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Published: 2011/09/22

John McLaughlin Speaks Out Against "Pirates"

Legendary jazz guitarist John McLaughlin has posted an essay entitled “Pirates” on his website. In this commentary McLaughlin shares some rather strong words about “the havoc created by those well meaning people known as internet ‘pirates.’” The complete text appears below…

Dear friends, it has been quite some time since my last words in print, but I feel the need to write just a few words about the musical world in its business sense, and the havoc created by those well meaning people known as internet ‘pirates’, that is the people who in their uncontrollable desire to make music in general, and CD’s in particular, available free to the global public. When asked about their activities, they frequently speak about their ‘noble’ aims to make music accessible to all and sundry, for free naturally, although not all of them are ‘noble’: to the contrary, they charge people and of course, never pay the artist or the intellectual royalties which are due to the song writers.

When we speak about the act of theft, which is what in reality it is, this no longer seems to bother anyone who is not affected economically by the actions of these people. The questions of ethics and the morality of theft, have lost their fundamental meaning to many people when it comes to ‘finding stuff on the internet’. I however, would like to put this new view of values in the context of killing and murder.

Naturally enough, people who kill other people are still considered a menace to society, and either they will be imprisoned or executed depending on which country or which state in which country you live in.

But what about the killing of an industry? The record store is dead. Effectively dead from the deadly actions of the pirates. I grew up in record stores, they were one of the joys of my early life. What about the murder of the music industry? It’s clear to me that if the ‘pirates’ know about their fatal blows they have given to the music industry, they couldn’t care less. Do they realize the havoc and damage they have wreaked upon musicians, their lives and families, and the industry? Do they care? I think not.

Having spent the greater part of my life working with record companies, I am fully aware of their innate arrogance, and above all, their insatiable greed. Since the vinyl LP, they have systematically overcharged everyone for recordings. In a certain sense, they share the responsibility in the sorry state of affairs that the music industry now finds itself in. Even though technology has made home recording a reality, and has played a role in the demise of the recording studio, the knock-on effect of pitiful amounts of record sales can be traced directly to the continuing downloading, mainly free, of CD’s. How many recording studios have closed their doors forever? World-wide the number is spectacular.

What to do? What I fail to understand is the attitude of the respective governments of the ‘west’. Do these governments realize how much tax revenues they have lost, and lose daily from the actions of these ‘people’? We know that there are ‘pirates’ operating out of quite a few eastern bloc countries, Romania, Bulgaria, the Russian Federation to name just a few, where control from our point of view is out of the question. There are unfortunately, ‘pirates’ operating in many countries in Europe and the USA. What could be done here in the ‘civilized’ west, is that the governments take on the telecom companies. If they are found to be hosting ‘pirates’, they need to be sanctioned. The telecom companies know all too well who is doing what, and if they find themselves hit with large fines, for example, they will terminate the ‘pirates’ very quickly.

Perhaps I’m just naive, but having suffered for many years at the hands of ‘pirates’ who act with impunity, and I’ve seen the damage they have brought upon many people, not just musicians. I speak with authority. To be followed…


There are 22 comments associated with this post

Cleeet September 23, 2011, 11:24:53

Never head of this guy Wow. That’s a little scary to read on a jamband board. Miles Davis? Mahavishnu Orchestra? Ring any bells? If you’ve never heard Bitches Brew or Jack Johnson or Inner Mounting Flame, you need to go get them RIGHT NOW.

