The unsung victims

Songwriters say piracy eats into their pay


Charles Strouse, in his Manhattan home in Dec. 2003, has written songs for musicals like "Annie," and says his income has dropped because of illegal downloading.

THE NEW YORK TIMES
Published: Tuesday, January 6, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 5, 2004 at 11:01 p.m.
They think of themselves as the unsung victims of Internet music piracy.
Much of the publicity in the battle over illicit Internet music downloading has gone to artists and record labels. But songwriters say they, too, are being hurt financially.
Unless they are also performers, most songwriters are typically neither rich nor famous, and their names may be known only to those who bother to read album credits or liner notes.
But their incomes can depend on royalties from sales of recorded singles and albums. In fact, songwriters' earnings are more directly tied to album sales than those of recording artists, who can potentially earn substantial sums through live concerts and merchandise sales.
Charles Strouse, a composer best known for his Tony-winning musicals "Bye Bye Birdie" and "Annie," says illegal file-sharing has had a disastrous impact on his profession, not to mention his income.
"I am hurting," said Strouse, who is 75. Even though his songs are not as widely sought as hits by popular rock or pop stars like Sheryl Crow and Eminem, he said he felt the effects of downloading after the hip-hop artist Jay-Z drew on Strouse's "It's the Hard Knock Life" from "Annie" for the 1998 album, "Vol. 2. . .Hard Knock Life."
According to BigChampagne, an online media measurement company, Jay-Z's version of "Hard Knock Life" was downloaded 1.16 million times from July 2000 (when the company began tracking Internet use) to May 2003.
The total is probably much higher, said Eric Garland, BigChampagne's chief executive, because the entire lifespan of the song was not counted.
Although songwriters typically earn only pennies for every sale of a recorded song, if every person who downloaded "Hard Knock Life" had bought a CD instead, Strouse would have collected at least $46,000 in royalty payments, assuming he would have received 4 cents a download.
Strouse took in about $250,000 from recording royalties in 2002, according to his publisher, Helene Blue. Last year, she said, Strouse drew only about half that total, mainly because of illegal downloading of various recordings containing his songs.
"I've gotten fat off this business," Strouse said. "But obviously I'm very annoyed. It's awfully hard to write music. Ownership should be guarded very carefully."

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