March 16, 2004

ANTI-VIRACY

OK, here's k-punk's contribution to the mp3 debate initiated by Matt.

First off, I'll confess to being something of a digital conservative. I do occasionally download but - partly cos I've got a Mac and can't access the likes of SoulSeek - not very often. I don't have an iPod, nor do I particularly want one. The thought of all my tracks swimming promisculously in some undifferentiated digital gloop.... it just doesn't appeal to me. Nor does the thought of my whole music collection becoming de-objectified. ('Dematerialized' isn't an accurate description: mp3's still have a form of materiality. Or perhaps, as I'll argue below, mp3's involve a dematerialization in the Marxist sense.)

There's no question that downloading mp3's without paying for them is stealing. The issue is: is it an acceptable form of stealing?

The comparison with dubbing albums onto C90's or recording tracks off the radio is bogus, for two reasons. Firstly, there's the the quality of the 'copy'. A digital replica far exceeds the reproductive capabilities of magnetic tape. Strictly speaking, a digital replica is not a copy or a reproduction at all: it is better to think of it as a reinstantiation, since it is exactly the same sequence of zeroes and ones as the 'original'. (Nothing could be a clearer exemplar of Baudrillard's point that, in simulation, there is neither a copy nor an original.) No more reproduction; only replication.

And that leads onto the second point: the virulence of the replica, or rather of the replication process. Cassettes of albums are inert; they can't be copied without incurring further degradation. Digital replicas, meanwhile, especially replicas housed on a computer connected to a peer-to-peer website, have a capacity to exponentially propagate. Viracy.

For both these reasons, mp3's constitute a threshold leap in repliculture.

Now the 'liberationist' arguments seem to me utterly spurious, redolent of the facile claims of so-called'dot communists' . It's the contingent fact that music can be appropriated in digital form that has led to the practice becoming widespread; people are not, by and large, making any political gesture by downloading. The idea that it's legitimate, that, in some sense, it's an obligation to download is predicated on the - surely unsustainable - assumption that record companies are Singular Examples of Evil, unlike any other capitalist corporation. If not, why aren't people advocating stealing from high street stores or burger franchises? In fact, as Matt points out, record companies are involved in a high-risk venture, in which the few successes fund the many 'failures'. It is the mp3 users, not the record companies, who want something for nothing.

The ultimate question from our POV, I suppose, is: will it lead to a more exciting, productive music culture? My answer would be, no. A system of 'trade' which locks producers out of the circuit altogether can hardly be positive. Apologists for this seem to be advocating what is in effect a kind of infantile consumer chauvinism. It is infantile in that it makes an unrealistic demand for unlimited satiation, and in that it seems to imagine that culture is produced without labour (as if it is witheld from free distribution simply from a sense of spite or greed). It is in this sense that mp3's dematerialize music: they 'idealize' it into being a product without a producer, removing all references to labour costs.

Rather than being a development to be celebrated, then, mp3 culture highlights and exacerbates one of the most pressing problem with web culture. It is positive for consumers but negative for cultural producers. The one big gain for producers is that, in facilitating an unprecedented level of cost-free distribution, it allows them to bypass what Mark Sinker calls the 'gatekeepers' of culture - publishers, record company executives. Yet this very ease of distribution is quite obviously also a problem for producers in that it is decoupled from any possible finanical reward.

The means of production are ours, as are the means of distribution - but the means of remuneration remain out of reach.

Posted by mark at March 16, 2004 09:39 PM | TrackBack
Comments

steal: verb (past stole; past part. stolen) 1 take (something) without permission or legal right and without intending to return it. 2 give or take surreptitiously or without permission: I stole a look at my watch. 3 move somewhere quietly or surreptitiously. 4 (in various sports) gain (a point, advantage, etc.) unexpectedly or by exploiting the temporary distraction of an opponent.

That's from Oxford and from that I'd say whether trading files is stealing is very much up a question....

Posted by: Abe at March 16, 2004 10:22 PM

Only if you don't consider intellectual property to be property. Otherwise, I would say that 'taking (something) without permission or legal right and without intending to return it' pretty much exactly covers it. In what sense does file-'sharing' not fit this description?

