Shake IP Off
Dear Taylor Swift,
Let me start off by saying that I am a huge, albeit rather new, fan of yours. I want you to know that because I’m going to say some things with which you will probably disagree, but I need you to know that I am being open with you because I think you deserve to hear my concerns. I think it is wonderful that you not only recognize but are willing to fight for your value as a songwriter, musician, and producer, but I do think some of your efforts are misguided.
For one, in removing your music from Spotify, there is the unintended consequence of more people wanting to download it illegally. This is especially the case for those with limited disposable income. I’m willing to contend that Spotify does not compensate artists fairly (fair prices being ones mutually agreed upon by Spotify and individual artists), but in removing your music from their library, you are pushing your fans living on the economic margins to risk heavy fines and even imprisonment for listening to your music and thus not receiving any monetary compensation whatsoever. If risking our livelihood to listen to your music doesn’t make us real fans, then I don’t know what does. I’m not blaming you for the dominant intellectual property rights regime or the draconian criminal justice system that exist in the U.S., but, as an artist who appears to have a higher than average influence on your music and its distribution, you could loosen the copyright reins or simply make your music available on streaming services.
Another downside of adhering to a system of strict intellectual property rights is that you are limiting your exposure to new fans like myself who were not sure if we wanted to spend $12.99 for an album when we were just getting our feet wet with your music. Now that I’m a self-proclaimed superfan, that price does not seem too steep, but I would still never pay for audio files. It has nothing to do with not valuing your work. It has everything to do with not wanting to spend money on things that can be acquired without a monetary cost, and without depriving others of the good or service. While album sales are not a problem for you, Miss Fastest Selling Record in a Decade, the ability to have one’s music featured on streaming services can be the difference between making it big or floundering for new artists. By placing yourself so staunchly against streaming services, you’re aligning yourself with the music labels and industry as it has traditionally existed.
Illegally downloading your music has, however, made me much more inclined to pay well over $100 for tickets to see you in concert. The reason for this disparity is that an album can be copied and shared without depriving the owner of its contents or decreasing its value. In economics, we call this kind of good non-rivalrous because the use by one person does not preclude or inhibit its use by others. One of your concerts, however, is an entire experience which cannot be copied or otherwise perfectly recreated without imposing a cost on, well, you. I can watch all of the concert videos that I want, but it will never come close to actually being there and experiencing the magic. The same is not true of an album in the digital age, which doesn’t require the artist to re-record it or otherwise incur costs for more people to experience it as it was created.
Taylor, I think you are doing incredible things in and for the music industry, and it makes me so happy to see you standing up for yourself and other artists. I think the time is coming, though, where you as an artist and we as fans need to work together to take on the entrenched interests of the music industry as a whole. One of those interests is keeping the album as a commodity to be sold, rather than rendering it an easily replicable experience to be shared. Let’s do something about that.
Forever and Always,