Selling mp3s on an honors system

Juliana Hatfield is a super-swell indie musician who offers online downloads from her website on an honors system, another spin on getting fans to pay artists directly for their music. I love this because of its potential to resolve some of the thorniest ethical issues for the fans who download. Here’s the site’s description of how this works:

So here we are, at the intersection of greed and sloth; but on this little corner, in this little place, the honor system will hold sway. Here’s how it works:When a song is downloaded, you will have an option. You can decide that ownership of this song is your right and freely distribute the files to your friends and to the people who also think it’s their right, without payment.

Or, you can support the artist who wrote and recorded this song and click the PayPal button at the top of the page and send Juliana a contribution. The iTunes standard of $.99 per song may seem too high for you, in which case you can send $.50 – though there is virtually nothing else you can buy legally for $.50. Alternatively, you can think of the number of people with whom you might share these files and give a multiple of $.99 for each song you download.

If you don’t have a means by which you can use PayPal or if you’re opposed to the burgeoning online drain of your credit, feel free to send a dollar in the mail to Juliana at Ye Olde Records, P.O. Box 398110, Cambridge MA 02139.

There might come a day when the honor system is a strong enough code to let people like Juliana offer her songs on the web without the force of law or the sting of theft. In fact, today might be that day. Enjoy the songs. Support talent wherever you find it.

On behalf of Juliana, this site thanks you for your support.

I do buy CDs, lots of them, usually after having heard an mp3 on a blog or other website (I was shocked to read recently that the industry considers a ‘heavy’ record buyer to be someone who spends more than $100/year on CDs, which seems like very little to me). I also buy a lot of used CDs, and — setting the law aside — I have never been ethically clear on how to tease apart the morality of legally buying used vs. downloading illegally. In either case, the artists and record companies get no money and I get the tunes (though I do like knowing I’m supporting my local independent record store by buying used, sometimes I’d rather just download the songs and make a donation to the Love Garden). Generally, I’d rather send some money directly to the artist, and I’m the sort who probably would pay a lot more than 99 cents for a song that I love, both to show my gratitude to the people who created it and to subsidize the pleasure of those who won’t or can’t buy it. There are so many records I’ve bought new for less than $15 that have, for me, been worth so much more. If I could make a cash donation to some of those lesser-known bands that tend to catch my ear, I would. The royalty they get from my purchase seems so far out of whack with the pleasure I’ve received.

I don’t know if this system can really work, but the utopian in me hopes that today can be that day, if only in their little corner.

Comments (1) to “Selling mp3s on an honors system”

  1. Interesting quandary. The used-CD vs. downloading is an example why the RIAA just does not get it. I have a difficult time with people who are so absolute on these issues, especially from a legal perspective. The RIAA is trying to create the impression that there is truly a clear-cut defination of what is legal and what isn’t. The simple reality is that they can do this as they have the deep pockets and a stable of lawyers. However, I would submit that with a countervailing legal assualt team, the answer would be in the grey where it belongs. For example, is purchasing music from a Russsian site legal? It is in Russia. Most would say no. But what if you bought a song from EMI in the UK? Is that not the same? Should it be up to the consumer to investigate how much is going to the record/distribution company?
    Here is my simple philosophy which is slightly similar to yours. I have in excess of 2000 CDs and I buy many downloads from a “grey” site. However, for music that I listen to more than once I typically either buy their CDs locally OR I end up seeing them in concert which puts more money in the artists hands than a CD purchase. I feel far more comfortable in knowing that I have directly contributed to them as a band.

    As an attorney, I seldom find anything to be truly black and white and I think this is a reflection of our times. I find this mentality to be concrete at best and pathalogical at worst (i.e. our current political administration).

    I think that Hatfield’s approach is fantastic and I wish more artists would follow suit.

    This is a great site BTW.