Steal this Blog. (One Songwriter's Thoughts on DRM & Piracy) - Christine Kane

1. [Early morning in a hotel dining room on this tour.] I sit down with one of the dancers. We’re both groggy. He says he was up all night and still hasn’t slept. I ask him if he was partying. He laughs. He says no. He was up all night downloading “free music” onto his computer.

2. [Many years ago in some city I’ve since forgotten.] After my performance, a man walks up to my CD table, sets down four previously purchased CD’s and asks me to sign them. As I sign, he tells me that he found me through Napster. He says he got some of my songs for free. Then he bought all of my CD’s at CDBaby. Now he was at a performance. He said, “You should know that Napster is a good thing.”

3. [A few years ago in my own record label office.] My office manager sends out an email to my mailing list announcing that my music is finally on iTunes. She ends her email by writing, “…so now everyone can download Christine’s music responsibly.” She gets an irate reply from one person who claims that my office is way out of line for using the word “responsibly.” The irate person goes on to say that it’s bad enough that my CD’s are in Border’s, but now I’m selling out even more by being on iTunes. She concludes by saying that she shouldn’t have to pay for songs if she isn’t sure if she’ll even like them, and that no one’s going to tell her what’s responsible or not.

4. [On the tour bus a few days ago.] Edna Mae and I are sitting across from each other. I take her iPod and download Carl Hiassen’s book Skinny Dip onto it. (I purchased it from She’s never heard of Carl Hiassen. Every time I look over at her, she has her headphones on, and she’s cracking up.

5. [A few months ago at my post office box.] I open a card from a fan. Inside the card is a check for $60. The note says that she had copied my CD’s to give to some of her friends after she had gone to my shopping cart and found it not working. (Website construction.) She wanted to pay me for the copies.

Five different examples of copying and pirating. Five different attitudes. And many more out there.

I’m often asked how I feel about pirated music. This morning, in the elevator of the hotel, one of the dancers asked me how I felt about EMI and their decision to lift the DRM (digital rights management) limits on digital song purchases.

So – for the record (pun intended) – here’s what I think:

1. I think pirating is here to stay. I think copying music and books is inevitable. I think some of it brings in more fans. And I think some of it perpetuates more entitlement and de-valuing of music. I think that most people aren’t aware of the cost of making a music CD. I think that my dancer friend wouldn’t like it at all if people weren’t paying to get into his company’s shows and insisting that dance performances be free. I also think that artists who are learning how to thrive within this “free” mindset are going to do fabulously. (Note: I write every post in this blog for free. And I still love it.)

2. I think independent musicians are more likely to get direct benefits from pirating and copying because the indirect profits don’t get filtered through a corporation or a record label. If someone buys a ticket, or buys CD’s, indies don’t have to wait until someone else takes out all the percentages first. We are also more grateful for small victories. And gratitude inevitably brings on more small victories. I’ve noticed that bigger companies need bigger victories, and they feel gratitude less often. This creates fewer big victories.

3. I think that Robin Hood and Abbie Hoffman make lousy heroes. Stealing, pirating, senses of entitlement, robbing the rich… that’s poverty consciousness. It says to the world, “I am a victim. I am poor. There is not enough. I shouldn’t have to pay.” Acting out of a sense of lack or out of a distrust of corporations might bring you a quick fix but will only perpetuate the sense of lack that motivates you. You’re still going to feel broke because you’re acting like a broke person. Yes, corporations have done damage to the music business, mostly because they got greedy and scared. But our own personal greed and fear is hardly going to fix that.

4. I think that sharing music and books is about passion and excitement. I am all for passion and excitement. When I know someone is going to love Carl Hiassen, (or any other of my favorite authors or musicians) I don’t expect that they will rush out and get a book or CD just because I told them to. So, I’m happy to give them a copy. Or give them my copy. And I know I have created a Carl Hiassen fan. Or a Richard Shindell fan. I know that there are fans of my music who became fans because someone gave them a mix CD, or a copied CD. I love that.

5. I think that there’s a spiritual component at work here. I think that the new market is about personal responsibility. I think it’s about value. I think it’s about intent. And I think it’s about personal expansion versus personal contraction. And I think these things apply to both the purchaser (or pirate) and creator. It’s a waste of my time to judge people for how they choose to approach their entertainment purchases. So, I’ll just say for myself: I don’t use Limewire. I love iTunes. I rarely buy CD’s anymore. I don’t pirate software. And I sometimes send checks to people whose work I love. None of this is because I’m “being a good person” or feeling guilty. It’s actually a little bit selfish. I like the expansion. I like feeling good. I like contributing. These things make me wealthy. And speaking of wealth, I’ll end this with something Steve Pavlina wrote in one of his very early posts:

“When I let go of piracy, I felt a lot more deserving of my successes. It elevated my sense of self. There was nothing on my computer to give me the subconscious message: yeah that was a nice success, but you’re still a thief.”

  • Alex Shalman

    Good to see that you are generally carefree about this topic. I think you would be fighting a losing battle if you got mad at every time your song was pirated.

