Is There an Upside to Downloading?

The Grokster case gets heard today in the Supreme Court. One of the tactics the music industry has used is to throw down the plight of the starving working musician. It plays on the emotions, personalizes the impact of piracy, replacing the corporate victim with reconizable face.

Except, of course, that its all a lie. Consider this Congressional testimony:

"Hello, my name is Roger McGuinn. My experience in the music business began in 1960 with my recording of “Tonight In Person” on RCA Records. I played guitar and banjo for the folk group the “Limeliters.” I subsequently recorded two albums with the folk group the “Chad Mitchell Trio.” I toured and recorded with Bobby Darin and was the musical director of Judy Collins’ third album. In each of those situations I was not a royalty artist, but a musician for hire.

My first position as a royalty artist came in 1964 when I signed a recording contract with Columbia Records as the leader of the folk-rock band the “Byrds.” During my tenure with the Byrds I recorded over fifteen albums. In most cases a modest advance against royalties was all the money I received for my participation in these recording projects.

In 1973 my work with the Byrds ended. I embarked on a solo recording career on Columbia Records, and recorded five albums. The only money I’ve received for these albums was the modest advance paid prior to each recording.

In 1977 I recorded three albums for Capitol Records in the group “McGuinn Clark and Hillman.” Even though the song “Don’t You Write Her Off” was a top 40 hit, the only money I received from Capitol Records was in the form of a modest advance.

In 1989 I recorded a solo CD, “Back from Rio”, for Arista Records. This CD sold approximately 500,000 copies worldwide, and aside from a modest advance, I have received no royalties from that project.

The same is true of my 1996 recording of “Live From Mars” for Hollywood Records. In all cases the publicity generated by having recordings available and promoted on radio created an audience for my live performances. My performing work is how I make my living. Even though I’ve recorded over twenty-five records, I cannot support my family on record royalties alone.

In 1994 I began making recordings of traditional folk songs that I’d learned as a young folk singer. I was concerned that these wonderful songs would be lost. The commercial music business hasn’t promoted traditional music for many years. These recording were all available for free download on my website on the Internet.

In 1998 an employee of heard the folk recordings that I’d made available at and invited me to place them on They offered an unheard of, non-exclusive recording contract with a royalty rate of 50% of the gross sales. I was delighted by this youthful and uncommonly fair approach to the recording industry. not only allowed me to place these songs on their server, but also offered to make CDs of these songs for sale. They absorbed all the packaging and distribution costs. Not only is an on-line record distributor, it is also becoming the new radio of the 21st century!

So far I have made thousands of dollars from the sale of these folk recordings on, and I feel privileged to be able to use MP3s and the Internet as a vehicle for my artistic expression. has offered me more artistic freedom than any of my previous relationships with mainstream recording companies. I think this avenue of digital music delivery is of great value to young artists, because it’s so difficult for bands to acquire a recording contract. When young bands ask me how to get their music heard, I always recommend"

Before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee July 11, 2000
“The Future of Digital Music:  Is There an Upside to Downloading?”
Statement of Roger McGuinn
Songwriter and Musician (Formerly with The Byrds)

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  1. Restless Mania commented on Mar 29

    Bandanas, Peglegs, and Broadband

    Today is the day. The RIAA’s vainglorious Luddite struggle has arrived on the steps of the Supreme Court. At issue is internet piracy, but in a way that makes me shake my head in disgust. The large scale attacks of the RIAA on individual sharers, Nap…

  2. Restless Mania commented on Mar 29

    Bandanas, Peglegs, and Broadband

    Today is the day. The RIAA’s vainglorious Luddite struggle has arrived on the steps of the Supreme Court. At issue is internet piracy, but in a way that makes me shake my head in disgust.

  3. fatbear commented on Mar 29

    OK, I buy it – the major record companies are bad people. Having known them since the ’60’s, I would never say otherwise. (I also have never received a royalty check [in my case, from the TV majors] in over 35 years, but I have received some from an indie distributor, and they have paid on-and-off for three decades.)

    But – a big but – what about ASCAP and BMI? Has McGuinn never received a check from them? (Unfortunately, we in the visual arts have no ASCAP of our own. Don’t get me started on work-for-hire.)

    I support Grokster and thank Cuban for funding the fight, but quoting McGuinn on one side only is the same tactic as the record companies trotting out their starving artistes.

  4. Karmakin commented on Mar 29

    fatbear:The problem I have with that is that it skirts around what this whole argument is about. The RIAA wants to control the means of promotion, in order to maintain their near-monopoly over the music biz.

    They want to crush P2P before the next big thing can decide to skirt around their channels and let ALL the horses out of the barn.

  5. dsquared commented on Mar 30

    Hum I suspect that what Roger McGuinn calls a “modest advance” might be a little bit different from what you or I might call “modest”.

    Also, I simply don’t believe that you can’t support a family on the royalties from “Turn, Turn” and therefore suspect that the word “record” is doing a lot of work in the phrase “record royalties”.

  6. fatbear commented on Mar 30

    Karmakin – dsquared got what I meant. McGuinn is the wrong guy to use as a poster child. We all know the record companies are the essence of evil, second only to Disney (which never did that well in records, surprisingly).

    But, as a composer, he has now received several enormous extensions of his royalty rights, approaching infinity right now. Compare: prior to 1976, he wrote under the 56 yr term (if he remembered to renew, not something always done by mind-altered composers); first he was given an additional 19 yrs (and no need to go through the pesky renew process); then life plus 50, then plus 70, and now, plus 90 – in his case, well beyond the 100th anniversary of the composition. In addition, he (and/or his cronies) gets $5K if anyone is stupid enough to rip him off and get caught – and that’s for each instance.

    No, I have no pity for rentiers hiding in creative clothing. Nor, I must repeat, for rentiers hiding as music distributors who also appear to regularly (IMHO) attempt to stiff their creative suppliers.

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