Musicians, songwriters: P2P ruling rocks

Downloaders may cringe about the Grokster ruling, but it resonates with artists, many of whom say swappers have hurt their business.

If there's one group that seems excited about the Supreme Court's unanimous ruling in the Grokster file-sharing case, it's the people in the studio.

Many musicians, songwriters and music publishers reacted positively to the court's ruling, which essentially said that peer-to-peer networks can be held liable for copyright infringement.

"Everyone that truly loves music should be happy with this decision."
--Lamont Dozier
Songwriter

Although the peer-to-peer networks have allowed smaller bands and musicians to reach wider audiences, illegal downloads have hurt their bottom lines by depressing sales.

"It became so rampant that it was hurting everyone," said Matt Whittington, label manager for Eighteenth Street Lounge Music, or ESL. "Everyone wants to get paid for what they do."

ESL was created by members of Thievery Corporation, a musical act that decided to form its own brand rather than try to sign with a major label. The group has had No. 1 hits in Greece and Portugal this year. However, it still only sells about 150,000 to 250,000 records a year.

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"If we lose 30 percent, that's a big deal," Whittington said.

Jimmy Boudreau, a musician who has recorded with Sam Brown and Herman's Hermits, also said the ruling will help smaller acts.

"I make original music for a living," he said in an e-mail. "I have had relatives brag to me about how many songs they have downloaded for free and can fit onto a CD. I tell them that as a musician, making original music, there is only one way I can react to this. It is wrong. Have file-swapping networks hurt my business? Absolutely."

Within hours of the decision, several groups, including the American Federation of Musicians, the Directors Guild of America and the Writers Guild of America, West, issued a joint statement in support of the ruling.

The life of a musician in the download era can be difficult. Perk, a struggling artist in Los Angeles, last week at an event held by Internet radio company Mercora said he makes more money selling T-shirts than records. His friends tell him they buy CDs, but then burn copies for friends, forgetting that that hurts him, he said.

Famous artists chimed in, too.

Lamont Dozier, who was part of the Holland-Dozier-Holland songwriting trio, which penned "Nowhere to Run," "How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)" and other big '60s hits, said he was pleased with the ruling.

"I have worked hard all my life to make a living creating music that people love, and this decision creates a firm foundation for the next generation of songwriters to flourish," Dozier said in a statement. "Everyone that truly loves music should be happy with this decision."

A potential downside to the ruling could be in the area of distribution. Even radio executives admit that station formats have limited the opportunity for younger or new bands to be heard. Peer-to-peer networks have helped counter that.

"I don't think we have been hurt by free downloading or file swapping. In talking to our artists, they haven't felt hurt or taken advantage of because of downloading," said Mariella Luz of K Records. "If anything, I think it helps promote smaller bands, not hurt them."

Radio execs also claim that digital radio, which will allow them to cram up to eight radio stations into bandwidth that now can only accommodate one, will help ameliorate the monochromatic tones of corporate radio.

ESL's Whittington asserted that there have been almost no bands that have succeeded purely because of these networks. And musicians, he added, can't be the only ones sacrificing for their ideals.

"If you license your song to a commercial, you are branded a sellout," Whittington said. "You get branded a sellout by people who didn't pay for the song in the first place."

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