Collateral Damage: How Free Culture destroys advertising.

A funny thing happened on the internet last week. On Sunday, an NPR’s “All Songs Considered” intern named Emily White wrote an intriguing post called I never owned any music to begin with. Miss White is 20 years old and missed the milestone when we changed how we acquire music. In the post, she speaks of having 11,000 songs, despite only having purchased 15 cds.

In the short post two things jumped out at me.

“…I honestly don’t think my peers and I will ever pay for albums. I do think we will pay for convenience.”

“All I require is the ability to listen to what I want, when I want and how I want it. Is that too much to ask?”

David Lowery of Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker fame, posted an open letter to Emily White as a response on his blog The Trichordist. Unlike Emily, Mr. Lowery does not believe the music to be had on internet is the same as a free all-you-can-eat candy store.

Mr. Lowery’s response was illuminating, and while passionate, never resorted to polemics. You should read it. If for no other reason than the fact Lowery sees the bigger picture, likening the “free culture” movement to a collective erosion of ethics via technology.

Okay, Kidsleepy, why’s this on Adland. What’s this got to do with advertising?

Everything. Because the same thought that prevails with Emily White that is destroying the music industry, is doing collateral damage to the advertising industry.

I was fortunate enough to speak to Mr. Lowery and others, to get a larger perspective on this issue.

Part 1: David Lowery:

You most likely know him as the front man for Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven. But David Lowery wears many hats. His social media fame shot up last week as the person behind The Trichordist, a community blog designed to promote a more ethical treatment of musicians.

Lowery sounded bemused on the phone. He was not expecting his Emily White Letter to go viral. But it did. “I think it had been forwarded to me by 25 people by the end of the day….on a good day, we have 2,000 visits to the site. But the next day, when I went to check (the analytics stats) it was a huge spike.”

Lowery, who is also a music business instructor at The University of Georgia, ended up educating or infuriating those who have been misled by false notions. The latter group is the most curious. Like Emily, they believe they are entitled to free culture. And yet they feel like somehow there is something wrong about it. Probably because they are denying facts.

“File sharing has an effect. Is it all the effect? That’s hard to say. There may be some room for debate, but it does have an effect. And there are fourteen academic studies to prove it.”

As for the responses, “What was interesting was it got picked up by people who really didn’t like what I wrote.” But there were some who “had a quiet opinion, who thought what I thought. “

Lowery’s position is unique for a musician. It has little to do with artist’s royalties or even the law. He sees it more as a societal break down. He is talking about a “broken contract among all of us in society….people are changing ethics to fit the technology,” rather than applying our ethics to technology.

Technology shaping our brains? Sounds like part of a Tron 3 script. And it's pretty heavy stuff for the guy who wrote Take the Skinheads Bowling.
The irony is it was predicted by an original Silicon Valley visionary who also popularized the term “virtual reality.” Lowery recommended Jaron Lanier’s “You Are Not a Gadget ” as being the starting point to mind opening. “Some friends of our have been highly influenced by it. The book crystalized a lot of stuff for some artists.” It’s easy to see why. The book makes a case that the open source free for all movement is destroying culture. It’s also easy to see why a lot of people wouldn’t want to read it. Who wants their apple cart flipped over?

When it comes to the advertising side, Lowery’s had his own music licensed, and licenses others’ music, too. He’s partnered with Rain Maker Studios, to create a original music and licensing house called ShockoeNoise . He’s worked with shops everyone’s heard of like The Martin Agency . Basically he knows his shit.

When we got to the topic of music production for TV spots, for his long-running venture Rain Maker Studios, Lowery talked about how the process of working with ad agencies shifted. During the Pre-iPod days, advertising creatives wouldn’t have sent over music references, "…because they were afraid of us ripping off the track." And now? "They're sending it over, and trying to get you to block out the song."

In other words, ad agencies or clients don’t want to pay the royalties for a song.
So they become as prescriptive as possible. Not only is this an insult to the musician hired to create original content, but the song they want to copy is the probably one that wasn't paid for to begin with.

As for his blog, Trichordist represents a small but growing vocal community of artists who are fed up with the Free Culture movement, and an internet taken over by looters and outlaws with money concentrated in the hands of the few.

Lowery is "a little skeptical about musicians organizing in an effective way." Musicians are artists after all. Few are activists. Perhaps some day an ad agency will join the movement, and create an awareness campaign to try and correct the problem. Not a campaign that is tied to a big studio. Not a campaign designed solely for the purposes of winning awards. But an awareness campaign unafraid to use an ethics as a persuasion to start thinking differently about what really has become a serious problem.

Until such time, let’s hope Lowery keeps writing the open letters so people might have their eyes opened.

See also Collateral Damage part 2 - Adam Weber
Collateral Damage Part Three: Rob Levine
Collateral Damage Part Four: Britta Phillips.

src="">Collateral Damage part 2 - Adam Weber
Collateral Damage Part Three: Rob Levine
Collateral Damage Part Four: Britta Phillips.
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Leslie Burns's picture

I'm a little frustrated with the article. The section about agencies bringing music in to artists and, essentially, asking someone to knock it off needs to address how that is opening the door for everyone to get sued. One of the exclusive rights of an artist under copyright is the right to create derivative works.