Anthony September 23, 2011, 11:29:42

While I understand Mr. McLaughlin sentiments, he is completely wrong in his assessment of the music industry in this day and age. Over the last 10-15 years the number of artists on tour and profits from touring have both increased dramatically(especially for the little guy). Yes major artists are taking the biggest hit but for the most part is has been a redistribution of wealth amongst more artists in the industry. The internet and social networking have dramatically increased the velocity of music discovery. No longer do artists have to rely on traditional channels to promote their music. Now they can build a community of listeners without the major record companies. Those of you have seen Pretty Lights’ ascent to stardom, know what I am talking about. Giving your music away for free has had a huge effect on the widespread popularity that he now enjoys…. and I promise you he is not hurting for money. ***McLaughlin makes a point about pirating companies operating in countries without strong control of property rights. It’s a problem but these companies are not the reason why the general public does not buy cds. New times. Adapt.

me September 22, 2011, 15:35:04

While I can sympathize to an extent (and, no, I don’t steal music)... this is yet another example of whining and crying, rather than adapting to the times. No question, people should be able to get paid for their efforts, but John points out the fact that a good majority of this happens outside our reach, what exactly should we do… bomb them? It’s been my opinion since the first days of hearing record companies whine about this issue, that they should instead direct their efforts to working around the issue. No, I don’t have answers, and yes, I realize there’s no simple solution… but tell me, what does his blog accomplish? And, my sympathy level drops slightly when John admits that the public was screwed for years by being overcharged… where was the outcry then? Regardless, I wish him, and all musicians, luck in a solution… they certainly deserve to be paid for their efforts…

Matt September 22, 2011, 15:45:12

Cry me a river you sissy!

UncleEb September 22, 2011, 15:54:43

I understand and respect the opinions of Mr. McLaughlin, but would counter that the music industry is by no means dead nor is it dying. It is simply changing. As technology created an industry of selling recorded music from musicians, technology is pushing further towards accessibility of music. It seems music is headed for a cloud and nobody will own the music as much as have access to it at any time. Is this a bad thing for music? NO! Is this a bad thing for musicians? No, especially musicians who are capable of playing music in a live setting. Is this a bad thing for folks in the middle, marketing and selling the music? Yes, they will have to adapt. But is the art gone? Music as an industry is not dead. Mr. McLaughlin, as a musician who recently played in my town in a large hall with tickets ranging from $36 to $72 before fees, you must know that music is alive and well and still capable of bringing in money to sustain careers. Perhaps not as much as the heyday of record industry profiteering. However, many millions of folks have been displaced from their jobs by technology. This is not new and purely “pirates” fault. As before the invention of recorded music, touring musicians playing live music can certainly find a path to a successful lucrative career. The joys of finding music online for today’s youth is markedly different than spending time in record stores, but is it somehow worse? Or just different? The art translates the same way and the desire to consume music is equally inspired. The market of inspired fans remains the same, it is figuring out how to remain in a sustaining partnership that is the way forward.

Rudy September 22, 2011, 16:56:38

I’m still stuck figuring out where the line gets drawn. Is it illegal to copy a CD you borrow from a friend or the library, where no consideration is exchanged between the two parties? If this is true, then why is sharing a copyrighted release illegal between two people via the Internet, when neither is profiting from the exchange? I’m sure there is something I’m missing, but I was always told that only sharing “for consideration” was illegal.

Ray September 22, 2011, 17:48:34

Chain stores like best buy killed the record store.

Abram September 22, 2011, 18:39:03

Never head of this guy

Tim September 22, 2011, 18:59:00

I am sad for the generations that will never know the joys of browsing through the racks of the local record/CD store. People can rationalize theft any way they want, but the fact is artists will have to grind themselves into the ground, eking out a living on touring and merch booths alone. You don’t think that affects the creative process a tad? As an aside, allow me to respond to Abram’s post, “Never heard of this guy.” Wow.

jeremy September 22, 2011, 22:38:32

if the musician isn’t good enough to make a substantial living off their live performaces they don’t deserve to be recorded anyway!

tom September 23, 2011, 08:40:37

“Never heard of this guy.” Do yourself a favor and look him up. Might have to venture outside of the jamband box, though. I think it’s time record execs start coming around to modern times and figure something out. Not every group can sustain a touring schedule as their sole source of income. And, if you’re a proponent of “bands need to be able to play live or they’re not worth a thing,” then buy their albums when you go see them instead of waiting for someone to put it online. You cut Best Buy out of the middle that way.

