News Column

Digital dilemma; Nonprofit organization strives to fight Internet piracy inentertainment industry. in the music industry.

July 7, 2013


Musicians who make a living at their craft have been disappearingat a steady pace over the last decade as potential income getsvacuumed up into cyberspace.

From 2002 to 2012, 45 percent fewer Americans put "musician" downas their profession on their tax return, according to the U.S.Bureau of Labor Statistics. Will Buckley thinks it's becauseInternet piracy has crippled the ability of musicians to make aliving, since fans can download material for free.

"Music is like the Marines -- it's on the front lines of thebattle, and it's going to have the heaviest casualties," saidBuckley, who two years ago founded FarePlay, a nonprofitorganization supporting artists and their digital rights.

"One of the questions I ask is, out of that 45 percent fewermusicians, how many Wynton Marsalises and how many BruceSpringsteens and how many Jimi Hendrixes were there?"

Buckley grew up in New York City, the son of Virginia and WilliamBuckley, who was in the book publishing business. They lived inPalm Beach from 1968 to 2007. The younger Buckley went to work fora record store in Berkeley, Calif., first as a clerk and later as astore manager and consultant to the chain. He also founded anindependent record label in California. He now lives in West PalmBeach.

Piracy in the music, movie and even book business isn't new. Peoplehave made illegal copies of albums and films for years and soldthem for a profit.

But because the distribution was so small, there wasn't a majorfinancial impact.

That changed with the Internet, and sharing of entertainment filesbecame easier as home computers grew more sophisticated andbroadband connections sped up the downloading process.

So many people have Internet access that when the recordingindustry or movie business is successful in getting a host websiteto take down copyrighted material, someone else will upload itagain. It's a never-ending battle, and one that Buckley says isunlikely to be won by the entertainment industry outright.

Today, even one out of three e-books is downloaded illegally,according to Buckley. "That's one-third of the sales gone in aformat that already decapitates what's paid to the author.

"The Internet is an open source, and by that I mean so far there'sno technology that can stop this," Buckley says. "It almost puts uson an honor-system footing. Legislation hasn't worked, either forthe downloader or the site operator."

The issue is certainly on the radar for Palm Beach's societymusicians, but local artists aren't affected as much because of thenature of their work. Palm Beach pianist Guy Scott says he doesn'teven put his material on CDs because it might discourage fans fromhiring him directly.

"I have a couple of things I could put on the market, but then I'dprobably put myself out of business," says Scott, who works thePalm Beach circuit in-season at parties and other events."Everything I do is live.

"Piracy is going on all over the country, and the musicians unionis fighting it. I don't know that there's that much they can doabout it. It's something the federal government has to look at. Butit doesn't affect us much."

Guitarist Jim McCreavy, who also plays Palm Beach in-season, sellsCDs on his website but uses them more for promotional purposes,figuring people who listen to them may hire him.

He says he has "mixed feelings" about the digital piracy issue andpoints to a study released last year by the Institute forProspective Technological Studies. It surveyed 16,000 Europeans andconcluded that people who pirate digital music are also more likelyto buy digital music. The study was reported in the U.K. version ofWired magazine.

Music has been vulnerable to illegal downloads longer than films, amore recent phenomenon brought about by the rapid advance oftechnology.

But Buckley expects the impact on filmmaking to be huge, and hebelieves it's at least partially responsible for the recent trendtoward blockbuster action 3D movies, which are more likely toattract patrons to theaters where they can experience the visualsand audio on a big screen.

There was a 30 percent fall-off in movie production from 2007 to2009, he says, while acknowledging that some of it may be due tothe economic downturn.

"They're making fewer of the story-driven movies, which are theones that I like the most," Buckley says. "We're losing a lot ofthe most interesting nuances of what life is like in America.

"We're looking at more Transformer movies and fewer Midnight inParis movies."

Buckley knows he and others who share his concerns are fighting anuphill battle. So one of his goals with FarePlay is to reach out toteenagers and college students and try to get them to at leastconsider the consequences before downloading a piece of digitalart, whether that be music, books, movies or photographs.

"If we can get 20 million kids who aren't spending anything onbooks or music or films, to spend $30 a year, that's $600 millionmore going into that part of the economy," he says. "To me, thathas value."

The problem is that digital piracy isn't just a money issue,Buckley believes.

A recent survey indicated that the majority of people who downloadmaterial illegally are affluent.

Buckley recalls sitting in an airport premier passenger lounge with"two very well-dressed ladies" who were discussing Kindle books.

"One of them said she gets everything from Amazon. The other onesaid, 'Why do you bother doing that? You don't have to pay for them-- you can just get them off them Internet.'

"I'm sure these are very good people, and if they thought they weredoing something wrong they probably wouldn't be having theconversation. But that's part of the disconnect.

"That's why FarePlay is less about getting into the details of theproblem and more about getting the artist to communicate with theirfan base using social media to let them know how tough it is forthem out there. We're trying to break the myth and let people knowwhat's going on."

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