadcast Music, Incorporated), organizations that monitored radio broadcasts all over the country, to work out statistically which songs were being played the most—so the record's publisher could be paid a pro-rated royalty. Record labels now bore the phrase, "For non-commercial use only," with special "radio-station copies" being sent for airplay. When composers began incorporating royalties into their contracts, they got to share in the royalty for airplay. It would be three decades before singers accepted that their performance was as valuable a contribution to the song's success, as the song itself, and began demanding royalties of their own.

Movies underwent a similar evolution. In the days of the "studio system," an actor worked for a studio and drew a regular paycheck whether he or she was working on a movie or not. In the days before television, each movie was a one-shot deal, making the rounds after its initial release and never being seen again. On that basis, a studio could make a good estimate of how much a movie would make—it was largely a function of how much they planned to spend promoting it.

The reels of movie film were not always returned to the studio. The studio didn't need them once the film's run was over; and they would have cost a fortune to store. So copies of old movies were just floating around when television showed up. Studios didn't bother to renew the film's copyrights, either, unless it had been very successful in its original run and therefore might, someday, enjoy a rare "re-release". So, in the 1950s, if a TV station could find a copy of an old movie and buy or borrow it, the station could usually broadcast it at no additional charge. Many films that had been neglected during their theatrical releases found a new, more enthusiastic audience with repeated broadcasts. Such was the case with It's A Wonderful Life and The Wizard of Oz, both of which had been box-office flops.

Once the studios realized they had almost let the Goose That Laid The Golden Egg escape, they jumped to rectify the danger, renewing the copyright on any film for which it wasn't already too late and brokering television broadcast rights to the network that made the highest bid for each film.

The worst movie ever is generally considered to be Roger Corman's Plan 9 From Outer Space; DVDs of this movie continue to sell well, presumably to people who want to find out if it's really as bad as everyone says it is. It is.

With the arrival of home video tapes, and later DVDs, the studios began seriously salivating at the prospect of truly unlimited profits from any movie—even the worst movie ever. Studios always justified their huge profits by the risk they took in investing in a film. Nowadays, there's no risk! —Because even if few today want to watch Barbarella or the movie version of The Beverly Hillbillies, someday those films will become stylish, or quaint, or in some way amusing and then the sales will peak.

When you have eternity to make a profit, profit is guaranteed.

But now those pesky writers and performers and their royalty-including contracts threatened to take a slice of the pie. Through unionizing and strikes, writers and performers won the right to a share of the profits in films they wrote, or in which they appeared.

The studios couldn't have that! Fortunately for them, since there's no shortage of creative people in Hollywood, creative accountants found ways to hide the profits. Amazingly, a studio that makes millions, can "invest" in a whole catalog of movies and other projects that, somehow, manage to "lose" money. To take one recent example, the producers of the TV hit Frasier have had to sue the studio, Paramount, for their share of the royalties. In spite of the show's ten-year run, its sale to TV networks all over the world, and extremely popular DVD sales, Paramount claimed that Frasier didn't make any money, and that therefore no royalties are due. And this is just one example; cases like this are pending litigation all the time, within the music industry as well as the film industry (not that they're any different; they are all owned by the same three or four megacorporations, anyway).

But then, suddenly, a few years ago a new enemy appeared on the mega media corporations' radar. The Internet had made it possible for computer-savvy people to share music and movies with each other—at will, and with no money going to the corporations at all.

Now, people had shared music for years. They loaned records. When tape recorders were invented, people recorded their records for convenience and preservation purposes, and often shared tapes. But the recordings were considered to be of lesser quality than the original—a "copy of a copy"—and, in any case, they could be shared only by the medium of personal presence—handing over the tape to a friend—or mail.

But now, people were sharing their digital copies with thousands of people instead of just a few. And worse, the digital copies were indistinguishable from the originals. Sharing full-length movies, while not practical because of long transfer times, would clearly be coming in the near future. And so the studios, which were now responsible for both films and music, began to battle to end what they called "piracy" with the only weapon they truly knew how to wield: Public opinion.

That battle was so successful that most people now believe that "music piracy" is a threat to the existence of the music industry; that "movie piracy" will put electricians and film hairdressers out of work. The battle was given the frame of "piracy". Will it surprise you to know that this isn't what it's about at all?

In the case of a movie, the film (in most cases) has already made a generous profit by the time its theatrical release is complete. The studios cook the books so that it looks like they are depending on DVD sales to break even, but they are not. DVD sales make more money for the studios, to be sure—sometimes a lot more money. But if the studio's experience tells it a film will not sell at the theatre, it will not be made. Period.

Also, the studios have already taken potential copying into account when they price their DVDs. Why do you think Superman Returns is selling for around $20 while Superman: The Motion Picture is a mere $7.50? Simple; Superman Returns was just released and people want it now. They won't wait for a friend to buy and copy it for them. Besides, anyone who really doesn't want to buy the movie, can always rent it from their local video store. And—hmmm, this is interesting—video store rentals do not pay royalties. Each individual copy provides a royalty when it's bought, but not each rental.

In terms of money given to the studios for a given movie, there is no difference between a video store rental and a "pirated" copy! That alone should prove that the whole "movie pirate" frame is, to say the least, misleading.

In the case of music, people have been listening to music for free for years. It's called "radio". Yes, the stations carry advertising, which pays royalties. But there are Public Radio stations which don't carry advertising and so don't pay royalties. And people don't pay to listen to piped-in music in stores (though the stores do). But the new availability of "pirated" music has not impacted radio station popularity at all; and no one goes to a store or rides an elevator just to listen to the music.

