Wednesday, November 19, 2003


Crime, the dole, and punishment

The DJ Ace website music piracy case has thrown up some interesting conundrums.

I’ll start with the disclosure that, while I’m no fan of industrial oligopolies (as the global music industry is) and their consequently overall crap-quality mechandise (ditto), the Napster/free-for-all mentality only ultimately plays into the hands of Big Music. Piracy of mass-market product makes it even more mass-market, thereby “drowning out” genuine creativity and innovation. Therefore, pirates who say they are being “creative” – and that “appropriation” is something that all artists do – make me puke. I am a content creator, and I don’t “appropriate”, thank you very much. There’s simply no grey area between creation and theft (outside scholarly review and discourse, a.k.a “fair use”).

Anyway, one issue the case raises is what role the making of non-financial “profits” should take in criminal law sentencing and culpability. It is reasonable to assume that the three men convicted did not act out of sheer altruism. If nothing else, they obtained valuable kudos, a.k.a. street-cred, which can count for quite a lot in the capacity-glutted, Australian DJ and bedroom-music-remix industry. While I haven’t followed the case closely, it would seem likely that the making of such “profits” was inadequately pursued. The denial of MIPI (a peak record industry group) to be heard on the trio’s sentencing also obliquely hints at the lukewarm-ness of the prosecution’s overall efforts in this case.

Another, quite different conundrum is the apparent monetary value given to one hour of community service – an issue I find intriguing, having personally just finished six months (370 hours) of a (compulsory) Work for the Dole activity, in which I painted metaphorical rocks. According to a report in today’s Australian ("Music watchdog angered as pirates avoid jail" no URL), one of the convicted trio was medically unfit to do community service (of which the other two got 200 hours each), and so was given a $5,000 fine, plus a three-year good behaviour bond, instead.

Leaving aside the bond, it thus appears that one hour of community service can be monetised – as a detriment to the doer – at $25 per hour. While not all Work for the Dole projects have the quasi-penal quality that community service does (I assume) – it is clear that some, like cleaning in nursing homes, do.

I find such a high exchange rate for my WfD “services” rather disturbing. To the extent that Work for the Dole is primarily a punitive program (a fact which I became increasingly convinced of during my time in it), the social message being conveyed seems to be that being honestly, and without personal fault, unemployed is a crime of considerable gravity, deserving of a fine of about $9,000* every year, or else six months community service in lieu.

* Of course this amount (370 hours at $25 per hour) is also the approximate total benefit an unemployed person receives over one year.

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