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Oakland Carnaval Parade

June 15th, 2000

Napster Ever After
I follow a couple of forums on Photo News Network, a professional photographer's site where photographers discuss various technical and business issues. Lately they've been talking about people who download jpegs from their sites or obtain digitized copies of their photographs and use them without payment of royalties. Although I'm a photographer of the amateur-snapshot variety and remain sympathetic with most things photographic, I'm not altogether convinced by their (vigorously expressed) arguments.

The reason is relatively simple: who downloads photographs and uses them? Do these photographs go to people who might otherwise buy them, either directly from the photographer or out on the commercial market through a stock photography agency, for example? Do these downloads result in lost sales? I think not. If a commercial site uses a photograph without paying for it, the commercial site gets sued and pays the photographer with damages for copyright infringement. Non commercial sites can't really be sued (because they don't have any money) and that may cause damage to the photographer because his or her image is less likely to be bought by the commercial media because of too much exposure, but I'm not convinced that's a big problem. It's a problem, just not a big one.

Jpegs on a web site like mine are small and not very useful. Software exists to blow them up and print Oakland Carnaval Parade. them on a deskjet, for example, but how many people will do that and, more important, of the people who might, how many would have gone to the trouble of buying my prints on the outside market (since I don't make prints and they don't exist on the inside, let alone the outside market) if my pictures weren't available for download anyway? As an amateur, I'm happy to think that someone may have downloaded one of my pictures and printed it out because they liked it. You run one of my photographs in a commercial venture, however, such as a product advertisement, and you're likely to get your ass sued by the subject in the photograph, because you don't have a model release. Yes, for a commercial photographer, that would be a misuse of the photographer's property, someone downloading it and printing it and taping it to the door of their refrigerator, but with little loss of income.

Photographers make their money in ways that can't be easily subverted by the web and the web may yet open avenues for additional income. How many photographs have you bought to hang on your wall, for example? You have to search them out and pay lots of money to obtain them from galleries and museums. The Internet may one day make a huge variety of photographs inexpensively available (your choice of frame, matte and finish) with a credit card and a mouse click, something that doesn't exist on a large scale today, but may exist tomorrow (on Amazon.pix). Today photographers are hired to shoot photographs for newspapers, magazines, advertising campaigns, weddings and portraits in the same way musicians are hired to play at a concert or a party. The consumption of photographs is through print media. The consumption of music is entirely different.

The music business is probably fucked. A song that has been converted into MPEG3 format from a San Francisco Carnaval parade. CD and made available on an Internet connected computer (like the one I'm typing on) can then be downloaded by anyone or everyone in the world and played once or a hundred times without loss of fidelity. A digitized song is a data stream, just as a digitized photograph is a data stream, but music isn't only a matter of hiring a musician to play you a song as you might hire a photographer to shoot you a picture, music is purchased on a CD or a tape or a record to be consumed in your home or your car or your earphones as you walk your Schnauzer around the block after dinner. Those who sell music in all of its recorded formats are in big trouble because most every song that has ever been recorded has been converted by now into MPEG and made available on the Internet.

The photographers on my forum talk about the ethics of downloading photographs and music without paying, but that's not the question. It is illegal, certainly, to download copyrighted photographs or music without paying. And it's unethical. And it's immoral. But what's the point? The reality is that the traditional methods used to distribute music to individual consumers - the CD, the record, the tape - are history. The reality is that most every piece of music ever recorded is now available on the Internet for free. Period. The question isn't how to get the genie back into the bottle or how to put a cop into every modem, but how does the music business adapt to the realities of the moment? And how does music now get recorded when you can't recover recording costs through sales? There's no free lunch. Think goose. And golden MPEGs.

From my teens until well into my forties I bought records. Lots of records. Had MPEGs been available, I Oakland Carnaval parade. would have downloaded and played (and played and played and played) a whole lot of MPEGs and not bought so damned many records. The recording industry and their big name artists would have lost a whole lot of my dollars had MPEGs and the Internet been around. I liked album cover art, particularly the old lp record album covers because they were bigger than CDs, but I wasn't going to spend the equivalent of $4 then or $16 today for a record cover. So how does the recording business get compensated? Not through suing me, certainly, but what could they have offered me in the way of a product for which I would have been willing to pay money to cover their recording costs when all those free MPEG's were around? That's the calculation currently being done in the recording industry.

Same thing with movies, by the way. When the bandwidth becomes available to easily download movies that can be played back on a 52" screen in nice bright sharper than you can imagine color, who's going to want to rent them or buy them or go through the hassle of finding a parking space next to the theater to see them? People will, of course. But not as many. Not nearly as many.

So, in the future, the few artists who became multi-millionaires with the invention of the phonograph may not become multi-millionaires through the sale of CDs anymore. The really big artists will become multi-millionaires through performances (stadiums, TV, movies) as they do today, but they won't make the additional millions possible through the sale of CDs and records. Smaller artists (the vast majority of whom don't make any money through CD sales anyway) may be able to take advantage of the Internet to promote their music. They're doing that today. There may be other ways to gain income over the Internet, I don't know, but in the near future there will no longer be a music CD business, at least not in the size and volume that we currently know.

I would like to guess musicians and composers as a collective group will do better in an MPEG reality than they have in the CD reality of the past. Then again, they might not. The superstars will not do as well, but they will still make millions, just not as many millions. I'm not saying this is good. I'm not saying this is bad. I'm just saying this MPEG thing has happened as similar things will happen in a bunch of other industries including my own and it's amazing to watch.

Photographs from both the Oakland and San Francisco Carnaval parades.