Imagine there’s a student at UCD who plays guitar. He starts performing around town and builds up a pretty good following. Upon graduation, instead of going to law school as planned, he decides to take a break to pursue his first love, music.
One year becomes two, then five. His band extends its reach beyond Davis to Sacramento, then to all of Northern California. They are a typical DIY (do it yourself) band, using all the latest technology to connect with and expand their fanbase. They tour incessantly. They start their own record label, sell recordings and merchandise from the stage, do radio tours and promote themselves through any medium available.
The year? 1977. The more the music business changes, the more it stays the same.
That guitar player, as you’ve probably guessed by now, was me. I never made it to law school, and my band, The Skins, never officially “made it,” although we had a great run, which I will always treasure.
I pushed on alone to L.A., signed a major label record deal, got dropped, moved to Nashville, played guitar in bars, studios and on the Grand Ole Opry, then found my real calling: songwriting. I eventually wrote one hit, then another, then several more for some of the biggest acts in Country Music. I now made my living solely from licensed, legal uses of my songs.
I bet it all on Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution, which gives authors the “exclusive right to their respective writings.”
What does this have to do with the Stop Online Piracy Act?
Glad you asked. Today, when I Google any of those hit songs followed by “mp3” or “download,” here’s what comes up: thousands of sites, seven out of 10 illegal, mostly foreign, showcasing ads for anything from Princess Cruises to Lysol to AT&T. Everyone involved in this scenario — the sites, search engines, advertisers, payment processors — makes money with every click, while I, and everyone else who brought the song to life, get zip.
To me, legislation to shut down these foreign rogue sites should be a no-brainer, but to many in the tech and academic communities, it’s anything but. There, copyright owners are routinely portrayed as villains, while pirates are hailed as heroes. Cyberspace is deemed virtually above governance.
Back to the top. Often, when discussing this issue, I am told that I should adapt to “free.” I am lectured about the success of some DIYer, and I am chastised for not emulating him or her. Hmmm. Thought I’d already been there, done that.
The music business I know is largely inhabited by former DIYers who took their experience and talents — playing, engineering, programming, writing — behind the scenes to succeed in an incredibly competitive industry. Their efforts can be heard on 90 percent-plus of all music downloads, legal or otherwise. They are astounded that anyone would dismiss the value of their life’s work or consider them mere roadkill on the Information Superhighway.
If no one wants the songs I write, fair enough, I’ll pack it in. But it seems they do. My copyrights are everywhere in the Cyber-Somalia that is the internet today, making money for pirates and their enablers. Let me compete in a free — not black — market, and I’ll do fine.
Don’t buy into the hyperbole and self-serving rhetoric surrounding SOPA. Read it, see what it actually does and then make up your own mind. I’d love to come back to UCD and have this discussion in person. I’ll even bring my guitar.
UC Davis, class of 1972