Letters to the editor

Does Napster rob artists? Plus: The secret lives of spokescharacters; switching race on the census.

Published March 28, 2000 5:00PM (EST)

Artists to Napster: Drop dead!

I am an artist myself, but I have embraced the fact that free music is here to stay, no matter how many lawsuits are filed and no matter how many courts rule against it. It's what the customer wants. Nobody has ever stayed in business fighting that. These people would be better off thinking of new business models -- i.e., MP3's advertising revenue-sharing model -- instead of complaining about the inevitable.

It's quite ironic given the fact that the vast majority of artists have never been paid with horrible major label deals. And quite frankly, I would rather deal with a free music phenomenon where my music does get heard rather than a system that relies on radio play controlled by multinational corporations and a so-called legal payola system.

-- Liz Galtney

Before we start crying for the starving artist, has anyone thought to ask whether they're actually losing money?
In 1999 the RIAA reported $1.4 billion in increased sales of full-length CDs, a nearly 11 percent increase in the number of units shipped. All while Internet music piracy was booming.

Unauthorized MP3 distribution actually promotes music sales. In the last year I've purchased a whole stack of CDs by artists whose songs are not played on local radio or available in local record stores. Without illicit MP3s I would not have had the chance to audition their music at all, and my credit cards would be a lot happier.

-- Jason Steiner

Napster is like a global cassette-tape exchange. The opportunities for exposure for artists, especially those outside the mainstream, are enormous. Napster and its descendants (there are sure to be more) are a godsend to people who are always looking for good music that isn't necessarily in the Top 40.

MP3s might not be so popular if CDs weren't so expensive, but for music fans, the costs can really add up. Who wants to pay $15 for a CD when they're not sure if they'll like it?

-- Amita Guha

The artists you quote speak as if the current paradigm of music management and distribution works in their favor and Napster does not. For most artists, the contracts they sign do not provide them with adequate or fair compensation for their work. All right -- neither does Napster. All this means is that some new model is going to have to arise out of this, from the ashes of Sony and Warner Brothers and EMI if necessary.

The problem with the music industry right now is that too much of the cost of a single CD goes to pay for things that are irrelevant to the music -- like promotion, makeup, publicity, agents, packaging and distribution. The music industry should distribute music over the Web and the cost of each song downloaded should reflect the cost of distributing music over the Web. I think most fans would be happy to pay a reasonable amount, especially if they knew that the artist was getting a bigger chunk of it than he or she does now.

-- Bill Van Dyk

I am a career musician, composer and producer involved in many levels of making music. All creative and intellectual properties, including print, films and music, I view as real estate. You shouldn't be able to give away, quite simply, what isn't yours.

-- William J. Bergman

The problem with Napster is that they are, in effect, deciding for me and other artists/labels what business model we should use. Napster is forcing artists and labels to participate in their new business model whether they want to or not. Anybody who wants to give away free music should be allowed to, but anyone who does not should not have to.

-- Michael Demerjian

After decades of abuse and exploitation at the hands of their managers, agents, recording companies and distributors, now artists have cause to suspect their fans as well. It's a shame and leads me to wonder how creative people survive, let alone flourish, in their craft.

Would it be too simple to tax the sale of recording media to provide a pool of royalties for distribution to artists? I realize that it's pretty hard to apply a surcharge to the sale of hard drives, but certainly all the portable MP3 devices, blank minidisks, CDRs, CDRWs and audiotapes sold in this world could carry a small licensing/royalty fee to compensate the artists whose work is copied and distributed without their permission.

-- Jon Koppenhoefer

The inner Doughboy


Mr. Peanut is a classy, upscale yet approachable, cosmopolitan man about town who wears a top hat and monocle and hangs out at celebrity parties, hot new clubs, lounges and bars because he likes to engage in conversation with strange men. His managers are extremely adamant that "There will never be a Mrs. Peanut."

Well, I would like to be the first to congratulate Planters on creating the first out gay cartoon spokesman. I'm proud that they feel the world is open enough to accept Mr. Peanut as he is.

-- Elisabeth Riba

Ruth Shalit's piece made me think not so much of how corporations guard their mascots so much as how certain creative types like to violate well-established familiar characters for a quick laugh.

Buster Keaton, famous for never smiling, was always plagued by clever directors who thought it would be funny to see him smile. Harpo Marx was always being pestered to talk.