    P.S. Can’t wait to hear you at SOBCon

  • Rick Maynard

    Hey, Christine. My wife and I saw you in Indianapolis with the Ballet. You were wonderful, of course.

    We bought your first “non-pre-order DVD.” 😉

    Just wondering when the new CD is due out. Can’t wait for the new music.

    Thanks for what you do.

  • David Jackson

    It seems the ideas for some well established business models have been turned upside down. The MBAs who worked out the “Control Points” to make money through scarcity have been shaken. Of course, the mainstream music industry responded to the loss of control with litigation, until EMI seemed to see differently. So, let me add to the discussion of value creation and “value capture” with a couple more examples.

    The web site and the idea of bookcrossing: ( The idea is to give away books and be able to find out who found them by registering that book at bookcrossing. If I have bought a book and supplied the “value capture” for the author and publisher, what money gets paid to the rest of the people who read that book?

    In the current issue of “choice” magazine for the coaching industry, there is an article presenting a contribution-based business model for coaching rather than a standard profit business model. “In contribution-based business, profit is only part of the bottom line, Business decisions and the definitions of success, are also based on our contribution to justice, sustainability, and the lessening of suffering.”

    Leap and the net will appear

  • Marsha

    You mentioned the idea of having a sense of lack, and I want to thank you for bringing up that concept. You have mentioned the sense of lack in other posts as well, and it’s something that I try to notice about myself now. It’s amazing how many stresses I’ve caused myself by focusing on lack and when I do so, I take the advice you gave in another post about getting outside and taking a walk and noticing the abundance of nature rather then focusing on what I think I don’t have enough of. As a side note, I’ve purchased all your cd’s and am desperately waiting for your DVD release.
    Thank you!

  • Colin

    So how much DOES it cost to put out a CD? Though I’m sure it varies, I’ve never really had even a vague idea about the figures involved.

  • ChickiePam

    Hi Christine,
    Yes, I’ve heard about the Iphone. What I want is a PDA/phone and if it were to have an Ipod, then great! It would cut down on the number of electronics that I carry around on a daily basis. (Could they put a camera in there, too?!) My son has a Mac laptop and both children have an Ipod (19 y/o son has the Ipod, 12 y/o daughter a nano). That’s as close as I’ve come to owning an Apple. But I’m thinking maybe my next computer will be a Mac laptop. We’ll see. I have Itunes on my IBM desktop now and have downloaded some music, and lots of books on tapes just to get ready for the day when I get that Ipod!

  • Christine Kane

    jane, there’s not a single marketer out there that wouldn’t tell you that that’s the BEST form of marketing there is. Thanks for sharing the love!

    Thanks Pam. I think it comes down to intent. When you copy stuff or make mix CD’s or whatever, and you know you’re doing it for a gift or for sharing or for the right reasons (your right reasons!) then you know it’s a good thing for you. I hope you get that iPod cuz they’re lots of fun. Of course, now they’re making an i Phone… yikes. I am a sucker for Apple stuff!

    Chris, I make 59 cents a song on iTunes. My sales each month last year were in the $300 – $600 range. (which isn’t enough to live on, but for an indie it’s lots of songs!) I’m fine when people buy songs on iTunes, or on (I make VERY little from amazon, but they are such a great service that I don’t care.) I used to NEED a physical copy of the CD. And whenever Paul Simon puts out a CD, (and a handful of others that I love), then I get the actual CD so I can touch it and see it and experience it. But more and more I am fine with the digital CD’s. And of COURSE I’d love it if people just sent me checks every time they copy a CD! but I don’t require that at all! I see the benefit of sharing the songs and music and joy. If they then come to a show, I’m that much better off. (BTW, you’re in chicago… I’m performing at Old Town School of Folk on Sunday, October 7) Thanks for the questions!

  • Chris

    Christine, I’m just curious, if I buy one of your songs off iTunes for .99, how much of that .99 are you actually getting? I don’t mind paying for music, but I want most if not all to go directly to the artist, not 2% or whatever meager sum it is. I get the impression you don’t mind not having a physical copy of the cd. Who needs it in the digital age anyhow? Regarding the person who mailed you a check for copying your cds – ideally, wouldn’t you want everyone to do that? After all, it’s a direct connection between the fan and the artist, and value is being exchanged fairly.

    Have you looked into Amie Street ( for digital distribution? They have a pretty cool variable pricing model, and I believe the artist’s cut is something like 70%.

  • ChickiePam

    Hi Christine,
    I really appreciate your talking about this. I know one person who regularly uses priated stuff from online. Never purchases a single computer program, movie DVD or music. And when told about it, the whole poverty mindset is what came up for me. I can afford to buy my music, movies and computer programs and it works for me.

    That said, I always copy music and books on tape to play in my car. I don’t want the original CD to be destroyed by the heat in the dash, or scratched because I’m switching them out quickly. I recently received a Christmas present from one of my family members that was a mix CD. On that CD were 3 of your songs. It was listed as “Lisa’s favorites” so I now know that she loves your music, too! She received your CD as a gift from me a couple of Christmaes ago, so she has the CD, I have the CD and now I have a CD with her favorites on it. I like that. I have no problem with this type of copying at all.

