The fundamental problem with the stance legislators are taking on copyright and file-sharing these days is that they have lost sight of the cultural basis from which music (and other entertainment for that matter) has emerged. Hasn’t the sharing of music always been about reproduction, re-making and re-using? Even the leader of the Talking Heads admits that their compositions are generally based upon the profusion of live music and art installations he experienced throughout New York (1).
Since the times when families gathered around pianos and sang together, we have been communally remixing music throughout the masses; it just sounds different now and the delivery technology has changed from traditional instruments and voice (2), to YouTube and file-sharing technology such as uTorrent. The fact is the majority of individuals who upload copyrighted music, or their own interpretation of it, love the music of the original artist, and want to give more material for fans to enjoy, for example, live recordings of intimate concerts performed by artists who have not released their own product for fans to buy. My favourite illustration of this is the abundance of live recordings of performances by Florence and the Machine which coexists with a huge range of electronic remixes of their music on YouTube.
By nature music technology has led to copyright violations consistently since the invention of wide-spread recording capabilities, such as on tapes for music recording, radio for listening to full songs without the audience contributing money, and VCRs for recording television programs. For years and years the entertainment industry has been trying to win a war against ‘piracy’, yet they have never succeeded in halting the prevalent sharing of content that does not conform to their ideals (2).
Numerous instances of new ways to share music without digital management technology restrictions (such as are enforced on Apple’s Itunes) have sprung up throughout the last few decades, but have been shot down by abuse of the system, such as in the case of mp3.com, who had established an extremely popular, fair music download site that mainly gave Indie artists extensive exposure to new audiences and a source of online income, but was forced to shut down due to unfair use from a small number of greedy users and hackers.
Subsequently, mp3.com has been reincarnated by its founder Michael Robertson into mp3tunes.com, which has become a popular file-sharing and storing website. In 2011, Robertson was persecuted by EMI Music Group and fourteen other record companies, including Capitol Records Inc, for copyright infringement, but fortunately was defended by the safe harbor provision in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. This is an example of the battle still raging between large companies who by law have a monopoly on creativity, and smaller start-ups who give new opportunities for sharing, remixing and re-making music like we used to before our problems with ‘intellectual property’ began.
It’s time to halt this tiresome war and rethink the traditional producer to consumer model. Why not transform our perspectives on reproduction now that we have so many ways to share our culture and media around the world? After all, it is our culture, the product of billions of people, which began this battle with what is right and wrong. Why not end it with the new possibilities of technology that are at our fingertips?
(1) Lehrer, J 2012 Imagine: The Science of Creativity, The Text Publishing Company, Melbourne.
(2) Lessig, L 2008 Remix: Making art and commerce thrive in the hybrid economy, Bloomsbury Academic, London.