“Next time you’re out shopping for records or tapes — watch out for pirates. Not the kind with skull and crossbones and crusty cutlasses–watch out for music pirates. There are plenty of them around and, like their 18th Century colleagues, they’re breaking the law, to the tune of $200 million a year.” So begins the alert, the “Buyers Bulletin,” on the record sleeve of the Vassar Clements LP from 1974 that I was revisiting. Besides describing how to tell an official versus a pirated 8-track cartridge, we are treated to a tale of extra-legal and sociopathic behavior by the Killer Jerry Lee Lewis as he finds himself at a gas station in the south with rack of illegal 8 tracks as told by John Polk an RIAA investigator. It’s not clear what behavior is being celebrated as legal what which as morally wrong. Obviously the target is the right one. Massive amounts, allegedly, of 8 track tapes suddenly showing up for sale is definitely a negative market force, but then we have the Killer who smashes what he deems to be a rack of illegal tapes and drives off saying “Tell him ‘Killer’ was here.”
The confusion persists to this day. Bands and rappers are presented as outlaws up until there’s product involved. Then when the distribution systems fails and that structural hole is filled by entrepreneurs as indifferent to norms as the bands the name calling starts. And even then “Killer” is held up as an example of “taking the bull by the horns” — without irony.
The confused message does not serve the industry well and worse for all of us, we have become numb to it after 30 years of handwaving.
I too oppose massive illegal file trading and the more harmful cousin counterfeit recordings, but clarity here is a persistant problem.