Cleeet September 23, 2011, 11:22:14

I have tremendous respect for John McLaughlin as a musician and am a fan. But maybe if he toured more than once every 3-5 years he wouldn’t be so concerned about how much $$$ he makes from sales of his recordings.

me September 23, 2011, 11:45:41

Tim… while you have a point about being sad for the old days… how many more bands will be heard these days thanks to the internet… in a store, you simply looked at album art, didn’t hear anything and had to take a huge chance dumping hard earned money into 1-2 albums to see if it was any good… now you can hear something and decide if it’s for you (and I’m not referring to the stolen music, only music that offers a sample first)... The internet has allowed every single band out there a level playing field to be heard, instead of having to sign away your life to be promoted… It’s sad, and points out the misunderstanding, when you suggest we are trying to rationalize theft… I suggest you reread the comments with an open mind and realize that NO ONE is rationalizing theft, we are suggesting that it’s time to move into the now and find new ways of handling your business… would you still ride a horse to get across the country, or do you now use a plane?

Matt September 23, 2011, 12:33:05

Hey Tim, why don’t you and this crybaby go browse record stores together! LOL...tool!

Wow! September 23, 2011, 17:39:53

Hey Matt, why don’t you go read a book…if you are able to read? You might learn something, but I doubt it.

Ross September 26, 2011, 14:59:26

damn, how did musicians get paid before recordings? those darn poor rock stars

Louis September 28, 2011, 10:03:29

John McLaughlin is one of the greatest improvisational guitarists of all time. I agree that artists are being ripped off. But I would mainly blame the record companies. When the transition was made from vinyl to CD’s, record companies said it would lower prices, but that never happened. Seriously, how much does it cost to manufacture a CD? Answer: 10 maybe 20 cents. Why are we paying $15 and more for this? For bands that tour constantly it makes sense to encourage music swapping. Dave Matthews, Allman Brothers, Grateful Dead, Gov’t Mule, etc, etc, have all benefitted from this policy. But John McLaughlin will be 70 soon and doesn’t perform that much anymore. Allowing bootleg recordings of his music does him no good. At this time he’s probably trying to live off his royalties and having a tough time of it. Anyway, if you never listened to John McLaughlin, you’re really missing something. Do him a favor and buy (don’t burn ) one of his CD’s.

tits September 29, 2011, 10:27:40

what a fag, diminishing returns got you down? go play your guitar ya fuckin douchebag

Jomama September 29, 2011, 17:03:50

Thanks for the listening suggestions! Great stuff. I know because I just dl’d them from the net. :^)>

old hippie October 3, 2011, 01:03:37

musicians complain about diminishing returns on albums, yet fail to mention that at his heyday – Michael Jackson only got 19 cents PER ALBUM......that was after years of touring before he became ‘famous’....who is ripping off whom? My first Dead show in 1987 cost me 9 bucks for the ticket, and my last Furthur show cost me 65 bucks for a nosebleed seat, plus 35 bucks in ‘convenience fees’ and parking…60 bucks for a see-through tour shirt that lasted through one washing…maybe its time for the musicians to look at who is really ripping them off….Saw Tom Petty/Steve Winwood, and my $20 ticket ended up costing 75 bucks a piece!!! kill clearchannel, ticketbastard, and all their ilk – and see how much your paycheck increases…

old hippie October 3, 2011, 01:12:35

one more thing…..if I download an album off the internet from one of your ‘legal’ sites, and : (a) download it using the bandwidth I pay for (and is now becoming more and more limited, thanks to bitching by the internet providers) (b) have to burn to my own CD…which I pay a royalty tax on (just like on tapes – on the assumption I am taking away from the music industry) – on my own CD burner… (c) print out my own damn artwork/covers/liner notes on my own paper, with my own toner…. I do not expect to have to pay the same as someone who purchases your product in a jewel case with liner notes….

Jack-B-Nimble October 3, 2011, 14:36:28

I used to be sympathetic towards the musicians, then I saw a few episodes of MTV Cribs.

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