Feb 4, 2012

Sopa/Pipa and Music

Khan Acadamy explains SOPA/PIPA

The recent squabble about the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and it's sister bill in the senate- Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act (PIPA) have me thinking of an old discussion my musician friends and I would have.  In discussing the issue of pirating music, a few of us came to the conclusion that the technological revolution that we have experienced has complicated the situation in several respects.

Consider a fruit vendor:  If the vendor sells you an apple, he can no longer possess that apple to sell to another customer.  If the vendor instead wants to sell (or simply share) a music file, however, he has access to an unlimited basket of product.  Furthermore, the consumer can then copy the file, and give it away ad infinitum without degrading in any way the original or any of the copies.  Acknowledgement of this dilemma between tangible goods (apple) and intangible goods (data) requires a different approach in seeking justice.

Prior to recorded music, the only was to experience music was to be present as it occurred.  Therefore, supply was dictated primarily by your culture- what it had to offer musically, and how significant music is in cultural daily life- and not by the listener.  As recorded music (not to mention photos and video*) became prevalent, people were able to experience music on demand, and with trade and travel- music from other cultures.  This was a substantial change in the culture of music itself, begetting a fount of creativity, and a population of listeners who could capture that creativity to enjoy at their leisure.

As we have transitioned from analog to digitally recorded music, we have made another important cultural shift.   Recorded music has been transformed into data which has modified the listening experience in several ways.  With MP3 players- users can upload massive amounts of data, listening to one song from this band and two or three of that band at the touch of a button!  This is pretty far removed from simple recorded music, and especially differs from experiencing a live performance.

Another difference is the way the music is delivered itself.  In making digital music, much of the musical information is lost- an example being a cymbal crash being cut in half to reduce file size at the expense of losing some resonance at the end of the crash that most people won't miss.  In a live performance, these nuances are quite present for the experienced listener- but even the most unaware will experience the larger spectrum in a rich environment of tonal colors.

So, a recording is to a live performance as a "home movie" is to a live experience.  The result is always a copy, most times- a copy of a copy, and with the digital revolution- a modified copy of a copy!  Considering MP3s have turned the recordings into data, yet another barrier has been placed between the listener and the music itself.  Regardless of the final quality (in terms of the musical experience) of the data file, the issue at hand is who "owns" this information, which is- in reality- a computer file.

The industry proponents of SOPA/PIPA would like to cap this wellspring of information, and ration it out to only those who pay them for access to it.  It is analogous to the idea of the energy industry suppressing free energy devices- knowing that if everyone had access to unlimited amounts of free energy, a massive amount of potential profit would be lost.  Of course, the benefit to the average person would be enormous considering the money saved each month and the inestimable potential for progress as human beings (not to mention the avoidance of war, which always seems to revolve around control of resources).  At least the suppression of free energy allows producers to supply a tangible good (oil, coal, etc.).  Because the controllers are working with immaterial goods (data)- a ban on free information has no basis in reality.  Efforts to suppress information create no new goods for the world, they are merely trying to control who is allowed to make the copies!

The overarching theme of these moves to quash the desires and potentialities of humans is the use of the State apparatus- for this is the institution with a monopoly on the use of force in contemporary society.  Without the State, the covetous rulers of society would have be powerless to control (and thus, profit) from aspects of human existence that could (and therefore, should) be as free as the air we breathe.  This is another reason to reject the empowerment of the State, and return individuals as the masters of their domain.

*Note: Consider also photographs:  How many people were inspired to create based on a photograph- which encapsulated the experience of seeing something or being somewhere- who would have never created painting X or song X otherwise?

P.S.  Check out this article with Neil Young talking about the same issue...

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