German File Sharing & Copyright Debate: 'Just Shut Them Down, Man'

By and Philipp Oehmke

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.

SPIEGEL: How?

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.

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