Last month, one of my Florida colleagues wrote an article that details the importance of copyright law for musicians. It’s incredibly well articulated, well researched and full of personal insight that anyone interested in the business or financial end of a musician’s world should read. The author asks why there is “such contempt and disrespect for the creative artist who creates music?” Most adults, let alone kids, don’t consider themselves “contemptuous” and “disrespectful” of artists.
Kids generally don’t understand copyright law. I got into a brief debate with another attorney about this online a few months ago. The attorney insisted that kids are disrespectful of the law. Unlike execs trying to cover up for bad streaming deals and attorneys blaming the audience, I hear
directly from kids. As the producer of Piper’s Picks TV and social media consultant for the Industry, I’ve read comments, questions and feedback from kids for over 8 years. Without fail, year in and out, copyright comes up. Yes, kids bring it up themselves (although not always spelled correctly). They know it exists, but they just don’t get it. Did your elementary or middle school classes teach you copyright law? Kids hear about copyright from their most likely source…other kids. They’ve created their own ideas about how copyright works.
In the past few months, we’ve had kids asking Piper’s Picks to upload an episode of Deadtime Stories. Piper’s Picks got into a discussion on another channel that was asked to upload the episode as well. I’ll paraphrase the discussion:
Fan #1: Can you upload the whole episode?
Fan #2: They can’t
Fan #1: How come?
Piper’s Picks TV: It can’t be uploaded by this channel because they don’t own the rights to the episode. It would be like if you recorded your own song and other people started uploading it to their own YouTube channels. It’s copyrighted.
Fan #1: but they are not taking credit for it
Piper’s Picks TV: They don’t have rights to distribute it (send it around). If you wanted to sell your song on iTunes and other people posted it on their YouTube channels, your song still wouldn’t be worth as much. . .
Fan #1: yea but its not fair cuz nick does not even air Deadtime Stories anymore. . .
The above is a typical discussion we’ve seen over the years. The assumptions typically are either you can post content if you don’t take credit for creating it or if you can’t find the material anywhere else, you can post it online. Adding to the confusion, YouTube videos with a “download” link seem to be permissible downloads. According to the Terms of Service, “You shall not download any Content unless you see a “download” or similar link displayed by YouTube on the Service for that Content.” So, the onus is on tweens to determine what videos are legal uploads? What about lyric videos or covers that are permissible under a licensing agreement. Are those OK to download? Of course, we’re all clear on what you can and can’t do with that download, right?
Whether or not a song is available for download, almost every song is legally available to listen to on YouTube in great quality. (assuming you’re not a true audiophile) The videos are available too. On top of that, most kids use Spotify. When kids can listen to the song already on Spotify and YouTube for free, they don’t understand why it would be necessary to pay for the download. On the other hand, most kids don’t even download the file anyway. They just stream it.
Kids don’t understand how or know how well the artists get paid. If a singer has a song on the radio or has a popular video on YouTube, their young fans just assume that the artist is making a lot of money. I’ve had discussions with multiple high schoolers who argue that it’s legal to download a song from YouTube if the song is available to listen to.
Neither schools nor parents nor the recording industry is teaching copyright law to kids. Kids are not intentionally violating a law. Walk through Justice for Girls or Claire’s next time you’re in a mall and see if there’s a shortage on merchandise from recording artists. Kids want to support their favorite artists. As hard as it is to get a kid to click a link on Twitter to watch a new video, rest assured that One Direction would get quite an influx of money if they asked for donations to produce a new release.
Fifteen years after Napster was shut down, old-school music industry representatives are still blaming piracy by children as a leading cause for the industry’s economic struggles. Like radio once did (and entertainment industry is trying to do), the music industry needs to adopt a new economic model. It’s time for the industry to face the music. The industry needs to purge middlemen and increase the share of revenues going to artists. My generation prefers to buy music outright, but Millennials and Generation Z grew up with streaming music services. We need to make streaming music services work financially for artists. How can the owner of a publisher copyright (i.e. writer) survive on one thousandth of a cent per stream? “Congrats on your one millionth stream! You just earned enough money for dinner tonight and tomorrow.”
UPDATE!The day after posting, Gary Vaynerchuk (aka @GaryVee) posted a response to questions about the future of the music industry. It’s crazy how close his comments are to the above and definitely worth a few minutes. If candy coating isn’t your style, check out #AskGaryVee 183.