A Taylor’d Piracy Panic Narrative

cibo00_Cassette_Jolly_Roger_(Rouge)I’ve been writing about what I call the piracy panic narrative for a while. The piracy panic narrative goes that file-sharing is piracy, piracy is stealing, and this stealing hurts recording artists. In this simplistic view of the recording industry (constructed by the major record labels), we are bringing about the death of music by file-sharing, ripping CDs, and streaming music. The main problem with this argument being that piracy is not stealing and these activities are not “piracy,” in the first place. However, the recording industry repeatedly makes these claims beginning with Metallica in 2000.
Now Taylor Swift has gotten into the discussion. She states “Music is art, and art is important and rare. Important, rare things are valuable. Valuable things should be paid for.”
Swift articulates the same type of logic as the piracy panic narrative in the same simplistic form that I defined the narrative! And her updated argument is just as asinine.
Her op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal goes on to argue that we need to value albums by paying a price for them. Swift declares that artists should be paid for their work. However, just like the piracy panic narrative, Swift fails to see that record labels exploit artists, not fans. A record label contract is like that of a sharecropper and most recording artists never see a cent from record labels. Remember that even superstars TLC went bankrupt.
Furthermore, there is a logical mistake in her construction of the value of “art.” Vincent van Gogh, Franz Schubert, William Blake, and Edgar Allen Poe all died broke. All famous artists whose works were not valued in their time. And, I can go to the Hirschhorn in Washington, D.C. and see some of the most famous modern art . . . free!
Another interesting dynamic in Taylor Swift’s logic is that she does not support Spotify. In November, Swift pulled her catalog from the streaming service arguing that it does not compensate artists adequately (again, what about the major labels?!?). However, Spotify works on virtually the same model as television. If you substitute “TV” for “music” in Swifts quote, it would follow that TV programming is valuable, but we don’t pay! But we do pay for Spotify and television by consuming advertisements. Some go as far as to argue that viewing/listening to ads is work!
Of course, it should come as no surprise that the only singer to release a platinum album this year would produce this type of ideology. But we always need to remember that for every Taylor Swift there are thousands of aspiring musicians who dedicate their time and money to music forgoing more lucrative jobs (basically anything that even pays minimum wage is more lucrative). Just because some people are given greater opportunities does not mean that they are better at their craft.


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