Guest Commentary by Marc Ribot: Piracy, Profit & Music

Text by Sohrab Saadat Ladjevardi

Today I want to introduce you to  a musician, Marc Ribot, who’s not “just” a musician but also a music activist. For a couple of years he’s been fighting for musician rights, i.e. seeking better pay and conditions for musicians playing at the Winter Jazz Fest 2012. Since coming to NY I’ve been meeting Marc and found out that this gentleman is quite different from other NY musicians I know. So for a while I’ve been trying to find the right entree and timing to feature him as music activist and not as a musician.

Last week by chance I found an article written by Marc in Allegro and a video interview of him at which made me decide to make this feature.  I’m very sure what he writes in his article and says in the interview might be very interesting and inspiring for musicians and very informative  for music lovers.

As I’ve said and written a couple of times since becoming a music activist myself: to play and compose music is like any other job. We musicians should be paid for our “creative” work in the same way like a medical doctor, lawyer, worker, etc. We can’t play for free all the time. I think the time has come that the public and also people and companies who hire musicians and composers should start to understand that musicians and also composers are “really” workers like them. They need the same kind of respect for their work.

The Video Interview

The Article

Reprinted from the December 2012 issue of Allegro, the magazine of the New York City musicians’ union (AFM Local 802). For more information, see The original article can be seen at this link:

Guest Commentary by Marc Ribot

Music piracy is a worldwide issue. Recently, the German equivalent of ASCAP and BMI caused a public controversy when it insisted on a pay-per-click fee for German musicians when their copyrighted musical content was viewed on YouTube.

The performance rights organization GEMA was opposed not only by YouTube and its owner, Google, but also by the “Pirate Party,” a recently formed German political party closely allied with the German “Occupy” movement.

Standing in support of GEMA and musicians’ intellectual property rights was German musician Sven Regener, of the band Element of Crime.

Regener and his fellow indie rockers would be normally expected to be aligned with Occupy-type politics, and his surprising dissent on a popular
radio program went viral and helped spark a public debate.

Regener spoke out as much in disgust at the rhetoric of GEMA’s opponents as in support of GEMA.

Some of GEMA’s actions remain controversial among many German musicians (for example, a recent large increase in the fees paid by nightclubs featuring live music).

But the type of arguments Regener addresses have sadly become accepted as truth among large sections of the global public, including many
young music fans.

These include the patronizing idea that theft is O.K. because musicians are already being exploited by our record companies, the disregard
shown by so-called “copyleft” advocates for the need of cultural workers to be paid, the falsehood that theft only affects rich and privileged
“big rock stars,” and so on.

Ulitmately, in my opinion, fans who download are not the “cause” of the piracy problem. Consumers were no more or less greedy during the periods of record industry profit.

What has changed is not simply the fact that digital technology enables piracy, but that piracy is generating profits for the tech industry.

Piracy produces profits not only for pirate Web site operators themselves but also add value to all the legal hardware and software which
facilitate it.

The makers of that technology are the largest U.S. corporations. In order to maximize the value of their product, they have effectively blocked
legislation to stop piracy – and so it continues.

In his essay at right, Sven Regener underlines the hypocritical position of tech corporations and so-called “copyleft” ideologists who attack our right to be paid for what we create, while fiercely defending their own.

One thing is certain: no public debate of these questions is valid unless it involves musicians and other creative community workers directly
affected. Yet many of us have been afraid to speak out.

The tech industry and their very well-funded allies have monopolized the discourse, not hesitating to launch boycotts, cyber attacks, and
social media campaigns against anyone supporting intellectual property protections.

In the resulting absence of musicians’ voices, tech industry allies have been able to perpetuate the falsehood that non-payment, underpayment
or theft is a victimless crime, or at worst, one affecting only huge rock stars or “rich record companies.”

One thing the union can do is to create a space in which musicians with views contrary to the tech industry can speak out.

Here is a translation and transcription (thanks to Mathew Partridge) of the radio interview with Sven Regener that caused the uproar.

This article was reprinted from the December 2012 issue of Allegro, the magazine of the New York City musicians’ union (AFM Local 802). For more information, see The original article can be seen at this link: