Last week, Fast Company hosted its Innovation Uncensored event in New York — and also saw a major throwdown between Reddit cofounder Alexis Ohanian and Jonathan Taplin, a producer ("Mean Streets," "To Die For"), tour manager for The Band, SOPA supporter and currently director of USC's Annenberg Innovation Lab.
Bottom line, Ohanian believes the internet economy — which includes a heavy dose of free content from sites like Pirate Bay — can provide a fair deal to artists. Taplin thinks he's selfish, clueless and can shove it.
Making the arguments even sharper the recent death of The Band drummer Levon Helm, who died of throat cancer the day after the debate. Taplin believes unprotected music rights helped drive Helm to ruin and forced him to contunie touring while mortally ill.
We're presenting both arguments here, as well as the full videos of the debate. We'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments.
From Alexis Ohanian:
Thanks for debating me this evening at Fast Company's Innovation Uncensored conference here in NY!
Like I said on stage, I wanted to offer a solution to help make right what the music industry did to members of The Band.
It reminded me of the story Lester Chambers told on reddit a little while back: "I am the 99%. Screwed by the industry."
I'm hopeful that innovations like the ones I discussed tonight and the others that are being worked on by entrepreneurs right now will continue to do right by artists and cut out those who'd mistreat them. Please take a look around kickstarter and reddit and you'll quickly find that the former is already crowd-funding projects in the millions and the latter does not in fact hurt artists in any way (quite the opposite, it's full of communities of music makers sharing tips and comedians making oodles by treating their fans respectfully and directly selling them DRM-free content).
Like I said on stage, it would be an honor to gather members of The Band together to produce one more album with unreleased content or something to honor Levon Helm — really any kind of creative project they'd like to produce — (this time funded on kickstarter) and we'll gladly launch it on the IAMA section of reddit.
I'll have my credit card ready, as I'm sure many other redditors (and music fans) will. Oh, and thank you to FastCompany for inviting me!
From Jonathan Taplin:
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