Posted by: mark k-punk at March 17, 2004 12:21 AM

There are arguments for repliculture as essentially liberating. Not to bring up tried-&-true Frankfurt School thought, but it becomes an argument that I situate myself closer to Walter Benjamin. Perhaps political art/action musn't be forced to gain true legitimacy through more traditional means (eg. legal definitions of intellectual property). Legitimacy through a more viral means of public acceptance could be more influential than law - whether people associate as "dot communists" as a political gesture belies the point.

Taking a more micro-political stance, every gesture whether intended toward a certain aim is no less necessary than the gesture itself. "We're all swarmy crooks, but at least we're all in this together" train-of-thought. Innit, true political action musn't be against any source of 'evil' (as my friendly prez. bush would have it), but change in accepted values...shouldn't a system change to supply demand? (but businesses can't compete with free, yet...)

When music is transformed into a sequence of zeroes and ones - what separates it from other forms of ones and zeros, like 'copy&paste' text on the internet (or even the " virtual material" that makes up a hyperlink)? What occurs with dematerialization besides "an idealization of a product without a producer"? Perhaps a change in role of the producer with an audience? Not sure about this territory...


On another note - can i ask about the Junior Boys LP? Could you post some comments on it (i might have missed them), but my anticipation burdens me, like a bag of bricks.

Posted by: nate at March 17, 2004 07:22 AM

note: "Perhaps political art/action musn't be forced to gain true legitimacy through more traditional means"

is wrong, - insert reception for action

apologies

Posted by: nate at March 17, 2004 07:33 AM

i think there's another way to look at it - i only just thought abt it and don't have the economics really to explore it properly (or time right now) BUT: the marxist crit of capitalism is that it tends towards overproduction, producing more good than can be consumed (with consequent dsistortions manufacturing bogus sense of need yada yada) - what the mp3 situation reveals is a monumental collision between the outcome of the latter in popculture over five (or whatever) decades [you must hear this! it's new and rad!!] and the outcome of the former, where the amount that has been produced of potentially interesting quality is way beyond the capacity of any one person to sit down and absorb ---- so the secession of consumers from the official circle of exchange, into their own samizdat realm (from which the producer is barred unless s/he makes extraordinary concessions - essentially accepting the protocols of the Pirate/Gift Economy), is actually a big collective shout of SHUT UP FOR A WHILE, WE'RE TRYING TO LISTEN TO ALL THAT STUFF YOU MADE EARLIER!! As a conscious political movement, slsk etc is a non-starter - BUT the politics of its critique often reads suspiciously like the sound-money moralising of the newspaper columnists who want to put us back on the Gold Standard etc (we lefties having this weird tendency to fetishise the last capitalist mode of exchange but one: "planned obsolescence" being a very obvious marketing meme that was absorbed w/o question as a mark of radicalism) (it's at the root of the punk demand: we are ENTITLED to NEW music relevant to OUR generation etc etc). A point of order I always want to raise abt "intellectual property" is that its expansion and rigorous enforcement (as it is currently conceptualised: ie among other things ownership in effective perpetuity) (which is NOT a "natural" right by biological definition) is actually making intellectual ACTIVITY less and less possible: I can't achieve an illustrated discussion of the sexual content and implication of line-drawing in mainstream Disney without Disney's permission, and if they dislike the problem they can withold the permission. It was always an uneasy compromise, and I think it is genuinely breaking down under the weight of its own contradictions - even if the earliest manifestation of this breakdown does seem on the face of it seem socially unpromising.

Posted by: mark s at March 17, 2004 10:16 AM

haha "producing more good" shd be "producing more GOODS", otherwise the "marxist" content of the sentence is possibly somewhat obscured

(also the thing disney dislike is the "project" not the "problem")

Posted by: mark s at March 17, 2004 10:20 AM

when you "steal" something, it is no longer available for others - but filesharing and hometaping don't do this, because copies are constantly being made: the thing that has actually been "stolen", if you want to point to a "thing", is actually the "right to copy" (which was being dog-in-a-mangered by a middleman, and [one might claim] hugely overcharged for, in order - PARTLY - to yes finance/cross-subsidise the production of lovely new music; but PRIMARILY to effect the CONSUMPTION of [official vectors of] this music by stimulation "false" demand etc etc) (so this exclusion of the producers COULD be read as a revolt against the established order of False Demand: cf eg the sits on the watts rioters!!) (btw i think this analysis [mine i mean] has big flaws - not least the concept of "false" demand - but i also feel there's a bunch of things being taken for granted in the suspicions directed at the mp3 community which cede TOO much to the Old Order...)

