Tuesday, March 29, 2005

robbery or radio?

My last post apparently needs some clarification.

The recording industry could have treated the challenge of file sharing as the moral equivalent of radio. They could have found some way to profit from file sharing and made file sharing legal, just as it is legal to listen to music on the radio, and some of the resulting revenue finds its way back to the recording industry. Sometimes a few pennies of the radio advertising dollar even find their way back to the musicians.

Instead the record industry leads us to believe file sharing is the moral equivalent of shoplifting. They attempt to persuade courts to treat all shared media as stolen media.

Why do they do this? From what I have observed, the real issue is not about money. If record companies cared about artists getting their fair share, they would not have spent the last century stealing artists blind. The same goes for the way the film studios and the television networks have always treated their actors and crews.

Record companies, film studios, television networks, and everybody else in the entertainment industry could find ways to make money from files traded on the Internet, just like they found ways to make money from radio and television broadcasts. What they could not do in a world of legal file sharing is retain their centralized control of media outlets. They could not preserve their power to shape our culture to their own benefit.

That is the real issue raised by file sharing. What the media corporations clearly fear most is not theft, but the loss of control. They seek government protection for their privileged position, because they are no longer able or willing to secure it by providing us, their customers, with anything remotely close to what we really want.

These are some of the reasons I reject all claims that the recording industry holds any sort of moral high ground on this issue.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

music and sharing

When they killed Napster I stopped buying CDs.

Now they try to tell us Napster is back, but don't be fooled. The thing that wears the name of Napster today is nothing but a shambling zombie.

The soulless demonic forces ruling the music industry have ripped Napster's rotting corpse from the grave, stuffed it with foulness and decay, and sent it forth on a mission to win over our hearts and minds. It's no surprise they are failing. Let us all hope they continue to fail.

The true Napster, the Napster that once was, held out a glorious promise. At its peak this promise was still only partly realized, but even then it came close enough to let us glimpse what we could have: a vast library, containing every piece of music ever recorded, instantly available from the moment someone says to you, "You might enjoy listening to this track I heard the other day."

To let this happen, millions of people donated their own bandwidth and hardware to the project. They upgraded their Net connections and their hard drives, so they could share (and acquire, of course) more music.

For me, file sharing was never about "getting stuff without paying for it." Once I had used Napster to preview an artist's work, more often than not, I bought CDs to support that artist. Judging by the rise of CD sales during the rise of Napster, and the fall in CD sales after Napster was no more, I was far from alone in this.

But then the RIAA stepped in, and killed Napster. Inadvertently, they also educated us all about the vast corruption in the music industry. We learned how precious few of the dollars we spent on CDs went to the artists we loved. We learned the ruthless RIAA was willing to threaten little kids and little old ladies with financial ruin, just for a slim chance to hold onto their ill-gotten gains in the face of technology that makes their business model obsolete.

Now they want us to pay for crippled, low-quality music files, attempting to repackage their whole morally bankrupt business model in a shiny new digital format. Well, I'm not willing to pay them one dime for that.

For the potential of the old Napster, for the universally open media library, I would have been willing to pay. But no major, legal, RIAA-sanctioned service is offering anything like that.

I'm not going to support these many different subscription services, each with its own incompatible locked-down file format, each with its own exclusive content.

Even if withdrawing my support from such idiocy means the only CDs I can buy are the ones being sold directly by the musicians that created them.

Maybe it's about five years too late for posting my views on this subject to help anyone, but hey, better late than never, right?