I really want to watch a certain music video. I want to watch Joni Mitchell’s 1985 video for her single Good Friends, which had existed for a number of months on YouTube but has been taken down due to a copyright issue.
I want to watch Joni wandering through her kitchen, surrounded by cats and cacti, smoking a cigarette. Then sitting in a café with Larry Klein, smoking another cigarette. Then in Larry’s car smoking yet another cigarette during a nonchalant argument. Then watch weird, abstract objects like cars and love hearts, constructed out of what looks like papier mache, fall from the sky in unconvincing motion. I want to watch middle-aged Mitchell’s rather good, artsy, and relevant – if neither slick nor glossy – attempt to capture the minds and papier mache hearts of the MTV generation.
I could easily dig out my Dog Eat Dog vinyl, which features the song; or even stick to the medium of YouTube and listen to the song with a picture of the album cover as the only visual counterpart to the song. However, I specifically want to watch the video: even though I was born three years after this single was released – and don’t really recall a lot of music vividly from before I was about 12 years old – this song and its accompanying video somehow remind me of my life when I was too young to properly engage with life.
I am not downloading illegally – and am not discussing illegal downloading. I am talking about watching a video which has been uploaded to the internet without the consent of the artist’s record company’s consent – not actually illegal; just frowned upon because no money is being made.
My problem is that I cannot understand why it is frowned upon. Even taking a capitalist point of view, sure, money is not being made by having these video available online; but by having YouTube take an offending video offline, no money is being made either. The specific video I am talking about – Good Friends – is not available on any DVD and is so old and niche that MTV would never play it now anyway; so by taking it off the internet, it is out of public view.
Even more perplexing is that it could be argued that taking these videos offline is actually damaging to the music industry’s capitalist system. Having music videos available online is like PR for the artists – the record companies will spend money on having a video created specifically for television; so having the same videos available online – posted by an independent uploader, acting as a PR agent without requiring a fee – gets the artist out to new markets. Sorry, new viewers. I think record companies are scared of these free PR agents, acting altruistically* for the company’s cause, because altruism is a concept which goes against the capitalist ideals of big business conglomerates. It could be argued that it takes the creative control away from the owners of the video (even though the videos are not manipulated in any way and are uploaded as they are seen on – and have been approved by the record company – for television), but more likely, they are just upset about not being able to control the advertising that surrounds the video when it is watched over an independent YouTube user’s page.
*I experienced severe onomatomania when trying to recall this word.
Just to illustrate how YouTube and now-illegal downloading of music can actually serve record companies in a positive way, I got into Joni Mitchell through a combination of both media. I would not fork out £10+ on an album I did not know I would enjoy – I do not have money to burn – and I am not interested in spending a small fortune buying 99 plays of every new song I come across from iTunes or wherever. I have only a few Joni Mitchell albums on CD – but own most of her back catalogue on second-hand vinyl. I am not sure how much of the money I paid for my second hand albums went to the record companies – hopefully none. The only reason I would hope for money to go to them would be for them to see that Mitchell’s music is still alive and relevant with a new generation, regardless of how the mainstream has ignored her for years. However, since they could hardly be said to be forthcoming with goodies such as Joni’s classy 80s videos, I am more than happy for my money to circulate straight into the pockets of those nice guys at Missing.
That YouTube cannot display certain videos is just a microcosm of the larger, more important problem of illegal downloading on the internet. Again, the same arguments apply: illegal downloading in fact helps sales, regardless of what we are told by record execs via the media. This brilliant – and now infamous – article by Janis Ian, one of Joni Mitchell’s contemporaries who questions the capitalist system of the music industry as much as Joni herself, explains the indiscrepancies of the current illegal downloading situation in explicit detail; written by someone far closer to the heart of this industry than I would ever want to be.
The cyber-pessimists at the head of record companies should be taking note of what Janis Ian and so many others are saying. Music and videos should be free and unpoliced on the internet. The internet is the last medium where music is at least partially free and unconnected to the capitalist hegemony of the music industry. This availability should be allowed to remain as it is – minus the draconian laws surrounding free downloads; and not be ruined by the blinded-by-money heads of business.
Besides, music should be for pleasure, not for capital.