They knew what the directors didn't. The laugh from the one-time stunt would be big, then would be over, while the integrity of the characters they'd created would be compromised forever.

-- Thomas Harrington

How is it that billions of dollars can change hands over the management of cartoon cereal salescritters? How can someone have a career in reinventing the personas of anthropomorphic food? How can it be that fictional shills are more zealously protected than the real children they exploit? Only in America, where there are fortunes to be made from advertising and direct marketing, could these irrationalities find root. We are ever increasingly like a person in a sensory deprivation tank, abstracted from the real world and hallucinating a private kingdom. And these corporate characters are our imaginary friends.

-- Howard Kistler

I makes me wonder about ads for meat-based products, where the target animals themselves are the spokescharacters. You would think advertisers would want to dissuade consumers from making connections between their dinners and characters with understandable motives and fears.

-- Steve Samenski

In college I dated a guy who spent a lot of time writing stores. Yes, it was college, we had a lot of free time. He wrote McDonald's to find out what Grimace was. To our horror they wrote back and said Grimace was everyone's inner child. My inner child is a huge purple thing named Grimace who can't walk properly and has underdeveloped arms? Methinks not -- if anything, my inner child is a little more akin to say, the Colonel.

Thanks again for providing a great platform for such writing.

-- Melisa Harder

As an advertising associate who has dealt with these seemingly ludicrous corporate restrictions (did you know that "Blue," of "Blue's Clues," is not a dog, she's a grade-schooler?) it was gratifying to see that agency creatives can run into ridiculous roadblocks from all kinds of clients. Reading the articles was an edifying and hilarious experience.

-- Peter A. Ribolzi

That jobs like the Doughboy defender's exist, or that 20 people are being paid to scream and jump up and down over whether Ronald McDonald has 10 or 11 red stripes on his socks ... well, I'm not sure whether to laugh maniacally or weep for the future of the species.

-- David Broudy

Black and proud



To my honorary "brother," Michael Finley, and his no doubt fine family:

Welcome to the family!

You now have the best of both worlds: You can identify more closely with a rich, vibrant culture, while keeping yourself and your family safe from "black taxes" like job and bank loan discrimination, and Driving -- and even Walking -- While Black.

As you said, it won't change anything in the way your family goes about your business, but hey, I guess we colored folk have to be happy with what we can get. Welcome aboard.

-- Thomas Adjani

I was very disappointed to
read Finley's article.
As a person who does research
into various social issues, which often includes census data, it is vital that the information be accurate. Census data is used to create congressional districts, study
wage inequalities between ethnic groups and for so many other projects that it is difficult for me to even start to describe them.

Luckily for the rest of us, statistical theory and research into surveying techniques tells us that Finley's actions are almost irrelevant. But if enough people start to do what he did, we might get misleading answers to very important questions. It's hard enough for social scientists and policy makers to figure out what is really happening "out there." I ask all readers of Salon to not make our task more difficult and fill out the census, and any other survey conducted by a reputable organization, to the best of their ability. If you really object to a question,
leave it blank -- but please don't lie.

-- Fabio Rojas

doctoral candidate

Department of Sociology

University of Chicago

Congratulations to Michael Finley for claiming the promises of America for his own. I thought about putting a different race on my 1990 form myself, but chickened out. It does seem a little simplistic, doesn't it, that I have to just be "white," whether I am German, Lithuanian or Irish?

-- Carol Masser

Homeopathy is quackery, cry experts



Benneth continues to
make groundless accusations, invent incredible scenarios and
attack me and the foundation that I represent. He submitted a number of protocols, arguing over each one,
asking for more time,
stalling and finally frustrating any and all attempts to make his
statement, simply and succinctly, on what he could do, and under what
circumstances. He wanted a special
set of rules, something we do not allow any applicant or claimant. Anecdotal material, and
experiments and tests that have already been done, do not interest us,
Benneth was firmly informed of that but refused to stop sending all the written material that he could come upon.

I received no instruction to "give [his] claim precedence" from Brian Josephson, and in any case Dr.
Josephson is in no position to give me directions. I don't work for him.

Since Benneth had been unable to come to terms, I
decided that I was simply not going to waste any more time arguing with

-- James Randi

James Randi Educational Foundation


By Salon Staff

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