04/20/2012 04:44 PM

German File Sharing & Copyright Debate

'Just Shut Them Down, Man'

By and

In a SPIEGEL interview, German pop star Jan Delay and Christopher Lauer, a Pirate Party member of the Berlin state parliament, debate the value of art in the digital age and whether music and movies should be made available for free download on the Internet.

Jan Delay is one of Germany's most successful pop musicians. Like many fellow artists, he feels threatened by the Pirate Party's call for the legalization of online music-sharing sites like Pirate Bay. Like many, Delay worries musicians will no longer be able to make a living if their work is given away for free on the Internet. Last week, the musician met with Pirate Party politician Christopher Lauer at SPIEGEL's headquarters in Hamburg to continue a debate sparked by musician and writer Sven Regener (the founder of the band Element of Crime and the author of the novel "Berlin Blues") four weeks ago. Regener argues that the refusal to consider music a commodity for which one should pay is "preposterous."

Delay, 35, is a Hamburg native, and his last two albums topped the German music charts. Lauer, 27, is a member of Berlin's regional parliament and the cultural policy spokesman for the Pirate Party group in the city-state's legislature.

SPIEGEL: Mr. Lauer, the Pirate Party is demanding the legalization of online music file sharing sites. That would mean that people would no longer pay a cent for songs by Jan Delay. How do you explain to him that you apparently consider his work to be worthless?

Lauer: I'm not saying his work is worthless. At the Pirate Party, we are just saying that there's no point in criminalizing the downloading of music off of the Internet. We're talking about 15-year-olds who barely have any money. Jan, you should be imaginative enough to realize that a 15-year-old who downloads your album today or watches something of yours on YouTube will say to himself, "OK, that's good music. One day, if I have money, I'll buy myself a CD or go to a Jan Delay concert."

Delay: Really? That's funny. CD sales have almost halved over the last decade. And now someone from the Pirate Party comes along and says that's advertising for musicians! I know that many 15-year-olds don't have money, but that's still a strange argument. If a 15-year-old steals a bottle of vodka from a supermarket, should we say it's OK because the kid doesn't have any money?

Lauer: There is a market of consumers who pay money for cultural goods. However, money is distributed differently on the Internet. Unknown artists get an opportunity to become noticed in a way that they would never have in the classic record company system. Supply and demand now regulate the market directly.


Lauer: Because artists get money directly from consumers through direct payment systems, sales on online platforms and concerts. What doesn't work any longer is the old system between artists, labels and consumers. I understand that this annoys people, but that's the reality. Get used to it!

Delay: I'm certainly not going to get used to it -- because you want to eliminate all our copyrights.

Lauer: Of course artists should keep their copyrights. We don't want them to grow poor. All we are saying is that if a copyright holder signs a contract with a distributor, the distributor should only be granted exclusive utilization rights for a maximum of 25 years. In your case, Jan, that would mean that if you sign a contract with Universal, they will only have utilization rights for a maximum of 25 years -- and only for the sales channels known at the time the contract was concluded. That strengthens your position as an artist.

Delay: I think it's high time I explained a few things to you Pirates. Much of what you say is based on dangerous half-truths. You piece together your opinions from various blog posts and Wikipedia entries, but none of you have been involved with the music industry for 20 years, either as a creative artist or a purchaser. You always consider record companies to be the bad guys, but that's a cliché. What you always forget is the entire infrastructure associated with it: Video production companies, studios and suppliers, who have all been dying off over the past ten years.

Lauer: Ninety-five percent of musicians would have difficulty making money even if the Internet or the Pirate Party didn't exist. The discussion about copyright focuses attention on the conditions under which most artists work. Last year the musicians registered with the Künstlersozialkasse, the German artists' social insurance scheme, earned an average of less than €12,000 ($15,788).

Delay: Sorry, but are you now trying to position yourselves as the supposed avengers of badly paid artists?

Lauer: I just want to debunk the claim that the Pirate Party wants to put all copyright holders out of work. We want copyrights to remain with the copyright holders. We just want to change the rules regarding copyright holders and distributors.

Delay: No way man. Please don't change any rules. What you're talking about right now is something that artists negotiate with their label. If they have a bad lawyer, they'll get a bad contract. If their music is bad, they'll be dropped. If they make good music, they have a better chance because people will want to sign them by all means. It's none of your business what contracts artists sign.

Lauer: The issue is the question of how you connect artists and consumers.

Delay: No. You can't. Because between the two there are always the distributors, in other words those record companies you're always bitching about. And we need them because we make music and create art. We can't deal with how things are sold, how they are invoiced or how they are protected. We need distributors for that.

Lauer: We don't want to ban distributors, but the role of distributers is changing.

