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Fall 2015

Inquiry Magazine Archive

  • Spring 2016

    Spring 2016: Premium Blend

    Found in everything from space shuttles to dental fillings, composite materials have thoroughly infiltrated modern society. But their potential is still greatly untapped, offering researchers ample opportunity for discovery.

  • Fall 2015

    Fall 2015: Collision Course

    Within the particle showers created at the Large Hadron Collider, answers to some of the universe’s mysteries are waiting.

  • Spring 2015

    Spring 2015: Almost Human

    Model systems like pigeons can help illuminate our own evolutionary and genomic history.

  • Fall 2014

    Fall 2014: Small Wonder

    UT Arlington's tiny windmills are bringing renewable energy to a whole new scale.

  • Winter 2014

    Winter 2014: Overdue for an Overhaul

    The stability of our highways, pipelines, and even manholes is reaching a breaking point.

  • 2012

    2012: Mystery solved?

    Scientists believe they have discovered a subatomic particle that is crucial to understanding the universe.

  • 2011

    2011: Boosting brain power

    UT Arlington researchers unlock clues to the human body’s most mysterious and complex organ.

  • 2010

    2010: Powered by genetics

    UT Arlington researchers probe the hidden world of microbes in search of renewable energy sources.

  • 2009

    2009: Winning the battle against pain

    Wounded soldiers are benefiting from Robert Gatchel’s program that combines physical rehabilitation with treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder.

  • 2009

    2007: Sensing a solution

    Tiny sensors implanted in the body show promise in combating acid reflux disease, pain and other health problems.

  • 2006

    2006:Semiconductors: The next generation

    Nanotechnology researchers pursue hybrid silicon chips with life-saving potential.

  • 2005

    2005: Imaging is everything

    Biomedical engineers combat diseases with procedures that are painless to patients.


Out of Tune

How record companies induce panic about music piracy to increase their profits and exploit artists David Arditi, Assistant Professor of Interdisciplinary Studies

illustration of man wearing digital headphones who is restrained by large foot

On May 2, 2000, Lars Ulrich, drummer for the band Metallica, announced that his group was suing Napster, a free file-sharing service that let fans download music online. During the press conference outside Napster’s headquarters, Ulrich presented the company with a giant stack of papers listing the names of 300,000 Napster users. His assertion: Napster was enabling these people to steal music.

Dramatic optics aside, the issue at hand that day was—and remains—much more complicated than that. It hinges on Americans’ basic misunderstanding of copyright laws. When Ulrich and the music industry argue that file-sharing is theft, they are participating in what I call the “piracy panic narrative,” which goes like this: File-sharing is piracy; piracy is stealing; stealing is negatively affecting recording artists’ ability to make ends meet.

Similar to past panics focused on witches and communists, the piracy panic narrative classifies file-sharers as dangerous enemies. They threaten music, the industry argues, because artists will not write songs if they cannot earn a living from their creative works.

In my new book, iTake-Over: The Recording Industry in the Digital Era, I demonstrate how major record labels produce this panic narrative to secure stronger rights for their industry. Since the public is largely unaware of the mechanics of copyright law, we easily accept the recording industry’s assertion about the illegality of file-sharing—after all, no one wants to steal from their favorite artists. But what we don’t realize is the industry is leveraging this public support to try to change current law so their argument will actually have the legal grounding they’ve claimed it does all along.

In truth, the main barrier to musicians being paid fairly is the recording industry itself, not file-sharers. Record contracts enable the wholesale exploitation of musicians by requiring that artists sign away their own copyrights. As a consequence, they give up their artistic autonomy and a potent source of income. In return for signing a contract, artists receive a monetary advance to record an album, which they must pay back before they see any profits from its sale. They do this with the royalties they earn, but since those usually amount to only 8-15 percent, most artists never make money from their work. Record labels, on the other hand, earn roughly 40 percent of revenue sales.

These record contracts serve as the backdrop for the latest iteration of the piracy panic narrative, which this time targets streaming music services. In a very public move, Neil Portnow, president of The Recording Academy, used the 2015 Grammy Awards to decry the paltry royalties artists receive from streaming services such as Spotify, asking, “What if we’re all watching the Grammys a few years from now and there’s no Best New Artist award because there aren’t enough talented artists or songwriters who are actually able to make a living from their craft?”

His implication, of course, is that if the public does not pay for music, no one will create music. As I’ve explained, this stands in stark contrast to reality, where the vast majority of musicians make no money yet record labels earn millions. Sony Music, for example, has a contract with Spotify that stipulates that the company receive millions of dollars apart from the royalties paid to artists. But Portnow isn’t mentioning this industry-wide exploitation in his appeals to fans.

Ultimately, neither file-sharers nor streaming websites are to blame for the deplorable payments most recording artists receive. The real culprit is the very structure of the contracts every musician must sign—a much more insidious and difficult target to defeat. 

Illustration by Brian Stauffer

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