The day after Wikipedia, Google, and, um, I Can Has Cheezburger mounted their fear-mongering campaign directed against a pair of anti-piracy bills last month, Seattle Weekly columnist and Guns N' Roses co-founder Duff McKagan penned a column titled "Quit Whining About SOPA: Where's the Public Outrage Over Internet Piracy?"
Duff doesn't support the bills in their current form. He believes they're too broad and should be reined in. And he raises a very simple question: When will the public, Internet service providers, search engines, and fans get as enraged over piracy as they are about anti-piracy?
Few artists are brave enough to say the same—at least publicly. Coming out against piracy isn't popular. Since people began sharing mp3 files at the turn of the century, public sympathy, remarkably, has been with the pirates. When Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich testified before Congress that illegal downloading and file-sharing were tantamount to stealing, he got clobbered. His image never recovered. When the Recording Industry Association of America mounted a campaign of lawsuits against pirates (some of them teenagers), they got clobbered. The press, public, and plenty of artists pitied the pirates. The RIAA never recovered from the PR disaster. And last month, when Congress proposed anti-piracy legislation, they also got clobbered. Will sensible legislation be forever sidelined? Let's hope not.
As exceptionally talented, Seattle-made singer/songwriter Jesse Sykes wrote in SW last week, piracy has annihilated the music industry's working class. "Artists like myself rely on music sales for their income," she says, "but our bands are in danger of going dark for a lot longer than one day if things don't improve."
It reminds me of a conversation I had recently with Skerik, the great local saxophonist, who explained to me why his band, the Dead Kenny Gs, always take Southwest Airlines. Were it not for Southwest's policy of not charging for bags, he doubts the band would still be touring. With piracy hobbling the band's income from recorded-music sales, the road's where they make their money. But even those profits are being eaten by airline fees and $4-a-gallon gas.
Music is a defining part of one's self-identity. But so is social responsibility. So when Internet-savvy apostles of free speech, democracy, and fair-trade coffee are called pirates, it sets them on edge. That's why the masses fought so hard against the government's recent anti-piracy proposals—they also were implicated. By taking music without paying for it, they're no longer supportive fans, but thieves.
That's not just an accurate description. It's also a fair one.
Editor, Reverb Monthly