Because I am a nerd, I gleefully spent the past month following our dear nation’s election season roughly as close as retirees follow baseball, and it stunned me that absolutely nobody brought up the future of illegal downloading in America at any point. If you care about art whatsoever, the future of intellectual property rights is the most important thing that affects your future, whether you realize it or not.
Illegal downloads are the reason that Pink’s new song sounds like Rihanna’s new song which sounds like Ke$ha’s new song which sounds a lot like “Gangnam Style.” Bootleg movie files have now forced Denzel Washington to keep making movies about safely stopping various forms of travel.
Our generation has absolutely crippled a huge American industry, and if our reelected president isn’t going to discuss it, I sure as hell will.
The basic argument for the legality of free music and movies tends to go as such: “Taylor Swift doesn’t need my $10. She’s loaded. Downloading ‘The Avengers’ isn’t going to put Robert Downey Jr. out of a home. That movie literally made $1 billion.”
I cannot argue with these statements. At the top end of the entertainment industry, things sure seem to be booming at Industrial Revolution-era rates. T-Swift’s “Red” recently went platinum in one week. Adele has enough cash laying around from the 10-million-plus copies that “21” sold to swim daily in gold coins, Scrooge McDuck-style. Nine of the Top 10 highest-grossing films of all time came out in the past 10 years, despite rampant online bootlegging.
Do not let these figures fool you. We are destroying entertainment from the ground up.
As record companies and film distributors lose cash, they begin to rely more and more on gigantic, blockbuster successes to stay in business. The billion that Warner Bros. just made off of “The Dark Knight Rises” sure was wonderful, but in today’s economy, those profits represent a dangerously large portion of their total income for the year. Increasingly, movie studios have needed to bank on two or three massive, guaranteed bestsellers like “Avatar” in order to stay in business, rather than a string of smaller, more creative successes. Distributors can no longer take on a risky indie flick, due to the fact that one bomb at the box office could force them to slash entire departments of honest people. Good luck pitching a film like “Juno” to 20th Century Fox in today’s world.
Likewise, where record companies used to be able to bank on multiple platinum records per year to stay afloat, most are lucky if they get a small handful in 2012. Labels are increasingly pumping promotional money into identical shlock like Flo-Rida and LMFAO, rather than critically groundbreaking artists like Frank Ocean or Kendrick Lamar, because Flo-Rida’s fans actually buy his music.
In May, a group of Spanish scientists published an article in Nature, a science journal, entitled “Measuring the Evolution of Contemporary Western Popular Music,” which proved that the past decade contained the most sonically similar pop songs in history. Put simply: this is bad and entirely our fault.
You know who else you’re hurting when you steal music and movies online? Your own friends. Major labels cannot afford to pump money into unsigned acts anymore, and the indie labels that would sign amateur college bands are vanishing faster than Marty McFly in “Back to the Future.” Film producers cannot gamble and hire inexperienced kids out of college anymore. Your free copy of “Moonrise Kingdom” might have just prevented your film-major friends from paying their student loans.
Case in point: I came across an interview in New York Magazine with one of my favorite bands, Grizzly Bear, from Sept. 30. It was titled “Music’s New Math.” The article floored me. Despite the fact that the band is unquestionably one of the most popular and critically adored rock groups inhabiting the nearest planets in our solar system, multiple band members still cannot afford health insurance. The band’s past two albums entered the Billboard Hot 100 at No. 8 and No. 7 respectively. Just 20 years ago, this would have afforded the band enough financial freedom to possibly tour the world in a private jet with a fully-functioning Dairy Queen taking up the plane’s last six rows. Today, the band’s success has yet to allow lead singer Ed Droste to move out of his 450 square-foot apartment in New York.
So the next time you attempt to torrent that new album from that really popular indie band you like, please take the time to consider that it may quite literally be killing them.
Jerry Iannelli can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @jerryiannelli.