Posted by: mark s at March 17, 2004 10:36 AM

>but i also feel there's a bunch of things being taken for granted in the suspicions directed at the mp3 community

i dont think i would feel so comfortable criticising file-sharing if i was working at a record label. the yoof/blog/punter/net consensus is that there are no problems with it. certainly if anyone in the music industry comes out against it they're villified.

while i find mark s's points interesting i think they need to be viewed with a context wherein scant remarks are in evidence opposing file-sharing...people have been allowed to become so wrong-headed on the topic that they can launch spurious strategies motivating it as a means of overthrowing (gasps) "the tyranny" of record companies.

certainly i'd like to hear more artists opinions on the matter.

Posted by: Matt "I only put Woebot after my name to distinguish myself from Matt Perpetua, who calls himself Matthew no doubt confusing some participators on the Interweb" Woebot at March 17, 2004 02:20 PM

very disconnected points here -

I don't think the consensus is that there are *no* problems with it. The consensus (I'd say) is that it's inevitable/here-to-stay and something everybody in the music chain needs to deal with. Acknowledging that from now things may well be different doesn't mean uncritically accepting them. The fuck-the-man contingent still seems to me to be a minority among the people TALKING about MP3 sharing. I'm sure a lot of the people DOING it would reach for that as a reason if confronted but that doesn't mean they believe it, it's just a handy cut-and-paste excuse.

Another thing that is being stolen is control (which was never total anyway) over how the music is distributed and who gets to hear it, of course.

(I have an MP3 which purports to be that Merzbow Mercedes CD, by the way! I have no way of proving whether or not it is, nor have I ever actually played it.)

3 or 4 years ago I remember talking with Mike Daddino about writing - mostly as a joke, at any rate we never did it - a 'file-sharer's code of conduct', like a kind of trading standards kitemark - "I will not share whole albums." etc. etc.

Posted by: Tom at March 17, 2004 02:51 PM

"control" is an interesting dimension, bcz high capitalist ideology - in its rhetoric if not in practice - seems to me to be selling itself on the promise that "CONTROL my dear consumer-citizens must and should be YOURS" (haha hence all the stuff abt thurn & taxis in pynchon: only a competitive array of postal systems will ensure THE MAN isn't reading yr LETTERS etc...)

matthew w's caveats are totally fair enough: like i said, i only just even started thinking abt this, i've always skipped over net discussion of it, not least cz i didn't download myself until abt six weeks ago - i am a militant "popist" after all when it comes to kneejerk anti-corporatism; in many ways i value the (inadvertent) artistic contributions of middlemen and their (redundant?) machineries for the fanning of the flames of imagined desire

the pre-political community clearly borrows its *justifications* from the (ad campaigns) of the dominant ideology, but that doesn't invalidate its instincts, only its arguments, i think: also the fact of the obvious attractiveness to many of the "sharing" aspect is itself attractive

Posted by: mark s at March 17, 2004 03:11 PM

Mark's arguments are interesting, but I think can be turned on their head; it's precisely because the mp3+ lobby take their logic from that of the system that there's a problem with it!

I think there's an over-subtlization of the concept of theft. going on. Mark says that 'when you steal something it's no longer available to others.' Why? Stealing can simply be defined as taking someone's property without paying for it. In which case, it is self-evidently theft to download an mp3. As I said before, denying this would be in effect committing yourself to the view that there's no such thing as intellectual property.

In many ways, though, the fact that it's theft is neither here nor there. Point is, is it a postive type of theft or not? Compare it to sampling, also theft, but a producer rather than a consumer-orientated mode of theft. Sampling had obvious positive effects on the production of culture; what has mp3 downloading done for cultural production?

What Tom was saying about the nonpolitics of the average mp3er are spot on, just what I was ineptly trying to say in the first place - a 'handy cut and paste excuse' yeh. No-one's yet explained to me what is supposed to be politically positive about expropriating other people's labour.

btw Paul Meme's got some fascintating factual data on the FX of mp3 downloading on his site. Check it, if you haven't already....