Do musical artists suffer from widespread dissemination of their recordings? In spite of Metallica's widely publicized slam on music sharers, the fact is, no. Professional singers and groups have long recognized that the more people hear their music, the more successful their concerts will be. That's why singers went by for so many years without getting any royalties. That's why new bands like OK Go have used the Internet to promote themselves and their music.

Sharing music is not piracy. When pirates take something from you, you no longer have it. When file sharers make a copy of a movie or song, the studio still has the original.

So, what's the issue then? Why do they care if people share movies or music?

The fact is, there's only one thing that file sharing takes from the studios: Control of distribution.

Consider for a moment. "I Didn't Raise My Boy To Be A Soldier" was recorded before the advent of file sharing. When the song was released, public opinion of the events in Europe had not yet coalesced. Yet this anti-war song became popular, popular enough to impact that public opinion. When the President spoke out against it, stores stopped selling it. If there had been radio in those days, stations would have stopped playing it. The performer, Morton Harvey, could no longer get vaudeville gigs. He was effectively shut down, so that few people today know the song even existed, especially by comparison to "Over There", which everyone knows (partly because it was resurrected for World War II). Pro-war songs quickly steered public opinion to the opposite direction; support for both World Wars was almost universal.

What if "I Didn't Raise My Boy To Be A Soldier" had been recorded just after the events of 9/11/2001? Public opinion was still murky, before we'd been told who had attacked us or what the response might be. Still, within months we had bombed Afghanistan and, shortly after, Iraq. The media presented a solid front: All Americans were shown to be solidly in support of president Bush and his War on Terrorism. Such a song as "I Didn't Raise My Boy To Be A Soldier" would have been pulled immediately, just as radio stations stopped playing "Where Have All The Flowers Gone?" four decades later. But it wouldn't have helped, because (we now know) not all Americans supported attacking two countries that had nothing whatsoever to do with the 9/11 attacks. (The alleged attackers were almost all from Saudi Arabia.) People who were against the war would have emailed copies of "I Didn't Raise My Boy To Be A Soldier" to anyone they could think of. With such a viral distribution, the lack of studio support for the song would mean nothing. Morton Harvey, the singer, would have found himself invited (via email) to anti-war protests and asked to sing his song. Although the media would fail to cover it, growing numbers of "webizens" would have started a movement that would culminate in a Democratic takeover of Congress in the 2006 election, in spite of faulty voting machines and election-day dirty tricks that had thrown the previous three elections to the Republicans.

How do I know this would have happened? Simple. It did happen. It was just a different song, and it was sung by the Dixie Chicks instead of Morton Harvey.

I repeat, music and movies impact public opinion far more than most people realize. Both are carefully crafted to produce the desired result. That's why certain songs will be released to some countries and not others (even though non-English-speaking Europeans are notoriously fond of English-language songs).

That's why DVDs are now manufactured for a "Region". If you look at a DVD purchased in the United States, you'll see the words "Region 1" on the box and the label. If you purchase the same movie in England, it will say "Region 2". There are six DVD region codes, and disks enabled for one region cannot play in any other. (The exception is Region 0, which can be played anywhere—but you seldom see a DVD marked Region 0. Your personal home-movie DVDs are Region 0.)

Considering that it costs more to create six versions of Mission Impossible 3 than one, why in the world would Paramount or any other studio bother to region-limit its disks? There is only one answer: It gives them control over when the movie is seen and by whom. In most cases, this finessing is done to maximize profits. But conspiracy-theorists spend a lot of time noting when movies are takenout of print. For example, it made no sense for a popular, relatively-recent film like Mrs. Doubtfire to be withdrawn from circulation for several years when far older and less popular films remain on the shelves…unless you note that it was taken off the catalogs just as Bush's anti-gay posturing was beginning to rise. Now that Bush's stock, as well as the stock of his Extremist Christian "base", has fallen, Mrs. Doubtfire, with its theme of cross-dressing and presence of two helpful gay characters ("Uncle Frank and Aunt Jack"), is once again available.

Why was the book The Search For Bridey Murphy out-of-print for so many years? It offers well-documented proof of reincarnation and is the kind of book you'd expect to sell well forever…but it was suppressed until recently, along with a lot of other solid books on reincarnation. (The ones on the shelves now wouldn't convince anyone who wasn't already convinced.)

Why is the movie Intruders, a well-documented and accurate portrayal of alien abductions, not available on DVD when Fire In The Sky, whose true story was completely altered for the filmed version, is?

Why did people whose primary news outlet is the radio, stop buying Dixie Chicks albums and turn against the group?

These are all examples of the media masters exercising control over the distribution of their "intellectual property" for purposes of their own, not for the common good.

On the other hand, why do I have a machine-readable copy of Bridey Murphy? Why do I have a fuzzy, DVD-copy of Intruders made from a videotape of the original broadcast, two decades ago? Why am I, who isn't a fan of country music, able to listen to the Dixie Chicks whenever I like?

It's because I am plugged into the Internet, which is now my primary source of information and entertainment. Pandora's box has been opened, and every movie and song ever created is in it, digitized and ripe for the downloading.

That doesn't mean we individuals should become as mindless and heartless as the corporations. There are, even today, recording artists who work outside the system. Many of them have cut and sold albums on their very own labels. Some make their music available for free over the Web anyway, knowing that the more people who hear them, the more will come to their performances. Others may actually make a living off album sales. I urge my readers to exercise discretion. While corporations are not really persons in a moral sense, individual singers most certainly are.

This is the dawn of a new day in which public opinion is no longer the pawn of the media giants to play with as they wish, to the advantage only of themselves and their co-owners, the Defense, Oil and Pharmaceutical industries.

No wonder they are so terrified that we might see through their lies and feel free to pirate movies.