Apple has announced that if the iTunes Music Store is forced by a Library of Congress-appointed Copyright Royalty Board to increase their royalty rate for publishers and songwriters by six measly cents per song, then boo hoo, waah waah, they’re going to have no choice but to shut down the iTunes Music Store altogether.
“If the [iTunes music store] was forced to absorb any increase in the… royalty rate, the result would be to significantly increase the likelihood of the store operating at a financial loss—which is no alternative at all,” wrote Apple iTunes vice president Eddy Cue in a statement filed with the board last year, according to Fortune. “Apple has repeatedly made it clear that it is in this business to make money, and most likely would not continue to operate [the iTunes music store] if it were no longer possible to do so profitably.”
It’s easy to see that Apple is bluffing its ass off in an attempt to get record labels to absorb the six cents. But what’s even more infuriating is that they have the full stupid support of music fans who’ve been indoctrinated for the last ten years to believe that anything except 100-percent free music is the product of the evil recording industry and who clearly don’t know the difference between the record label, the recording studio, the RIAA, and the publisher.
One comment is indicative of many:
“As much as I have been an apple hater over the years and despise the i-tunes concept becuase of the DRM, kudos to them for taking such a hard line stand. The studios know the end of i-tunes will pretty kill their last existing business model. It’s about time somewith the power has the moxy to tell the RIAA F-YOU”
Now, I’m aware that Internet comments are by nature an intellectual cesspool, but what worries me is that everyone takes this knee-jerk “fuck the record industry” stance without understanding that this mechanical royalty rate increase is a move to actually help the artist. Of the four categories above—label, studio, RIAA, and publisher—there’s one that does right by the artist, and that’s the publisher. Nearly all songwriters work with a publishing company which pays them songwriting royalties. And everyone knows that songwriting royalties are the best and most feasible way for musicians to support themselves.
I’ve personally known musicians who’ve released 10 albums and hardly seen any paychecks at all. Then, bam! One day their song gets covered by a more famous artist, or used in a commercial, or played in the background on a made-for-TV-movie that airs in Australia, and all their hard work finally pays off—to say nothing of the many obscure artists who share songwriting credit for hip-hop samples, or those important figures who’ve maybe never even recorded a song but have written hit after hit.
Six cents might not sound like a lot, but try telling that to David Axelrod, the Los Angeles musician whose “Holy Thursday” was tapped for a sample on Lil’ Wayne’s mega-selling The Carter III. Try telling that to Rowland Salley, whose beautiful “Killing the Blues” was included by Alison Krauss and Robert Plant on their mega-selling Raising Sand. Try telling that to Tom Waits, whose “The Long Way Home” from Norah Jones’ mega-selling Long Way Home earned him more royalties than his entire brilliant 1972-1980 catalog combined.
So to Steve Jobs: Quit your crying. In the immortal words of Seth Tobocman, you don’t have to fuck people over to survive. Pay the six cents and earn yourself a little goodwill.