$ Marks the Spot 

Somehow, that doesn't exactly shiver me timbers. It hardly evokes the image of the marauders of the Spanish Main.

Still, theft is theft. An artist who works in words and music is creating something just as valuable as an artist who works in marble or oils, and deserves to be paid fairly for the effort.

Diane Warren, an L.A.-based songwriter who's had some success, made that point in an op-ed page essay recently on the evils of piracy in the music industry. I was in her corner right up to the point where she wrote, "Fans may think that everyone in the music business is rich, but that simply isn't true."

Oh? If it's not true, then how did the fans come to believe it's true?

Could it be because pop-music fans, especially the younger ones, have seen too many one-hit wonders strutting across the MTV screen, sporting diamonds that would have made Blackbeard weep, herding a crowd of friends, neighbors, nephews, hug-buddies, bodyguards and other malingerers into limousines approximately the length of the state of Florida?

All this wealth for having penned one three-minute bit of doggerel not worthy of the wall of an I-95 comfort station? Not to mention the likelihood that the underlying melody of this "breakthrough hit" likely was lifted from a 40-year-old R&B classic. (Talk about your theft of intellectual property.)

Could the fans have gotten that impression of wealth because allegedly sober adults on TV convinced them that some dye-job blonde with no pipes but an alluring navel is a serious artist who has earned a lifestyle that would shame Czar Nicholas, and should be taken seriously when penning her autobiography at the ripe old age of 18?

Small wonder that our prepubescent "pirate" sees an Internet music track as little more than a crumb that has fallen to the floor from the banquet table at the Festival of Greed.

But here's the real rub: In that same edition of the paper, on another page, was a brief news item under this headline: "Facing the music." It detailed how the five largest U.S. music distributors had admitted to working in collusion with three major nationwide retailers, from 1995 to 2000, to cheat the music-buying public out of hundreds of millions of dollars by artificially inflating the prices of compact discs.

(They agreed to an out-of-court settlement of $143 million. Nobody goes to jail. Nor, apparently, do they lose their courtside seats at the Lakers games or those 50-yard line freebies at the Super Bowl. One high-ranking music exec, relieved at the easy escape, was heard to say, "I thought we'd have to pay five times that much.")

Again, I won't condone the theft of intellectual property. But it certainly is easy to understand how Little Johnny the Pirate came to believe that everybody in the business is filthy rich and that nobody will care if he filches a few spare doubloons from the treasure chest.

So here's where we are: Johnny the Pirate walks the plank, everybody else laughs all the way to the bank.

Hey, that's not a bad line. Maybe I should steal a bass riff from the Drifters, add a little computer-digitized rhythm, and get it on the air. Oughta be worth at least $6 million, a seaside Pacific Palisades mansion, and a guest-presenter slot at the MTV Music Video Awards.

Somebody call my agent. S

Dave Addis is a columnist for the Virginian-Pilot, where this column first appeared. He can be reached via e-mail: dave.addis@cox.net

Opinions expressed on the Back Page are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Style Weekly.



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