Posted by: mark k-punk at March 17, 2004 07:07 PM

to step back a bit and a half

mark: "Only if you don't consider intellectual property to be property. Otherwise, I would say that 'taking (something) without permission or legal right and without intending to return it' pretty much exactly covers it. In what sense does file-'sharing' not fit this description?"

to which I reply:

errrr, I have no clue how it would fit in at all except at the "legal right" space, which has yet to have been conclusively weighed in on by a court of law, at least here in the US and is hence a gray area.

Otherwise it goes like this, I buy a CD, I own it. I use my legal right to space shift (again this is in the US, where the space shifting right was confirmed by the Supreme Court in the Sony Beta case in the early 80's), and I make an MP3. I then decide I'd like to share the music I own with my peers and head to my favorite WASTE community or where ever. I give files to peers *with permission* and they take nothing from me. No money is exchanged, there for nothing is taken away from the artist at all.

The only way you can construct it so something is taken away from the artist is if you make the huge hypothetical leap that every person who copies a file off a friend would have actually bought that file minus P2P. A patently absurd assumption there, you can't even prove that the person would have even heard of the song or artist without P2P.

So until the courts explicitly state that file sharing is illegal, its not stealing, and despite the best efforts of the RIAA and MPAA to convince the public otherwise, its not even illegal. That said all indications are the courts and or congress (US again, sorry) will be making it conclusively illegal soon enough...

Now on a whole different level, no I don't consider intellectual property to actually be "property" except to the extent that law forces me too. The entire concept is morally repugnant, it essentially says "someone else owns a large portions of what's going on inside your own head" and that's fucked beyond belief...

Posted by: Abe at March 17, 2004 07:16 PM

yes but "remuneration" is just as much the opposition's logic also: if you allow your work and thinking to be shaped by assumptions about what you will be getting out of it (moneywise as opposed to whateverwise) then this distorts it

the point you make about theft is i think just wrong: the concept of copyright had to be introduced to *extend* the idea of theft at a specific historical point (it started to come into law after the french revolution) to *establish* the concept of intellectual property, which is a very problematic, complicated constantly mutating compromise of an idea, instituted yet to allow intellectual work to continue to flourish in a property-defined context which operates against it, but tremendously distorting exactly what - is it short-term or forever (thomas jefferson - not exactly a foe of the general idea of property - was very agitated about this aspect, bcz eternal ownership had a chilling effect); can it be "alienated" (ie bought and sold); can it be collective (and if so how); can a whole culture own an idea; is a (sub)culture an idea; can a gene code be copyrighted? etc etc... i wouldn't want to come down firmly anywhere in this, but like i said, simply to say well YES IT'S OBVIOUSLY THEFT concedes something fairly massive which ought to be being contested (or anyway explored) much more seriously and carefully (what it concedes is that the idea of intellectual property, if tweaked correctly, has no longterm consequences worse than the workable solutions it has delivered historically)

(my feelings on this actually arise as much as anything from my own attitude to my own WRITING - which just wouldn't exist if i treated it as a commodity where i only did it if i got paid decently: i don't wish to generalise from me to everyone writing for free plz, but i'm well aware that the effect of squeezing my head into the cash nexus simply fucks with my brain... so gift economy it is)

i think matthew's original point abt the short-term effect on the culture - which you've amplified, mark - is a very good one: this freebie world may very well NOT be good for producers (in fact i wondered if many of the the issues being discussed on matthew's world music thread cdn't be tied into the same development): maybe it can be solved by some reformist jink in how intellectual property is defined - better law, better enforcement, everyone's happy - but i wd still place some weight in the logic of desire being manifested by the existence and activities of the mp3 community (as opposed to the cut-and-paste logic of their arguments as we've been strawmanning them)

ie is this a conflict which can be resolved within the game (by interpreting the rules more precisely, or jigging them a bit) (the game being market capitalism), or is it actually a contradiction which can't go away - in which case shd we be ameliorating it?

Posted by: mark s at March 17, 2004 07:45 PM

(the "yes but" was aimed at mark k not abe - who somehow slipped his epic post in b4 i finished my even epicker post)

Posted by: mark s at March 17, 2004 07:47 PM

What effects will MP3 culture have on the production of music? Too soon to say I think but certainly it WILL have an effect - if there's one thing thoughtful commentators do seem united on (from the pages of Word to the nooks of the b-sphere) it's that moving to MP3/iPod consumption has a massive impact on how and how much music is listened to. When the technology of consumption changes, production changes in response - cf the birth of the 'album' when long-players were developed and the entire critical/artistic vocab that grew up around that.

