Freeloading: A Chat With Greenpoint Author Chris Ruen
You may think that internet piracy is so 90s, but Greenpoint author Chris Ruen’s new book Freeloading: How Our Insatiable Hunger For Free Content Starves Creativity makes you think twice before you steal music online. I said it – stealing. As such, the book is a great conversation (and argument) starter, as it aims to establish the relationship between consumers and artists in an age of internet disconnect.
Tonight 12/5 at 7pm, Chris Ruen will participate in a discussion with David Byrne called Music and Copyright in the Digital Era at New York Public Library or as the Village Voice puts it the two will “Explain Exactly, Specifically, and Definitively Why Illegally Downloading Music Makes You A Huge Asshole.”
Before David Byrne got an interview, Chris chatted with Greenpointers at the Triple Decker. While the waitress gave Chris a hard time for not finishing his coffee, he explained that the foundation of the book is based on first hand accounts by many now famous musicians, like Frankie Rose, JB Townsend (Crystal Stilts) and Aaron Harris (Islands), whom he met while working at the Greenpoint Coffee House in 2006, the kind of place with a “customers can be wrong attitude.”
Rationalize it all you want, Chris has heard all the arguments, “bands don’t make money anyway; greedy record labels do,” “starving artists are better artists,” “bands make money on touring and merchandise.” The excuses go on and on but in the end “freeloading,” as he sugar coats it, is stealing and at some point he believes you do have to confront people and ask, “do you think you are entitled to this stuff?”
That being said, he knows it’s not that simple.
You a consumer are at one end of this, the musician is at the other end and that connection is real and meaningful and whether you are going to support that person on the other end is meaningful, but there are all these things in the middle of this relationship that you can get caught up on and get confused about – it’s complicated.
Things like those greedy record labels who don’t care about the artists and are the real thieves – as many argue. Chris believes there is a need for this infrastructure, and asks the consumer to question when they are listening to a great album, “would this has been made if this person was a hobbyist? Or if there was no industry apparatus around it to distribute it and let you know about it?”
Chris explains that “creativity needs to be funded and the most democratic way is through consumers,” so the notion that we “love it so much that we take it for free,” is a paradoxical behavior and a value judgement about the artwork by the consumer. If you don’t pay for it, then you are communicating that you don’t think it’s worth anything.
Which brings up the most fascinating part of Chris’ argument, how freeloading actually starves creativity.
If you’re able to make money from what you’re working on, have the time to put into it – have the energy because you’re not working a million other jobs, not thinking I have to be on twitter everyday, all examples of ways creativity becomes inhibited.
Adding to this, Chris explained “there is something sacred about creativity, something we should share in and we should give it up to the public at some point,” but “copyright terms need to be reduced … consumers and black market distributors are in contempt of privacy rights of artists and at the same time, industries that benefit from these really long copyright terms are in contempt of the public.”
In a final section called “fairloading,” the book provides a practical framework for consumers and artists to navigate creative content in the digital age, calling for mutual respect in a “good faith effort on all sides.”
Do you agree that downloading music or other copyrighted content is stealing? Did you pirate content in the past and have changed your ways? What was the turning point? Do you continue to freeload music and movies? How do you rationalize this behavior?