10.4.12 Grand Theft?
This article originally appeared in the 10.4.12 issue of Metroland. And thank you, New Yorker, for embedding some code in your website text that makes formatting quotes from your articles nearly impossible. Or do you think I'm supposed to pay for the privilege? Assholes.
Update on my last article (The Money Shot), about
the flood of copyright-troll porn-download lawsuits in the federal court
system. Just yesterday a federal judge in Boston essentially reversed a
decision he made a year ago that it was OK to group dozens, even hundreds, of
alleged porn downloaders in one lawsuit. Stating “this Court is concerned that
the joinder mechanism is being manipulated to facilitate a low-cost, low- risk
revenue model for the adult film companies”, the Court ordered the case severed
to all but poor John Doe #1. If the porn attorney wants to move forward,
he’ll have to
sue each John Doe individually, with a $350 filing fee for each
one, and bear all of the attendant administrative and legal costs in bringing a
bunch of lawsuits instead of just one. While individual lawsuits in situations
like this aren’t unheard of, they’re much less profitable, if they’re
profitable at all. We’re hoping that this sad and bizarre episode of legal
abuse is nearing its end.
In related news, my blog version of The Money Shot
was required reading this week for a Harvard class on internet law. To say
I’m honored would be an understatement.
Moving on. It’s time to talk, once again, about
musician Amanda Palmer. A couple of weeks ago, she posted a notice that she was
looking for a couple of musicians to play a couple of songs with her band at
each stop of her upcoming tour, a couple horns and a couple strings. She wasn’t
looking for pros, she was looking for fans who could play at a basic level.
She’d pay the fan-musicians with “hugs, beer, and merch”, sort of a dream come
true for an Amanda Palmer fan. This would be a dream come true for almost any
fan of almost any musician. Palmer’s done this on previous tours, and everybody
was happy with the arrangement. If you’re not familiar with Amanda Palmer, this
is all part of her rather remarkable practice of including her fans in her
world, something that’s included extraordinary use of social media and
remarkably effective fan-funding of her projects.
But this time she’s getting skewered for it. Her
crime? That she raised a staggering $1.2 million dollars on Kickstarter to fund
her new album. She was looking to raise $200,000, but her fans wouldn’t be
denied the opportunity to support her.
So, musicians, writers, all kinds of people are going
bat-shit crazy over the temerity of the “millionaire” Ms. Palmer asking
musicians to play for free. I’ve been following this casually, and have only
read a couple of the more pointed criticisms. Probably the most ridiculous is
one that popped up yesterday on the New Yorker website, an article by
someone named Joshua Clover entitled Amanda Palmer’s Accidental Experiment
With Real Communism. It’s kind of like Lowery II, except weirder.
Clover starts out on the wrong foot, declaring that
Palmer “raised a spectacular sum on Kickstarter to fund her new album and then
neglected to pay the musicians who toured with her”, which is just flat wrong.
Palmer has a touring band and I would imagine she pays them well. What she was
doing was having volunteer fans play on a couple songs with her. I expect
better from the New Yorker.
Then he goes on and on, using words like “hypocrisy”,
“unjust”, “social justice”,and describing her Kickstarter contributors as
“investors” who have taken an “ownership share of her work”, which is utter
nonsense. Palmer offered various premiums to contributors, including the
recording, merch, and on the upper levels, private concerts. And there are no
reports that she hasn’t delivered.
Then Clover gets all labor theory on us, invoking the
Occupy movement, even Chuck Berry’s “ill use of local musicians” (Berry
famously uses pick-up bands for his gigs, and I know many who’ve played with
him and were thrilled to do it and none that weren’t; money wasn’t even a
consideration). Huh? Then there’s talk about outsourcing to Bangalore, and the
horrors of user-contributors online (which Clover refers to as “unpaid labor”),
how things like “Palmer’s hustle” and “cynical scheme” carry a vague promise of
future employment, and no employment if you don’t volunteer, the devaluation of
music (yawn), “what is the fate of art after private property is done away with?”,
“workers sharing in the wealth for practicing their craft”, and “investors and owners
deserve[ing] returns on their equity.”
Holy god in a suitcase lighten the hell up! While a
lot of the anti-Palmer snark out there reeks of crawfish-in-a-bucket jealousy,
this New Yorker piece is redolent of ignorance and perhaps a few too
many advanced degrees. Palmer has capitulated and agreed to pay her
fan-musicians for the unforgettable couple of hours they’ll spend with her (not
that the fan-musicians asked to be paid). I wish she hadn’t.
Paul Rapp is an art & entertainment lawyer who
revels in inclement weather. He can be reached through his website