Will the impact on cultural production be positive? I have no idea. The concept of people having much wider access to different musics and influences is really appealing, but web culture as a whole is novelty-driven, it's unlikely an MP3-bred producer will explore new influences with as much depth and committment as before. I think the most likely effect - and we saw the stirrings of it in the bootleg boom - is an increasing emphasis on novelty and disposability - flashily topical songs, funny noises, piss-taking, a general lack of attention paid to 'artistry' in the quest for a low-attention-span audience. (As someone who likes all those things I won't mind this as much as some, I suspect.)

(http://www.freakytrigger.co.uk/nylpm/2000_05_01_nylpm_archive.html#281235 - May 2000! Woo!)

Posted by: Tom at March 17, 2004 07:52 PM

Oops sorry Mark about stretching your poor comments box with my massive link!

I'm assuming BTW that the industry will at some point get its shit together and reach an accomodation with download culture, probably a subscription-based one. If it doesn't then the same things will happen but the quality will be lower.

Posted by: Tom at March 17, 2004 07:57 PM

abe's point abt it being an ongoing process is important, even if it's very US-specific (where meaning is very much discovered by the constant reinterpretation of a lyotardian set of gamerules to get the society to operate w/o too much awfulness: ie not a platonic but a pragmatic notion of right and wrong (it's wrong when bad things result))

if we *are* in a time of extreme cultural overproduction-hence-devaluation, isn't THAT the overriding "bad" thing, rather than MetallicaClone X not getting to make an 11th LP?

Posted by: mark s at March 17, 2004 08:00 PM

I think Abe's arguments are sophistry ---- strange lawyerly doublethink :-)

The only way you can construct it so something is taken away from the artist is if you make the huge hypothetical leap that every person who copies a file off a friend would have actually bought that file minus P2P.

No. You've appropriated something from the artist (and everybody else who's contributed to its production) without paying for it. End of.

Legal definitions are neither here nor there; I don't care when the concept of intellectual property was introduced, the issue is ethical not legal. Seems to me that the fact is ppl have put their labour into producing something; consumers are acquiring this product for nothing, I think that's problematic.

I don't consider intellectual property to actually be "property" except to the extent that law forces me too. The entire concept is morally repugnant, it essentially says "someone else owns a large portions of what's going on inside your own head" and that's fucked beyond belief...

I find this bizarre. Are you saying that no culture - books, films, as well as music - should be considered property? If you want to make a general case against property, fine, but why should cultural production be excluded from the category of property? And music isn't something that's just going on in your head, it's a material presence.

Posted by: mark k-punk at March 17, 2004 08:31 PM

Mark S's point on WRITING is of course crucial --- and as someone who spends most of his time giving away his writing for free (since, like Mark S I don't want to push all my production through the cash nexus) I of course sympathise. That's my choice though. It's different with musicians who MAY NOT want their products distributed free of charge.

Posted by: mark k-punk at March 17, 2004 08:37 PM

part of the jeffersonian argument against intellectual property was not dissimilar to the argument against privatising water and drainage systems: that if you require an entry-level price to partake which thus excludes some blocks of citizens from clean water, drainage etc, this has a negative effect on society as a whole - hence it is called a "utility" (and a bunch of water companies were long ago expropriated with cash sums large no doubt but by no means commensurate to their loss in perpetuity...)

eg: ideas - TJ was primarily concerned with inventions and scientific discoveries- must be allowed unimpeded flow for the social good of all

the jump from ideas-as-invention and ideas-as-discovery to most other kinds of writing isn't huge - nor is the idea of Public Domain considered hugely problematic ethicswise

what's interesting is that the jump to music does seem to be so much bigger - well, assuming difft artforms are just analogous and/or just interchangeable is itself a product of cash-nexus-think, so not a good idea to cite that for logical consistency, but i wonder if it isn't partly a residue of music's LOW standing (in terms of its puritan work-ethic type contribution to society) that it seems paradoxically less easy to find solid-seeming erm "sophistries" to portray it as a necessity

(i think it in fact IS a necessity, which is what i meant by "giving weight" to the logic-of-desire that's manifesting in the existence of mp3 communities, but i don't know that i could articulate what this necessity is)

(and can't articulate = can't frame a legal argument obv = i won't be taking any of the above into court as a Class Action Suit quite yet)

Posted by: mark s at March 17, 2004 09:55 PM

haha how about:

"Its social necessity, m'lud, is that it embodies that essential something which can never be articulated!"
*rests case triumphantly, jury throw hats in air etc*

Posted by: mark s at March 17, 2004 10:01 PM

Jefferson's arguments when combined with those of the mp3+ cru strike me as a nightmare combination of the worst aspects of socialism and consumer insurgency! Thinking of something as a necessity = thinking of it as free = thinking it is produced by the fairies out of the kindness of their hearts (and only charged for by Evil Exploiters).

