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Emily, you did nothing wrong, but you made mistakes

-- Richard Stallman

July 2012

Emily, you have not done anything wrong, but you've made a few mistakes.

I expect you don't recognize them. Indeed, I doubt anyone has brought these issues to your attention before. The fallacious attack by that copyright freak seems to have led the discussion in a different direction.

What were these mistakes?

First of all, they had nothing to do with "theft". To judge from your article, you never did that. (See copying is not theft.)

Copying and sharing recordings was not a mistake, let alone wrong, because sharing is good. It's good to share musical recordings with friends and family; it's good for a radio station to share recordings with the staff, and it's good when strangers share through peer-to-peer networks. The wrong is in the repressive laws that try to block or punish sharing. Sharing ought to be legalized; in the mean time, please do not act ashamed of having shared -- that would validate those repressive laws that claim that it is wrong.

You did make a mistake when you chose Kazaa as the method of sharing. Kazaa mistreated you (and all its users) by requiring you to run a non-free program on your computer. The Kazaa client software might have been gratis, but it wasn't free (freedom-respecting, libre) software: it didn't give users the freedom needed to control what the program did. When the users don't control a program, they should not trust it, because it is in a position to mistreat them.

You really shouldn't let a non-free program onto your computer. If you do peer-to-peer sharing again in the future, I suggest you choose a free/libre program to do it with.

However, that was in the past. It's more important to consider what you're doing now, which includes other mistakes. You're not alone -- many others make them too, and that adds up to a big problem for society.

The root mistake is treating a marketing buzzword, "the cloud", as if it meant something concrete. That term refers to so many things (different ways of using the Internet) that it really has no meaning at all. Marketing uses that term to lead people's attention away from the important questions about any given use of the network, such as, "What companies would I depend on if I did this, and how? What trouble could they cause me, if they wanted to shaft me, or simply thought that a change in policies would gain them more money?"

In an ideal world, corporations would never systematically mistreat people. In this world, they often do just that; especially computer and network companies, as explained in this article.

I would guess that the inattention encouraged by the term "cloud" led to the next mistake: storing your music in a corporation's network service. Even worse, that corporation is Apple, which designs machines as jails for its users and builds them in sweatshops. (See this page.) iTunes works only with user-restricting software, and Apple has gone to great lengths to stop people from accessing it in any other way.

The difference between storing digital music in CDs and storing it in your USB stick or your hard disk is a small technical detail. It is not a choice of "physical" vs "digital" because all of those are digital; you could store the same music recording files on any of them. You can have any of them in your physical possession; then, as long as you avoid using secret formats, you can use these files as you wish, and nobody can restrict or snoop on what you do with them.

However, if you let some company store those files for you remotely, you don't really have them. You become dependent on that company, which is in a position to monitor you, restrict you, or report everything about you to Big Brother. That's where the mistake is. You did, in fact, have lots of music, and getting rid of your copies put you at that company's mercy.

You advocate making another mistake -- to use Spotify, or something like it. What's wrong with Spotify? First of all, it requires users to install a client program that the users do not control; it is not free/libre. That's bad in itself, but why does Spotify require that? To restrict them! Specifically, to prevent users from adding the most natural feature: "Save this track in a file on my disk". This keeps users dependent on Spotify, and Spotify has already changed its rules to limit users' access to music.

I suspect that Spotify also tracks its clients' listening and makes that information available somehow to other businesses, since so many other Internet companies do, but I have no evidence about that.

What's the worst part of Spotify or any similar service? Imagine that a friend visits you and would like to make copies of your recordings, as you've copied other recordings in the past. Then the difference would make itself felt. You'd have to sheepishly say, "I can't share with you any more because I don't have any recordings. I let Spotify (or whichever company) control my access to music, and it won't let me share."

Even worse, you might suggest that your friend get that song from Spotify too. Then he too would be tracked, restricted, and unable to share. "Music-screaming services" such as Spotify are not a solution, they are part of the problem. Out, out, damned Spotify!

On the other hand, there's one bad thing you have been falsely accused of. You didn't fail to support musicians.

After all, how can we support musicians? Buying recordings from record companies won't do it. For nearly all records, the musicians get none of that money; the record companies keep it. See this article and this article.

The exceptions are stars, excluding their first 5 or 7 records. But even they get only a fraction of the money you spend -- the rest goes to the record companies.

To the record companies that lobbied to censor the Internet with SOPA.

To the record companies which had lawyers sue teenagers for hundreds of thousands of dollars.

To the record companies which use the US government to push oppressive copyright treaties on other countries.

Those companies don't deserve to get one more dime -- they deserve to be wiped out, so they can't attack people any more.

Practically speaking, the only effective and ethical way you could support musicians was through concerts. You could even do so while maintaining your privacy, if you paid cash for the tickets. As an avid concert-goer, you've probably given more than your share -- so feel proud.

However, any given band's concerts occur only rarely near you. And record companies are muscling in on the income from concerts, which makes it harder to support musicians ethically.

Society should make it easier to support musicians, and other artists as well. I've proposed two systems for this, both of them compatible with legalization of sharing. See Copyright vs. Community, but here they are in brief:

* Put a tax on Internet connectivity, and divide the money among artists. Measure the raw popularity figure of each artist by polling the public, or by measuring how often P2P networks share their work, then distribute the money in proportion to the cube root of each artist's raw popularity figure.

Why the cube root? So that most of the money goes to the artists that really need help -- those who are good and somewhat successful, but not stars. Each star would get more from this system than a non-star, but not tremendously more, so the few stars together would not get most of the money.

* Give each player device a button to send 50 cents anonymously to the artists. They you could push the button and send money, when you wish. (I used to suggest one dollar, but the banksters have impoverished the American public so much that a smaller sum is now called for.)

Either way, if the system is to support the artists, we need to stop the publishers (such as record companies) from taking this money for themselves.

I beg you to reconsider this issue, and resume maintaining your own local copies of music -- copies that you are in a position to share with your friends, copies that you can listen to without letting any company monitor or control your use.

Copyright 2012 Richard Stallman Released under the Creative Commons Attribution Noderivatives 3.0 license