Delay: For 10 years now, I've been complaining that the record industry didn't come up with something like iTunes. They really missed the boat there. Be that as it may, the record industry's failings are no reason to legalize file sharing sites. Even the term is wrong. It sounds so harmless. Nothing is being shared. My songs are being copied for free.

Lauer: Yes, but we've got a population that uses these file sharing sites. That's why we say "yes" to file sharing sites. So the question is how we deal with this. Do we criminalize the majority of our young people, for instance with the "two strikes" or "three strikes" rules currently being considered, under which people would have their Internet connection blocked if they acted illegally two or three times? Internet bans are being discussed. And there are lawyers out there sending out fines of €1,500 or more.

Delay: Finally we agree on something! These fines are like smacking a baseball player on the mouth every time he's caught chewing gum. It just breeds hatred of the record industry. It's a dodgy business model that a couple of lawyers dreamed up as a way of profiting from and indeed making a fortune on the situation artists and record labels find themselves in. They get low-paid workers to sit in sweatshops filtering out IP addresses for €5 an hour.

SPIEGEL: Are the levied fines actually paid out to artists?

Delay: Embarrassingly enough, I found an entry to this effect on my last statement. It's disgusting. I don't want that money, and donate it to charity instead. But I think there are bands and labels that are making a lot of money off that.

Lauer: The payment demands are usually accompanied by cease-and-desist orders, and they are really going to cause mayhem. If you sign one of those, you pledge to pay a fine of up to €250,000 the next time you get caught. We say we shouldn't worry about file sharing sites because there are plenty of other ways to pay musicians.

SPIEGEL: What 15-year-old would pay for something that he or she could legally get for free? What you are suggesting is a kind of charity system.

Lauer: Don't you understand? You can't get rid of file sharing sites.

Delay: Sure you can. Just shut them down, man.

'We Derive Our Demands from the Technical Realities of the Net'

Lauer: How can you switch off a peer-to-peer network distributed across thousands of servers without deep packet inspection?

Delay: What was that?

Lauer: I mean, how can you switch off such a network without massive intrusion into the network structure? For instance, Jan Delay's song "Klar," which I think is great, even though I usually don't listen to his music …

Delay: I don't listen to you guys either.

Lauer: I now have this song on my hard drive. If I open up a Torrent program, anyone can download the song from my computer. So computers start copying files. A body that wanted to prevent that would have to look into every packet of data my computer makes available to determine what is being sent back and forth: Is it a piece of music by Jan Delay or a love letter to my girlfriend? From an overall societal standpoint, it would be easier to legalize file sharing sites than to build up a surveillance infrastructure.

Delay: Web sites like Kim Schmitz' Megaupload or have been switched off.

Lauer: They aren't file sharing sites. On those, music or films are uploaded to a Web site that earns money from advertising pornography. It's a racket. Torrent file sharing sites work differently. I simply load a Torrent file onto my computer. It's not the song or the movie itself, but merely information about where it can be found. In principle, it's like the Yellow Pages. The program searches through all the computers and servers on which the music file can be found, and copies the information onto my computer. At the same time, my computer makes the music file available to other computers.

Delay: And you think that's OK?

Lauer: File sharing sites such as Pirate Bay contain things I can't even buy legally. For instance, I'm currently watching the American cartoon series "Family Guy." I can't download the most recent episodes on iTunes, so I go to Pirate Bay, where I can find recordings in English from American TV. File sharing sites enable people to exchange cultural goods. That helps unknown artists distribute their work.

Delay: Kim Schmitz did that with Megaupload too. You can't use that argument.

Lauer: But there was a commercial interest behind it.

Delay: File sharing sites like Pirate Bay also have banner ads. Why is one OK, but the other isn't?

Lauer: Pirate Bay is a search engine for Torrents. Megaupload and make files available for money.

Delay: No. Those things are available there for free too.

Lauer: But is a commercial service because it contains advertising banners.

Delay: So do your Torrent sites! You still haven't answered my question.

Lauer: Fine. You got me there.

Delay: To be honest, I got you on most of the points we've discussed so far. I don't mean to be nasty, but apart from the copyright issue the whole Pirate Party thing is like someone going round saying, "Hey! We're a party that wants free chocolate for everyone." A few non-voters might say, "Cool! Free chocolate! That's the sort of politics I can relate to." But do you guys really have any solutions? Do you even know what you're talking about? I believe you when you say you understand computers. But that's about it.

Lauer: At least we make suggestions.

Delay: Whatever dude. I could rip all the suggestions you've made here so far to shreds. Would you like to hear some of my suggestions?

Lauer: Yes.

