The world of tourism and the streets of Madrid are filled with peddlers, panhandlers, souvenir salesmen, and an inquisitive public super interested in this curious area where Christian meets Muslim meets Atheist. Within this historic downtown area you will find the Mauritanian expatriate selling his elegantly carved wood figures outside of McDonalds in Plaza Isabel II. You would know better than to think that the sights end there, of course. If you walk through Puerta del Sol you will be hard pressed not to run into that sponge who lives in a pineapple under the sea, Bob Epsonga. And if you’re lucky, you will run into a fantastic street string quartet that frequents between Callao and Arenal Street with Beethoven and other classical hits. The smells, sights, and sounds of this capital city constantly shift, always watchfully surveyed by the police and the guardia civil.
Apart from the normal pickpocket and terror concerns of any major Western metropolitan area, the police also watch for another kind of urban deviancy: pirates. They’re fairly easy to spot but much more difficult to catch. The ones I see always sell their product on top of a beige linen blanket tied to a rope on 4 corners so it can be easily picked up and moved in a moment of urgency (i.e. cops coming to bust them). They prefer to work just inside the entrance to Metro stations but often venture into broad daylight when summer comes around. Fake designer purses, Gyorgio Armeni sunglasses, and videocamera theater hollywood hits burned onto scratched Verbatim DVDs help them make their living in a dog-eat-dog world where the fastest man and not necessarily the smartest wins the race.
But the pirate culture doesn’t stop there. In a world of cyber anonymity where anyone can walk into an internet café and navigate the open web a total stranger just as they entered, peer to peer file sharing is easier than ever. All you need is 60 cents for the high-speed connection, some patience, and a zip drive to get whatever media file you might fancy.
Internet piracy is an epidemic in Spain, and you don’t have to take my word for it. German retail research leader Media-Control GfK reports that between 2006 and 2008 alone, illegal movie downloads in Spain went from 132 million a year to 350 million, while the number of DVDs sold or rented fell by 30%. Meanwhile, the Spanish government maintains a lukewarm stance toward the issue; downloading media is only illegal if you distribute it for profit. Piracy in Spain has become the norm and it affects the way the nation exports its own creative products.
The mentality behind all of this is innocent enough. “You share your files, I’ll share mine.” “Someone has to beat that rich fashion designer, he’s probably making too much money anyway.” “We don’t have enough money to afford this album while they’re all rock stars!” These sort of attitudes can have a toxic affect on the way people value artistic work because they breed a casual indifference to the mental exertion put into the creative process. When the public would rather buy a lesser version of the real thing than go to the financial effort of buying from the source, everyone loses—sure the company loses revenue, but the consumer gains a second-class standard, a counterfeit version of the real thing, and a costive indifference to original thinking.
To me, it is no wonder that Spanish musicians want to study outside of the country when they live in a world where people do not understand that immaterial things value just as much as material ones. I’m not surprised that everyone wants Italian and French wine even though Spain’s is just as good. There is no market value for the friendly smile at the restaurant or the cleverly packaged olive oil bottle. Such nuances do not exist in the wake of Francisco Franco and a queerly entitled public embroiled in a leftist government.
In a world where sharing and borrowing media has become easier than ever before, we must remember that the creative process deserves respect. People spend years of their lives learning how to design pixels on a computer and play music instruments just like people spend money to become engineers and CEOs. If you like what they do, pay them what they are worth! Better to buy second-hand and be content with what you have than purchase a bilge-sucking fake.