Why the Grateful Dead is Right

gratefuldeadI thought the brouhaha about the Grateful Dead’s misguided, not to mention technically impossible, attempt to remove all of their live show recordings from the internet had blown over in light of their change of heart.

Now I read a Thomas Hawk (who based on his jukebox posts listens to almost exactly the same sort of music I do) post where he quotes this post from Cory Doctorow at Boing Boing. Cory argues that the Dead’s change of heart is merely a smokescreen since the superior soundboard recordings will only stream (e.g., play over the web), but cannot be downloaded. Cory writes:

“Now the rightsholders want it both ways: they want to profit from the goodwill that fans retain for the band due to its generosity, but they want to revise that generosity downwards. They want to change the deal so that fans continue to do just as much evangelizing, spend just as much money on shows and shirts, but get less in return.”

I disagree. For one thing, goodwill is great, but is doesn’t pay the bills. The Dead have already given up tons of cash by making so many of their recordings freely available for so long. In addition, they can’t create any new product, since Jerry Garcia has shuffled off this mortal coil. The band has done more than any other organization in history to give its fans free music. Nowhere does it say that being progressive and consumer-centric requires you to give up all of your valuable possessions. If a restaurant feeds people for free for a while, but stops when its paying business slows, is that somehow worse than never giving away food in the first place? I think not.

Cory supports his point by noting that the Dead control the copyright in the non-soundboard recordings every bit as much as they control the soundboard recordings. Perhaps they do (no legal analysis here- that’s not the point), but that just means the band has elected to give away some of its property but not all. If we want to start bashing bands for being mercenary and greedy, there are a lot of other bands we should target first. Moreover, a sense of entitlement will make other bands weary of taking similar progressive positions on audience recording, trading and downloading.

Then of course there’s Total Recorder and its brethren- but that’s also not the point.

I was all over the band when the news first came out. But I think the current plan is a fair compromise. Fair to us and fair to them. Remember, win-win or no deal.

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