‘A society that treats its artists like this is worthless’

Volume 112, No. 12December, 2012

Sven Regener

Sven Regener is a German musician and writer living in Berlin.
Below, Regener argues that musicians should not be afraid or ashamed to demand
copyright protections. For background, see Marc Ribot’s story here.

The reason we make contracts or enter into business agreements with
record companies is not because we’re stupid, or because we’ve got something
to give away, but because without them we’d not be in a position to make our

The problem I have with all this is that we are somehow being cast
as uncool for talking about copyright and the like.

People act as if producing art were some kind of eccentric hobby.
And all the fuss being kicked up about us being so uncool for insisting that we
actually created these works amounts to nothing less than people pissing in our
faces and saying, "Your stuff isn’t actually worth anything. We want to
have it for nothing, we should be able to do with it whatever we want with it,
and we don’t give a damn what you want or don’t want." A society that
treats its artists like this is worthless.

One good thing about rock ’n’ roll is that we have earned every
single cent we get. We earn that money from people who say, "Yeah, that’s
worth something to me, I’ll pay 99 cents for that song." That’s what
makes rock ‘n’ roll great. Everything else is subsidized theater, is street
music. But I don’t want to be a busker.

It boils down to an issue of respect and decency. Just like it’s
a question of respect and decency not to steal in a supermarket, even when you
know you won’t get caught. The idea that you could do away with record
companies and still expect to find the same musical landscape as we have now, or
had ten years ago, is a huge mistake. And to get at the people who work in the
record companies – as jobs go, it’s no longer hip, and there are less and
less of them – telling them that the work they do is s***, is just simply

People between 15 and 30 no longer have any music of their own. The
small indie labels that used to serve student audiences in particular have all
gone. All we’ve got left here in Germany is Volksmusik, Schlager pop, and rock
music for the older generation. Everything in between is dead. And that’s no

The problem, especially if you’re an indie rocker, is that the
last thing you need is to be made to look uncool. That, you might say, is the
most lethal thing that could happen to you. As a result, everyone dutifully
keeps their mouths shut and their heads down. And just look on as everything
slowly goes down the drain. Any hope that one day public welfare will waltz
around the corner and pick up the tab for supporting artists, and that this
would somehow generate decent rock ‘n’ roll – well, you can forget that.

And then there’s all the business right now with YouTube – it’s
high time certain things were set straight. YouTube belongs to Google, which is
a multimillion corporation. They are not willing to pay per click. The thing is,
neither YouTube nor Google have anything to offer us except the content other
people have created and then put online. And now we’ve reached the point where
we musicians say, and the GEMA – which, ultimately, is us, the composers and
lyricists – is saying: NO. For that amount of money you’re not getting our
stuff. We won’t put up with the fact that billion-dollar business is being
done in this sector (also involving advertising) and we don’t get a share of
it. It’s like we’re the beggars at the back of the queue. It’s utterly

And this is something everyone, and that includes young people,
needs to think about carefully, whether they really want to serve as lobbyists
for a multimillion company like Google.

These Internet companies are vast lobby groups, and way more
powerful than, say, the record industry. And then they bring in their
mercenaries, all these whining idiots who say, "Why can’t I watch this
video on YouTube?" Well, watch it somewhere else then! All our videos can
be seen on You don’t need to go onto YouTube.
Sorry, people, but our stuff won’t be available on YouTube until they agree to
pay something for it. After all, a business model based on the principle that
the people who actually provide the content get nothing for their efforts can
hardly be called a business model. It’s a pile of s***. Otherwise they can get
Kim Schmitz (Kim Dotcom) to sing all their songs for them. I’m sick of it, I’m
fed up with hearing this crap.

And in particular I’m sick of hearing all those antisocial idiots
who say that "artists are clearly no better than whores if they do it for
money." These people have money for everything, but we’re supposed to do
it for free? What’s that all about?

The name "Pirate Party" is also intellectual property, so if I were
to set up a Pirate Party here tomorrow, half an hour later I’d have a lawyer
from the Pirate Party on my doorstep. That’s the reality of it, that’s what
it’s about! The regional head of the Pirate Party here in Berlin runs a
company that makes iPhone apps. It’s an integrated system, 100 percent
copyrighted, with lawyers involved and all that kind of stuff. And this guy
claims, "Yeah, everything here is free." I’d really like to see his
reaction if I were to crack the software he’s busy selling just now and put it
on the net as freeware for anyone to download and install on their iPhones.
Look, before I’ve even uploaded the thing I’d have the lawyers from iTunes
on my back. It’s all the same people. All this hypocrisy, all these lies –
it’s pure philistinism, and it always hits the artists.