    I don’t have an Ipod yet (I hope to buy myself one for my birthday this year) but have already seen that iTunes is very affordable. I’ve also have already copied several books on tape into iTunes on my computer in preparation for the day when I actually have one!
    Later gater,

  • jane.

    * i learned about your music when a friend gave me a mix of your stuff. i ended up getting the albums and introduced your music to friends. i feel like that happens a lot.

    it’s a weird form of marketing, and relies on trust that people, should they like what they hear, will buy and support it so more can be created.

    in all honesty, if it were not for friends’ mixes or for the streaming of full albums online, it would be difficult to be introduced to new music. it’s hard to go out and buy a new CD when, in all honesty, there’s a lot out there that simply stinks.

    it’s nice knowing what you’re getting is quality, and sometimes it takes trusted friends to educate us on what’s earworthy and not companies that are swayed by how much they’re getting paid.

  • Christine Kane

    Michelle, It’s funny you should mention the clip at the beginning of DVD’s…I was actually thinking of that and cracking up as I wrote this blog. I think any kind of message like that doesn’t work at all, and tries to add high-drama to something that’s so not high drama. (and you’re right about the whole hollywood thing. yikes.) Thanks for the thoughts and revelations!

  • Michelle

    In all the conversations I’ve had about this subject I’ve never heard the perspective of an artist. Thanks for the insight from your end of things. When Napster was fresh I downloaded all sorts of stuff (though in my defense it was music I’d already purchased on cassette tape and wanted digital copies of) but my husband, the ever present attorney, tsk tsk tsked me constantly. Once the ruling came down on Napster he said, “Now here are the guidelines and what the courts say, you can’t argue with this any more.”

    I was really grateful for itunes because it takes away any temptation to pirate–a dollar for a song is so unbelievably reasonable, and to be able to purchase only one or two songs from an album is so cheap that they’ll have my loyalty forever. Plus, it gets me to sample stuff I never would have normally.

    I can’t see why anyone can justify stealing songs when there are ways to do it “responsibly” (and she shouldn’t have been upset with that choice of word, it’s the softer version of “honestly”).

    However, I do have to say that those commercials at the beginnings of DVDs that are anti-piracy crack me up. The idea of Hollywood preaching about “morality” (i.e. not stealing) when they seem to be on the cutting edge for glorifying violence, crime, adultery, and whatever other vice wins the Oscar that year is so amazingly beyond irony that I can’t help but laugh. They’ll preach about morality when it hurts their pocketbook.

    Oh! Too long of a comment, sorry, but a great post on an interesting subject.

  • Christine Kane

    Thanks Star! It’s really the main way that people find independent artists. Thanks for the kind words!

  • Christine Kane

    Hey Tony! You’ve got nice friends. I love a good gift card! (In fact, an iTunes gift card is what I gave Edna Mae after last year’s tour as a thank you!)

  • Tony D. Clark

    I still download all my music for free – thanks to iTunes gift cards 🙂

    Most of my collection over the past couple of years has come from them. I used to be told that I was hard to shop for – before iTunes and Amazon gift certificates.

    Nothing quite like getting the opportunity to get some music you like, when you what.

    Free music, only better 😉

  • Star

    This is exactly how I found your music. A comment from one of your readers on another person’s blog led me to you, and then you led me to your music by sharing several of your songs here and on YouTube (my fav: Right Outta Nowhere). No need to pirate; just fall in love with the music and buy it.

  • Christine Kane

    Thanks Janet. The good news is that there are more and more people choosing not to adopt that attitude!

    Hi Jer – What you describe comes from “putting a face on it.” Once the artists become real and are no longer just media images (which are essentially impersonal) – then it’s a little harder to take their stuff. I happen to think that everyone is connected anyway — which conveniently puts a very personal perspective to it!

    Thanks Rick! Yes, what you describe is the “high cost of cheap food” phenomenon that so many people are recognizing now.

  • Rick Cockrum

    Well put, Christine.

    Someday people will realize nothing is free. Even if there isn’t an economic costs, there are emotional, ethical, spiritual costs, and/or social costs involved in any action.

  • Jer

    I used to do the ‘free’ music thing myself, not albums at a time really, but a good amount. I started moving away from that and purchasing my music honestly because, yeah, I like the people whose music I listen to, and I want them to be successful and make more music. It takes money to do that.
    Plus, now that I have friends who are trying to make it as musicians, I definitely don’t want to see them put so much effort and money into it only to get nothing in return. (Plus, as their web designer and roadie, when they make money, I make money…theoretically…)

    I believe Everything Is Free by Gillian Welch is about this very subject, yes? Good song…

  • Janet Green

    Christine, your comments about acting out of a sense of entitlement and “poverty consciousness” make a very strong point. This attitude is so pervasive in US culture today and is only getting worse. This was a very well-crafted post. ~ Janet