Delay: On the one hand you say that kids who get songs or movies through Pirate Bay or shouldn't be criminalized. I agree. But if you steal Legos from a store and get caught, you're going to get fined. That's just how it is. I've always ridden public transport without paying. If I get caught, I'll pay the €60 fine, and that's OK. If you download a "Superman" movie and get caught, you should also pay €60. This money shouldn't be given to the major musicians, but to those who really suffer because of all this downloading. I shouldn't get any of that.

SPIEGEL: Are you saying people should try to steal from you, but try not to get caught?

Delay: Yes. I'm not Lars Ulrich from Metallica, who constantly says stealing is dumb. I'm a HipHopper. We paint trains at night! We steal music and use it to make more music! That's our art.

SPIEGEL: And yet you still insist we abide by basic civic principles? "Please pay me if you want something from me."

Delay: I don't care if all the bad music is downloaded off of the Net, but I want people to pay for the good stuff, which artists really put their heart into. And I don't think it's uncool to say that publicly.

SPIEGEL: It seems that this is precisely what musicians are afraid of: Appearing uncool for insisting that illegal copying should be prevented.

Delay: Hey, I think that's chicken shit. They should be worrying about not making uncool music instead.

SPIEGEL: Berlin-based musician Sven Regener reignited the debate about copyright and the Pirate Party's plans in a radio interview. He also claimed that many musicians didn't dare speak their mind.

Delay: I think Regener's rant was excellent, but I don't understand why he says he's worried that his attitude is uncool.

SPIEGEL: Maybe he's right. The pop world has always been critical of capitalism. It's therefore hard to say, "I want people to pay."

Delay: I don't think that pop is anticapitalist per se. HipHop certainly isn't.

Lauer: When I heard Regener, I thought the demand to ban file sharing sites was like trying to ban gravity. We derive our demands from the technical realities of the Net. For us they are like laws of nature. That's why you and many other people often have difficulty understanding us.

SPIEGEL: We have difficulty understanding why your Pirate Party is advocating an entirely unjustified, no-cost culture on the Web. You say that music, movies and even journalistic articles ought to be free.

Lauer: We're looking for solutions, including how to pay for intellectual property. If a musician has an idea for a record, he can publicize the fact on the Web and ask who is willing to pay for it.

Delay: Is he supposed to pass the hat round? This only works if the artist in question is already well known. How are unknown artists supposed to get money for an idea? Forget it!

Lauer: Sorry. We have to experiment a little in terms of online payment models. If every suggestion is simply dismissed, we needn't bother talking about it. Of course we sometimes make mistakes, and sometimes we don't know something, but I hope people realize that we are addressing the problem of copyright and the conditions under which creative artists produce their work. Incidentally, it's not about stealing. If I steal the cap off your head, Jan, it's gone. If I copy one of your songs online, it's still there.

Delay: The song is still there, but the musician who played it won't be able to record another because he didn't earn any money on the first one. So you really are depriving people of something. My own history as a creative artist is a case in point. I started playing music at the age of 15 when I was still at school. Then I did my mandatory civilian service (as a conscientious objector from Germany's former mandatory military service) and continued playing music because it was going well. I started a degree and then, suddenly, I had a hit and didn't have any time for my degree anymore. In other words, to put it crassly, I continued playing music because there wasn't an Internet at the time. If everyone had been able to download all my music for free, I would have stopped. I would have studied law or economics instead or perhaps I'd be a junkie now.

SPIEGEL: Can young creative artists live on their record sales nowadays?

Delay: Not if, like me, you value high-quality production and lavish videos. Today musicians earn their money from live shows, merchandise or making themselves available for advertising. I sold 100,000 copies of my last album and therefore went gold, yet I still lost money on it.

Lauer: Why?

Delay: Nowadays 10,000 sales are enough in a slow week to put your song in the No. 1 spot in the German charts. Fifteen years ago, you would have needed several times that number. But marketing costs have gradually risen. Record companies invest a lot of money, but most of that is offset against my sales. That doesn't leave much, especially if you shoot costly videos. So you really have to go platinum -- in other words sell 200,000 copies -- in order to earn something in the end.

Lauer: Do you sell your music through iTunes?

Delay: Of course, but I only get 15 percent of the $0.99 a song costs to buy on average, and I have to use that to pay for production and my musicians. That's a joke.

Lauer: You see?

Delay: And yet you got yourself a €1,500 fine earlier.

Lauer: What?

Delay: You admitted that you downloaded "Family Guy" on Pirate Bay. It's been noted. That's going to cost you.

SPIEGEL: Mr. Lauer, Mr. Delay, we thank you for this interview.

Translated from the German by Jan Liebelt


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