As for the analogy with public utilities, well ppl do pay for those, indirectly, through taxation. Which at least means that those responsible for providing em get some reward.

And, still, no-one, apart from Tom, kind of half-heartedly, has yet made a case for any positive cultural effect mp3 'sharing' will have...


Posted by: mark k-punk at March 17, 2004 10:45 PM

Heh, I prefer 'neutral' to 'half-hearted'. Whatever settlement results from this will change - no, is changing - the way people relate to music. When recorded music came in the relationship changed immensely, a lot of wonderful social context was lost irretrievably. Back then it would have been very easy to recoil in horror at the way records physically separated listener from player and made it easy for people to hear music domestically without knowing a single musician. It wouldn't have been a luddite or out-of-touch view either, it would have been proved quite accurate. But things were gained too.

Anyway, here's another idea as to how producers might take advantage. If the unit of music is a datafile then surely the possibilities for combining music with visuals, text, interactivity etc. expand enormously, i.e. all that nonsense Gabriel, Eno, etc. were spouting in the 90s about the potential of CD-Roms might actually COME TRUE in a dematerialised culture-world.

And another! The great thing about MP3s is that you can produce as many of them as you want, there's no scheduling or space limitations really. A subscription-based 'behind the scenes' model would be entirely viable, people paying Daft Punk (say) x per quarter just to hear a load of shit they're working on, discarding, etc. Just look at how much people charge for all those box sets with 80000 takes of the same song! The opportunity for profitable transparency is there. I'm not saying this would seem like a great artistic thing to us but in 20 years time it might seem like a normal part of the creative conveyor belt, and it is something you need space-less media to do.

Posted by: Tom at March 17, 2004 11:17 PM

nightmare combination = contradiction thus sharpened unto the revolutionary moment wahey!!

i think the "positive" cultural result that lurks under the surface of my line probably remains the ancient dream of a total cultural moratorium for years and lovely years - no end of good can come of it :D

Posted by: mark s at March 17, 2004 11:44 PM

I think Mark S's arguments about oversupply and demand are a little bit spurious, because getting a commodity for free removes it from all market dynamics. Ppl would get fishfingers for nothing if they could, it doesn't mean that fishfingers are being overproduced.

A question: if ppl don't think that downloading is stealing, do they regard taking a CD from a shop as stealing? If not, isn't there some quaint nostalgia for the object involved? What is being sold in music is an experience, and downloading enables you to have that experience without paying for it.

Posted by: mark k-punk at March 18, 2004 12:49 PM

Great piece Mark. Though PLEASE lets not become apologists for record labels' exploitativeness -- the fact that they sustain losses on one investment in their portfolio does not justify ripping off the producers of an investment that does pay off. All businesses face these portfolio-returns problems, but not all rip off their business partners.

I've heard all the arguments over intellectual property and there's a real sense of 1998 about the position of those who say there is no moral case for filesharers to answer. I think it does no justice to Lessig or even Barlow. For, I'm staggered that filesharers on this thread should assume that no artist -- cultural worker -- will suffer from filesharing. Leaving aside k-punk's moral point -- you didn't pay for it, so you're nicking it -- there is the empirical point I make in my blog that economic analyses of filesharing indicate that there is perhaps a one-in-five or one-in-six ratio of downloads to lost sales. SOME damage is being done -- as much to artists as to the labels -- and Abe should recognise that. (And yes, my default position is not sympathetic to the labels.)

And of most concern to me, artists I know and like and want to hear more from are saying that they won't bother to release CDs any more because they know they will be ripped off and shared and they won't sell in the shops. And they may have to stop releasing music as a result.

