If you want art, you should pay for it

Bryan Nichols

Before I begin talking about Napster, I would like to point out one irony that the Napster situation has created: Chuck D. agrees with Senator Orrin Hatch. The man behind some of the most incredible, incendiary, revolutionary hip-hop ever (e.g., Fear of a Black Planet with Public Enemy) right now agrees with the man behind some of the least incredible, least incendiary, least revolutionary patriotic and Christian music ever (e.g., My God is Love). In fact, to me it seems that ironies are inherent to the Napster situation. Normally law-abiding college students become copyright criminals. Greedy music labels become the “protectors” of musicians. All of us are left wondering: Is this really stealing?Well, yes. No. Maybe. It depends on who you ask. Since I can only talk to myself right now, I guess I’ll ask me. B: So, Bryan, when you download copyrighted material off Napster without paying and you don’t hold the copyright, is that stealing? Meta-B: Well, Bryan, I’d say that’s a big fat yes. B: But as a staunch civil libertarian, isn’t this stealing good? I mean, aren’t we sticking it to the filthy, sweaty capitalist swine who run the major record labels?Meta-B: Well, if that were the case, maybe. But I don’t think we are.You see, whether all of us Napster users like it or not, we are stealing. We are taking copyrighted material that doesn’t belong to us. Basically, we’re walking into a record store, sticking a couple CDs in our coats, and running. It just happens that Napster is a little easier and there’s none of that pesky tangible evidence to weigh on our collective consciences.Why do the people who use Napster steal? That’s really simple: free stuff is cool. Music is cool. Free music: cool squared. Whether or not you want to admit it, and whether or not you want to make the ad hoc arguments that music should be free or that we should hurt the big labels, people download songs from Napster because they want cool, free music. But not only is it illegal, it hurts the musicians who create the music.Therein lies the problem. Musicians make music. There are people behind all of those pirated mp3s. Whether we like to admit it, those are the people that get screwed by Napster.Most people who use Napster don’t think of this. I’ve had arguments with my friends where they decry the state of music where major labels control everything and artists get screwed and then say that Napster cuts out the label and brings the music straight to the people. What could be better?I’d say a lot of things could. Whether you like it or not, according to Rolling Stone, the five major record labels account for 85 percent of record sales. This last year was a banner year for them. Sales were up, mostly accounted for by CDs that sold 1 million copies or more. This means that the Britney Spears and Creeds of the industry raked in record numbers while hundreds of good records sold worse than expected.This means the record companies are happy. Napster hasn’t hurt them. They can invest their money in shallow, mass-produced pop while more important, less commercial artists can be left by the wayside. This is the way it has always worked, and it only gets worse because of Napster.Napster argues that it provides more exposure for more musicians. I disagree. Napster software requires a name to search, meaning you can really only find things you know of already. How does this provide exposure?The exposure musicians may receive through Napster is double-edged anyway. Sure, more people may have access, but that doesn’t mean they take advantage. Even if they do, the artist sees no return. He may be amassing fans around the world but living poor because people don’t buy his record when they can download it for free. They don’t go to his concert because they can download the bootleg. But because of radio, everyone will buy Limp Bizkit or Ricky Martin. They’ll make their money.Whether or not Napster helps or hurts anyone, its battle is not yet over. Two days ago, it offered a billion dollars to record companies to settle its piracy lawsuit. Orrin Hatch wants to start congressional hearings into the most recent ruling against Napster, saying that closing Napster may send people down other, less traceable pirating avenues. He’d like to see Napster stay open.I don’t disagree with Hatch. The record companies were myopic in their inability to realize that creating a digital music medium comes with a new ease of piracy. They should be required to adjust, just as every medium does to similar issues. But Napster should adjust too. Figure out a way where artists can get paid for what they make and what gets traded.The biggest adjustment that needs to be made is in the people, though, that believe that Napster is right. You want to know something? Art isn’t free. If you didn’t make it and you want it, you should pay for it. No one is suggesting you do your job for free.Bryan Nichols is a senior in genetics from Burnsville, Minn. He finds www.hatchmusic.com really amusing.