After 3 hours of music and a much needed public service announcement on domestic violence, the Recording Academy decided to end the show with a selfish lobbying effort to create tougher copyright laws. By starting the Creators’ Alliance (dubbed #GrammyAlliance for Twitter), the Recording Academy placed itself strongly on the side of major record labels against the recording artists who constitute the bulk of the Recording Academy members.
The Creators’ Alliance, which is an arm of the Recording Artists’ Alliance, claims to represent recording artists’ interests to counter the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). Countering the power of the RIAA is something that needs to be done. However, there are already organizations that do so for musicians such as the American Federation of Musicians (AFM) and the already existing Music Creators’ Alliance (trademark infringement?). There needs to be a viable counter to the power of major record label power, but Grammy winners are hardly the place to look to for such a movement because their interests are the most aligned with the labels themselves. Whereas popular Grammy winners sell millions and make millions, most recording artists never see a dime from the sale of their records because of unfair exploitation of their copyrights by their labels.
However, this is not the story that the Recording Academy told in announcing its Creators’ Alliance. Quite the contrary, the Recording Academy repeated the decade and a half old piracy panic narrative. They said file-sharing is piracy. Piracy is stealing. And stealing hurts the artists that you love. Ultimately, they argue, this will kill music.
Recording Academy President Neil Portnow follows this logic by asking, “What if we’re all watching the Grammys a few years from now and there’s no Best New Artist award because there aren’t enough talented artists and songwriters who are actually able to make a living from their craft?”
This makes no sense. First, there will always be new musicians creating new music. Second, there will always be an award show to gives those people awards. But most importantly, it implies that people create music 1) to make money and 2) that labels pay them for their work!
The industry driven idea in support of copyright (and other intellectual property) expounds that people would not be creative if they are not compensated for it. And yet, most musicians struggle to earn a living, but make music anyway. Most artists do the same thing. Even software development and scientific research make these types of arguments, but open source software, such as Firefox and OpenOffice, demonstrate that this argument is patently false.
Furthermore, it is precisely major record labels’ use of copyright that hurts musicians. When a musician signs a record contract with a major label (and their derivative “indie” labels), they sign over their copyrights to the label in exchange for an advance. The advance is paid back by the artist’s roughly 10 percent of the royalties on the whole sale of their music. All the while, the record label generates revenue on its own portion of sales. Most recording artists never pay pack the original advance, and never see a dime from the sale of their music. Then their contracts stipulate that it is up to the label whether recording artists can record more music.
This system is misguided and built to exploit musicians. Until there is a conversation about the real value of musician labor, musicians will continue to be exploited specifically because of copyright legislation not because of their fans.