Guernica: Your antipiracy activism has intensified over the last few years. What is the future of independent music in the age of the Internet?
Marc Ribot: You know, the “pirate sites” themselves are only part of the problem. This is often misunderstood because when you take these [antipiracy] positions, people think that you’re yelling at them to not use pirate sites. And that’s not really the issue at all. First of all, anything that’s based on yelling at consumers is doomed from the outset. In fact, I would say anything based on moralizing to anyone is doomed from the outset. But the real story is this (and the laws dealing with this are somewhat similar in the EU and the US): in most cases, the owner of a business is responsible for criminal acts that take place on the premises of work. If somebody is found selling drugs out of a bar, perhaps the first time around, the police arrest the dealer. The second time around, they are likely to arrest the owner. If not the second, then the third. Because the law says you have to run a clean business. You get my point?
Now, the largest corporations in the US, and some of the largest corporations in the world, thrive because of the illegal acts that take place on their premises. I am talking about Google and [its subsidiary] YouTube. They make money from selling ads, but they sell ads on infringed files. These are files that are posted without the consent of, and without paying, the people who created them. Normally, you’d be allowed to arrest someone who did that, just as you would our coke dealer from the previous example. I know Germany has been able to implement more stringent laws, but in the US and many other places in the European Union (EU), there are laws that give these corporations “a safe harbor,” meaning you can’t sue them for the damage they do to you by sharing your content for free.
The technology exists to prevent this. In fact, YouTube already has a software that prevents illegal files from being uploaded or viewed. This is the reason you can watch a video in the US but not in Germany. Thousands of artists already use this option. The problem is that in order to get it, you have to sign a contract and hand over the rights to your material to YouTube.
You see, these are corporate gangsters, and why are they getting away with it? Because some of them are worth 550 billion dollars; that’s why! They havebought the politicians. But is it hurting people? Is it hurting culture? Is it hurting musicians? Not just the musicians but the engineers, the road crews, the producers, the recording studios, the people who clean the studios? Of course, it is! It’s putting a lot of people out of work. If you care about working-class music—and if you believe our culture should reflect the diversity of experiences in our society—then you might want to care about these issues too. It’s as simple as that.
See Marc Ribot: Barriers to Participation
[ed. I hope this YouTube video is Ribot-approved (how can you tell?). If you like the album, buy it. It's terrific.]