Moreover, if the original artist can show that the agency was trying to do all this to avoid paying royalties, that's a hell of an argument for "willful infringement" which means higher damages.

So, what needs to happen is that the artists being asked to do this, to create the knock-offs, must stop screwing their brethren!
And if basic decency won't stop them then they should be reminded that, depending on the contract with the agency, those artists creating the knock-offs could be sued by the original artists.

And yes, I am a lawyer, but this is only offered for educational purposes and is not "legal advice."

kidsleepy's picture

Stay tuned for part 2 of the article.

AnonymousBastard's picture

The sense of entitlement with the younger generation is skewed. "I'll pay for convenience", well then, do that. Actually do that, because that's not a dollar-a-month Spotify account, that's a hundred dollars a month spotify account. You won't actually pay for convenience until the price is right, so stop saying you will. That price varies between a dollar and $0.

Dabitch's picture

@Leslie, I know you ain't my lawyer and that ain't legal advice - but the really interesting thing in that bit isn't the obvious hop and skip straight into infringement and legal trouble, but the way that people now ask music companies to do this while they didn't before. It wasn't the long arm of the law that made people avoid this before, it was the prevailing ethical attitudes at the time. A bit like how many clients these days are so spoon-fed with digital layouts they forget that our ripping and scanning of already photographed images for our mock-ups can set us on the path of copyright infringement when the clients asks for "exactly that" they see on the mockup. Never mind that digital mockups are limiting in the small way that you're stuck working with images that you can find, rather than the unlimited ideas-resource your brain can think up (and your hand can draw). That's another GRAR argument for another thread.

kidsleepy's picture

It's the erosion of ethics, driven by technology. One could argue with every technological advancement there has been an erosion of sorts (the automated factory cause exploitation of workers, etc) so it's easy enough to see a direct correlation. But what's crazy is how much it has grown. Exponentially. At high speed internet rates.

Craig L Wittler's picture

I worked in the radio business when I got out of college and I never paid for records, the physical vinyl records. Because there was always a surplus of them (usually for contest giveaways) at my workplace which received the free copies because the record companies believed it was 'free advertising'. I ALWAYS thought that was a short-sighted policy and was the seed of the 'feeling of entitlement for free music' over 30+ years later. It must be noted that while they got the records free, ASCAP and BMI still change licensing fees on behalf of songwriters, something they never collected when people taped off the radio or won a freebie. One big reason the music biz was affected first and hardest by the 'free culture' was that such a mindset already existed. The only thing the mp3 format did was made it easy for the first time to make perfect copies.

kidsleepy's picture

More than just perfect copies though. It made it easier for millions of people to do it without even thinking of the consequences.
No doubt with your history you're familiar with what a nuisance (albeit smaller scale one) that bootleggers were. I'm sure you remember how Charle's Mingus' wife Sue used to get even with record stores selling bootlegged of her husband's concerts and whatnot. As you said the mindset existed, but it grew exponentially with the advent of technology designed to make sharing information freely. The problem was that the people who designed it were for the most part idealists. When they thought of information sharing i don't think they meant it in this way.
It may also be a nature vs/ nurture thing. Millions of us weren't taping songs off the radio to our cassettes at once. For one thing it was a lot of work. Now there's no work involved, and more people do it. Technology has made it easier to steal, lie and cheat. It has also made it easier for companies to justify making rip off versions of popular songs to put in their adverts as a way to avoid paying fees.

AnonymousCoward's picture

David Lowery's swipe at Spotify is unwarranted hyperbole. "Spotify’s CEO is the 10th richest man in the UK music industry". Wrong. Daniel Ek is not in the music industry and not in the UK.

IamNOTanAnonymousCoward's picture

oooh BURN.

joseph green's picture

it seems society need to keep clear that there’s a profound moral difference between sharing something with family and friends and illegally distributing, without permission, other people’s files for cash?

the elephant in the room:

Report links Google, Yahoo to Internet piracy sites
They're among the top advertising networks that support major music, film and TV piracy sites, according to a new analysis that USC's Annenberg Innovation Lab hopes will help companies avoid exploitative websites.

kidsleepy's picture

Oh we're aware of that elephant. just do a keyword search on "google," on adland and you'll see.

Dabitch's picture

Google won't admit it though. ANd Yahoo dodges the question.

Google took issue with the report's findings, calling its conclusion "mistaken." Yahoo did not respond to requests seeking comment.

The report is the first installment of a monthly update that Innovation Lab Director Jonathan Taplin hopes major brands will use to inform their decisions about online ad spending and steer dollars away from sites that exploit film, television and music.

"Whenever we talk to a brand about the fact that their ads are all over the pirate sites, they're like, 'Oh, how did that happen?'" Taplin said. "We thought it would be easier if they knew what ad networks were putting ads on pirate sites — so they could avoid them."

Annenberg's Innovation Lab used as its starting point Google's Transparency Report, which lists the Internet sites receiving the most notices from studios, trade associations and software and game publishers to remove copyrighted works. Whenever an ad appears on one of these leading pirate sites, the lab uses software to obtain the name of the ad network.

Bonus - if you do a search on Google here you'll also find how often we're banned by adsense. Banned... unbanned, then banned once again.. ... And then finally banned again from Adsense due to PETA ads.

Odd how some of the ads RUNNING on google adsense - like these boobtastic banners - are far worse than the ads we are banned for.