Eme Navarro doesn't get stopped in the street for autographs, nor does he fill up stadiums; but he is a veteran of Spain's music scene, who for decades has tried to make a living with his folksy blues style while confronting the mainstream music industry.
As of March 1, Navarro assumed an almost militant role as a one-man frontline of sorts, as he squared off against Spain's anti-piracy legislation. He broke-in the country's Sinde Law (named after Culture Minister Angeles Gonzalez-Sinde) that went into effect this month when he presented 210 complaints for copyright infringement..
Navarro doesn't usually copyright his music, which he offers free on his website, but he made an exception with the song "Nobody's Death" -- it's being uploaded illegally on purpose, at Navarro's urging, as part of broad and concerted civil disobedience campaign against the recent copyright legislation.
The complaints against (or for, depending on how you look at it) "Nobody's Death" already account for close to 90 percent of the total complaints received by the government, a strategy meant to logjam enforcement of the law and to require that the government pick and chose what cases to pursue, ostensibly in order to expose the law's pro-industry bias.
Sitting in a downtown Madrid bookshop, 51-year-old Navarro would hardly seem like the revolutionary hero of Spain's years-old debate over piracy and web regulation. Skinny and discreet, he speaks with a surety and decisiveness belying a history of defeats.
He played the battery in a 1980s group called the Cocorocols, which was fairly successful, but eventually split-up. Navarro became an optometrist, and the other members found other careers, although the four continued to play sometimes. He lived in Chile in the late 1990s, with his wife and two kids, which is when he picked up a guitar and began composing songs again.
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In 1999 Cocorocols re-recorded its top hits and, for a time, regained popularity, getting interest from Warner Music in 2000. "They offered us to sign a contract in which they would keep half of everything, but not invest a cent. They didn't offer to produce an album, or an advance. They just wanted the rights to our work, but didn't offer to distribute it." The group turned it down.
That's how Navarro got involved with the anti-piracy battle. It wasn't a question of being able to profit illegally from the creation of others, but about reclaiming control over an artist's right to use and exploit his work. Since then, Navarro has become a quixotic presence in the fight to keep the government from enforcing copyright protection laws on the web.
Earlier this year, a decentralized umbrella movement known as Hacktavists, which Navarro has been loosely tied with, asked him to use one of his songs for their strategy to fight the Sinde Law. "I think they chose me because I'm not famous. I'm not on TV."
The www.wertdeenlaces.net site was created in order to provide the embeddable music and video from Navarro's song, as well as a manual in PDF format with ways to disobey the Sinde Law. "We are going to test this law to see if it only defends the interests of big industry or if it also protects the small artists like me."
Until the Sinde Law went into effect, Spanish law had been largely ineffective in fighting popular peer-to-peer sites and services. Under Sinde, a new government-named commission will decide whether copyright legislation is being violated, hopefully in order to streamline the process.
But civil liberty and freedom of speech advocates argue that their civil rights will be set aside without judicial oversight. And like most modern artists, Navarro also worries about the freedom to maximize profit from his works.
"I have no problem with punishing those that profit illegally from the works of others, but you can't attack peer-to-peer. They are denying the right of musicians like me, who need them in order to distribute our work legally. The law doesn't protect creators, but those who own the rights to exploit their work, and that is rarely the musician."
"They have to modify the law, to allow artists to freely exploit their work, even when someone chooses to surrender their rights by signing with a company," Navarro says. "We have to find a way to live from our intellectual property, but we have to do it with our laws and model. My voice is shit, and my work might be better or worse, but it's mine. It won't stop playing just because a company doesn't find it profitable."
So far, 440 websites have voluntarily incriminated themselves, and the song has been downloaded just under 23,000 times. The complaints against the remaining 230 or more sites will be delivered at some point in the future.
"That's as far as I can go. Each site will have to decide once they are notified whether to withdraw my song, and we'll see what happens then," Navarro said. Among those sites is La Tarberna del Escoces, a movement which Navarro and his blues group Blue Identity belong to. "We decided we are not going to obey the government order because we are not doing anything illegal."
Whether this new strategy will work is uncertain of course, especially because Navarro's complaints, as all other Spanish copyright cases, will ultimately depend on a long legal war of attrition that started years ago and will take several more to be elevated through the layers and layers of the court system -- all the way to the European Court of Justice.
But Navarro is not bothered whatsoever, he's been living outside the box for some time. And during all those years he learned a valuable lesson to survive as a musician.
"I don't have advice for artists, except perhaps that music is a long term project. Very few make it, and even less do it right away. Most success stories involve at least a decade of sticking to it."
"The internet, though, offers thousands of ways to exploit your music. You can have a channel, podcast, live streaming, online fans, etc. You have to start small on the web, and maybe someday, after a decade, you can ride a limousine."
"Perhaps my 10 years are up and it's my turn."