The most honest, heartfelt, throbbing, electric music doesn’t originate in think tanks or panel discussions. It doesn’t come from richie downtown law firms, either. As any Jesus-thanking artist says when handed a Grammy, “I did this from the heart, for the fans.” Popsters always give it up to the song, the fans, and thenmaybetheir lawyers.
Ignoring all that, I was curious about Monday night’s panel discussion “Copyright in Cyberspace: The Napster Quandary,” hosted by various sections of the D.C. Bar and the law firm Williams & Connelly. Located in W&C’s conference room, inside the marble and red-carpeted Edward Bennett Williams building on 12th Street NW, the program made a different kind of musiccomposed of buzzing cell phones, speeches, gibes, and lame lawyer jokes.
But I didn’t go to see the lawyers. I went to see one of the panelistsJenny Toomey. The owner of the Simple Machines record label and former leader of indie-rock band Tsunami has a new title: executive director of the Coalition for the Future of Music, a think tank focusing on Internet-based solutions to surviving and making money in the Napster Age. Toomey, with a stack of photocopies of her anti-Napster Washington Post Outlook piece by her side, sat amidst a row of suits and a self-righteous Postie. And Toomey had a new name to go with her new job. You can call her Jennifer Toomey, thank you very much.
Toomey, the token artist on the panel, was introduced by moderator and Clinton impeachment lawyer David Kendall. But because there were no songs to be sung or guitars to be plucked, she fell into panelspeak and became just another talking head.
The panel and audiencemade up of intellectual-property lawyers, Recording Industry Association of America flacks, and one self-described “lawyer formerly known as artist”bitched about the Napster beast. What about copyright laws? What about the major labels?
The majority of the folks in the room just didn’t get it. And now they’re left watching a true music revolution from the nosebleed seats.
The feeling in the room could be summed up this way: We don’t like Napster, so we should kill it with litigation, co-opt it, or create a new pay-per-listen peer-to-peer swap system. “Why didn’t the major labels just buy it?” asked the cynical Postie.
As I sidled over to the trays of pineapple slices, brie wedges, and bottled water, I wondered why Toomey even bothered. Her argument is one of the easiest to make: She likes the technology, but still wants to get paid for her music. It was also the one that got the least talk time. Toomey wasn’t defiant enough to avoid being lumped in with the rest of the anti-Napster crowd.
Toomey forgot her own credomusic first, bills later. She dissed Napster founder Shawn Fanning as a “mythical 18-year-old,” griped about how artists need a fair shake, and said that musicians should seek creative ways of working with Napster. Fine points all. But her tone suggested a profound sense of entitlement.
Instead of making an alternative to Napster herselfa move you’d expect from the DIY advocateToomey fears the thing. She said she’s afraid that there’s no one in charge of the system, no one watching over this new music-sharing empire. “Who owns it?” she asked.
It’s the kids, Jennifer. The kids. Jason Cherkis