Monday, January 16, 2012

SOPA is Not Music to Anyone's Ears

We had a flood in our basement last Fall. We lost our washing machine, some cherished mementos and a boatload of — to use the technical term — crap. At first, we thought the nearly 200 LPs that were stored down there were gone, but it turns out the water didn't reach them. Nevertheless, we saw this as a sign from some prescient DJ in the sky. We've lived here thirteen years and haven't ever dusted off the records much less tried to play them. Time to say ...

"Good-bye, yellow brick road."

Our first stop was a used record store in the next town over. Two extremely cool, aging hippies came out to sort the albums right in the trunk of our car. (Have you ever picked up a crate of records? You don't want to carry them anywhere if you don't have to!) It quickly became a competition: whose albums were worth more? My showtunes or my husband's Southern rock? Stevie Nicks or David Bowie? Bruce Springsteen or Prince?

If nothing else, we were a source of amusement. And insight. By the end of the process, I think the record store dudes knew more about each of us than any therapist could.

And, at the risk of gloating, I was ahead by a couple of titles when all was said and done. The used record store took 28 albums. We took our proceeds (all $56 of them) and went out for a nice lunch. That would have been the end of the story (or the end of an era), but we still had a trunkful of records.

A couple of days later, my husband pulled up at Savers, and unloaded what was left. The young kid working there was impressed. "Whoa," he said. "Did you, like, collect these?"

We laughed about it later. The albums may have weighed a ton and taken up the entire trunk of our sedan, but no, they weren't a collection per se. They were the 1970s and 80s equivalent of an iPod.

I still buy music. Given the choice, I'll still purchase a CD. Even if I plan to upload all of the tracks into iTunes and listen to them on my iPhone. It goes back to 1976, when I would use babysitting money to buy the latest Elton John release at "Cheap Records" near Bloomingdales on Manhattan's East Side. Any title $3.69.

This is one of many (okay, many many many many) things that speak to the generation gap between myself and my tween daughter. She had a handful of CDs when she was younger: Disney movie soundtracks, High School Musical, Hannah Montana. Then, she graduated to a hand-me-down iPod and all the downloads her iTune gift cards could buy. Today, she knows better. Using her iPhone, she can listen to (and watch) pretty much any music she wants. YouTube, Facebook, even individual musicians' websites provide streaming musical content. Why purchase something when it's out there and readily accessible? Why commit to a particular song or artist or album when there will be something new next week?

The idea of owning music is as passé as the bell bottoms and Frye boots I wore on my weekly trips to Lexington and 58th Street.

However, my daughter is still supporting the musicians she likes. While I bought as much vinyl as I could afford, she and her friends are willing to spend big bucks to see their favorite performers live. From this mother's perspective, it seems as if the recording industry has evolved its financial model. I paid very little to see a group at Madison Square Garden and then bought all their recordings. My daughter consumes recordings through free social media. But, she has no issue with the idea of a $100 Katy Perry ticket. (That's actually pretty reasonable. If we were lucky enough to get Lady Gaga tickets, we would have to take out a home equity loan.)

Right now, there is a lot of debate about SOPA, the hotly contested "Stop Online Piracy Act." Should my daughter and her friends be arrested for listening or linking to copyrighted material online? Of course, I don't think so. But, should artists be able to protect and profit from their art? Yes.

The Internet is the single greatest game changer that we (or any previous generation I can think of) have lived through. Trying to mold laws governing analog objects to fit digital information will not succeed — unless we are willing to undo any progress that has been made in terms of information-sharing, research, business and communications. This doesn't just affect the entertainment industry. The ability to share content is critical to continued improvements in science, healthcare, human rights and domestic security.

Before a person (or blog or website) should be prosecuted for copyright infringement, a few common sense criteria should be applied. Are they willfully passing off someone else's work as their own? Are they profiting from the posting or link? Is the work readily available for license or purchase but they knowingly circumnavigated the process? Did they even know they were doing something wrong? The proposed SOPA bill would make bloggers responsible for comments posted by readers. It would make enormous new media channels like eBay, YouTube, Wikipedia and Facebook liable for all of the activities of their hundreds of millions of members. It would make posting a video of a married couple's first dance together a felony.

And, under SOPA, owners of websites are encouraged to shut down content first and ask questions later. You are guilty until proven innocent. 'Doesn't sound very American to me. The so-called conspiracy-theorists who worry that SOPA will forever change the nature of the Web are not crying "wolf."

My daughter and her friends don't remember a world before the Internet. They don't see any difference between music my husband and I listen to on the radio and music they listen to on a Web site.

Except that the radio is our thing and the Web is theirs.

To learn more and/or to sign a petition asking your representatives to rethink SOPA, click here.

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