Singer/songwriter James Toth’s Wooden Wand has put out over 100 releases of both conventional and experimental folk, ranging from vinyl albums to CDRs and cassettes. James recounts an interesting encounter with online pirates…
The following article originally appeared as a letter in issue 332 of ‘The Wire’ –
Kudos to Amanda Brown for her eloquent and insightful Collateral Damage column (The Wire 331). Allow me to bore you with a particularly resonant episode from my own life, one Amanda’s article reminded me of.
A few years ago, I was rehearsing a new band for a tour, and to teach them a specific Wooden Wand song that I’d forgotten how to play, I thought I’d burn them each a copy of the album version to learn from. I didn’t happen to have a copy of the album handy, so I opened the Soulseek browser on my computer and found the song (immediately, natch). Because there were ‘no files shared’ on my computer, the user (an appropriate word if there ever was one) ‘banned’ me. For shits and giggles, I decided to browse the user’s shared folder, and sure enough, I found not only the entire Wooden Wand discography (no small feat, collecting all of that mess), but also albums I’d released on my labels and the work of many close friends.
I boldly messaged this art terrorist and very politely said something to the effect of, “Hi, umm, this is awkward, but you just ‘banned’ me and you’re ‘sharing’ my work – I’m Wooden Wand. Heh heh. Anyway, I need to teach the band this song – can you un-ban me for just a few minutes while I get this one song? I know I’m not sharing any files, but since you’re stealing from me, maybe we can just call it even for now?” I thought surely that any reasonable person would reply with due embarrassment, and quickly apologise and lift the ‘ban’, maybe even try to make light of the whole thing. But the user was unrepentant – even belligerent – and said, “Sorry – no files shared, you get banned.” We went back and forth for a bit, but the user remained unmoved by my appeals.
So you see, there is a perverse sort of ethic at work among these file sharing pirates, a sort of ‘honour among thieves’. But, operating just like the proverbial evil major label gatekeepers we’ve all fought so hard to make obsolete, these compulsive uploaders are making sure the artists remain last in a long line to recieve any type of reward for their blood, sweat and tears (all of which I have shed at my jobs painting houses and laying drywall, incidentally).
I also think my run-in with this pirate is symptomatic of the faceless digital culture Amanda describes in her article. Consider that any budding dungeonmaster can easily become an Ultimate Fighter, a Bryan Ferry or a Dave Eggers from behind a computer screen. But if I were to confront, as the kids say, ‘IRL’, this user who banned me from accessing my own music, I reckon the odds are pretty good he’d be reduced to a stuttering, obsequious dipshit within seconds.
Can you imagine what would happen if someone tried to grab something from the Black Flag merch table without paying for it?
By James Toth (Wooden Wand)