David Lowery: The Internet is a Cargo Cult

TODAY your humble blogger speaks to the musicians’ rights advocate and gets into some new territory — not just the way music streaming hurts artists, but the US government’s complicity in the current mess, the feckless Department of Justice, and the irrational way people view the Internet in general. Here’s Lowery in my Salon story:

The Internet has become cargo cult. People worship the Internet like a cargo cult. It’s this thing that they have that brings them free stuff, and they think it’s magic. It’s beyond rational thought and reason, right? And they have no sense that behind all that free stuff are the drowned ships and sailors. They don’t want to hear that behind the way you get this free stuff, some really actually fucked-up things have happened to individuals and their individual rights.

The occasion for this interview was a lawsuit about royalties for music recorded pre-1972, which Camper Van Lowery thinks has major consequences that will become clear over time. Some advocates of streaming — including those inside the services — have said that these musicians never expected royalties and don’t need to receive them. Lowery’s response:

I mean, if Pandora is going to stream these things and if Sirius is going to broadcast these things, why shouldn’t they get paid? We’re America, we’re a220px-Camper_Van_Beethoven_-_Our_Beloved_Revolutionary_Sweetheart fair country. We’re not a country like China, where we just go, “Here’s a politically well-connected elite, we’re just going to hand them the rights to something that somebody created.” Just so the politically well-connected can get richer. It’s really funny to me — look, I’m not really a lefty or liberal, I’m basically a little right of center in my politics — and it’s just funny to see consumers sort of rallying around the rights of corporations and against the rights of individuals.

And on a holiday made possible by the protests of workers, we wish everyone a happy Labor Day.


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  1. says

    When one attempts to stream YouTube videos of movies and music from Germany, the German royalties organization for musicians, GEMA, has blocked a huge portion of the videos. At a wild guess, I would say about a third of those made since 1970, and perhaps half of those made in recent years. The situation in the USA is not even remotely comparable. It doesn’t matter if the musicians are members of GEMA or not, their music is blocked.

    GEMA harms many musicians who use the web to promote their work. It also hinders the exchange of ideas between musicians. Ironically, indiscriminately blocking a wide range of art due to a poorly conceived business model can also be oppressive. On one hand we want artists paid, and the other we do not want to hinder the use of a very valuable tool for artists. How can the web be organized to serve both needs?

  2. says

    I am a singer/songwriter. 63. I think you miss a very important reality in all the discussions surrounding internet streaming and royalties etc. It is Free Enterprise. Today a few major labels and basically two talent management agencies rule the roost. Internet allows me to get my music out there, and I sell more tix when I gig. Some artists get too big and important to rely upon gigging to make a good income. I want my new CD played everywhere. If it takes off, I make a lot more money.
    It’s a bummer the older artists do not get their royalties. But not a good argument for the eclectic musicians who have already forged a name to whine about not getting their fair share. Get out there and play. Sell CD’s. Drive download sales. Work.

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