Editor’s Note: Last Wednesday, Reddit cofounder Alexis Ohanian debated USC professor Jonathan Taplin, director of the USC Annenberg Innovation Lab and former tour manager of The Band. The topic: antipiracy, SOPA, and the current state of the entertainment industry. The debate, which you can watch here or in the videos below, became particularly heated over the idea of “free” music–a model that Taplin argues drove The Band’s Levon Helm into financial ruin.
Immediately following the debate, Ohanian published an open letter to Taplin. Taplin’s rebuttal is below.
Please note that the debate took place before Thursday’s passing of Levon Helm, who became a symbol during the debate for the harsh realities of the music industry in the digital era, especially for aging stars. Helm was the subject of Ohanian’s subsequent letter to Taplin, also written before Helm’s death.
Last week at our debate, I talked about the essential unfairness that my friend and colleague Levon Helm had to continue to tour at the age of 70 with throat cancer in order to pay his medical bills. On Thursday, Levon died and I am filled with unbelievable sadness. I am sad not just for Levon’s wife and daughter, but sad that you could be so condescending to offer “to make right what the music industry did to the members of The Band.” It wasn’t the music industry that created Levon’s plight; it was people like you celebrating Pirate Bay and Kim Dotcom–bloodsuckers who made millions off the hard work of musicians and filmmakers.
You were so proud during the debate to raise your hand as one of those who had downloaded “free music and free movies.” But it’s just your selfish decision that those tunes were free. It wasn’t Levon’s decision. In fact, for many years after The Band stopped recording, Levon made a good living off of the record royalties of The Band’s catalog. But no more.
So what is your solution—charity. You want to give every great artist a virtual begging bowl with Kickstarter. But Levon never wanted the charity of the Reddit community or the Kickstarter community. He just wanted to earn an honest living off the great work of a lifetime.
You are so clueless as to offer to get The Band back together for a charity concert, unaware that three of the five members are dead. Take your charity and shove it. Just let us get paid for our work and stop deciding that you can unilaterally make it free.
Prof. Jonathan Taplin
Author of Outlaw Blues: Adventures in the Counter-Culture Wars
Director, Annenberg Innovation Lab
University of Southern California
[Image: Flickr user DVIDSHUB]