It looks to me like filesharing is unlikely to damage the big record labels -- certainly nowhere near as much as commercial piracy and shrinking youth demographics will. But I am concerned it could do a lot of damage to "underground" or minor artists that tend to be the kind of acts we all like. There is a level of responsibility for filesharers -- just as there is a responsibility on record labels to sort out a credible system for paying for downloads.

Posted by: paul "Hook! Hook! Where's Hook"!" meme at March 18, 2004 12:56 PM

the concept of intellectual property is the distilled essence of "quaint nostalgia for the object"!! ie instead of imagining a system whereby you build up a sustainable system of cultural exchange from the demands of culture, you're simply lopping culture into the shape it has to be to conform to the demands of the market!! ie a quasi-object, where you have to keep pretending that eg when i hear a tune it somehow vanishes from your head

i know this system worked ok-ish kinda for many many years (give or take endless rip-offs, arguments abt exploitation, theft, ownership, origination blah blah): i'm a freelancer, i earn my living in that world. the problem i keep returning to is that i believe a technology has now emerged which causes the 200-centuries-old legal fiction of "intellectual property" to collapse under the weight of its own many internal contradictions: the moralising and reformism being variously waved at it i think hugely underestimate the (economic) scale of the issue, and the (cultural) depth of it

re paul's point abt responsibility: it seems to me that the practical political avant-garde route to nurturing that responsibility in the mp3 community wd be for these cultural workers (or anyway some cultural workers) to go and address this community in their own world, on their own turf: the technology which allows for sharing allows for dialogue also, after all

(in fact i'd go further: some of the culture being worked at HAS to do this, has no CHOICE but to do this - to make this dilemma/disaster the core of its subject, its drama, its energy, to make the technology its medium....)

("releasing music" is a very telling phrase, isn't it? i think it already admits the degree to which culture has had to become its opposite to adapt to the commodity universe) (we've all adapted to many of these strange protocols and probably enjoy many of them and get lots out of them - as a species i think we are built to worship fetishes : record sleeves, release dates, charts, collecting... the "artwork" itself in a sense evolved from promotional material intended to fund the artist's craft. But all these nice things have hidden costs, and my point is that I think this calamity - if that's what it is - is kind of the Bailiff of the Hidden suddenly emerging, calling in a debt we can't dodge.

Posted by: mark s at March 18, 2004 02:15 PM

Re: Mark S -- yes there's huge shift in IPR happening now. The big change BTW is the institution of US dominance over world IPR in things like drugs and software patents, not filesharing. I'll spare you the detail.

But while filesharing provides an opportunity for cultural workers to change the dynamic of their relationship with their audience, I think it's bit much to put the onus on the artist to sort out the fact that they (perhaps) can no longer make a living because people are stealing, or at least not paying for, their work.

Posted by: paul "Hook! Hook! Where's Hook"!" meme at March 18, 2004 04:15 PM

re international patents law: i know, that's why i was mentioning jefferson and genecoding - i'm not at all an expert, but i think filesharing is a quite minor symptom of a huge shift, and i really do tend to feel the natural old-skool response ("but this is just theft") is actually allowing ourselves to get in sync with some of the most pernicious aspects of this shift (another result for example may be the forthcoming collapse of the free exchange system of scientific information, in refereed journals etc).

re: yr second point - artists can
i. remake their relationship w.audiences
ii. remake their relationships with businessmen (large or small)
iii. carry on as they are

on the assumption that artists are (or shd be) the prior agents in cultural exchange - which actually on yrs and mark k's models they don't quite seem to be - the onus is of COURSE on them to refashion culture of that's what's needed

another way to see it is possibly this: napster and slsk and whatever are themselves huge collective artworks (using "found" or "stolen" original material or "original" material) - the active "artists" being the filesharers (en masse), and old-skool artists have either to adapt passively to this new episteme or to engage with it directly themselves (or to hire a variety of possible kinds of middlemen to propose and then enforce stable legalistic settlements)

Posted by: at March 18, 2004 05:08 PM

Paul:

Though PLEASE lets not become apologists for record labels' exploitativeness -- the fact that they sustain losses on one investment in their portfolio does not justify ripping off the producers of an investment that does pay off.

Yes, quite; my point was simply that record companies don't seem to me conspicuously more exploitative than other businesses. Also, it's not as if file-'sharers' only share the files of artists from such companies, or make ANY REFERENCE to the record company that have produced them.

Mark S:

the concept of intellectual property is the distilled essence of "quaint nostalgia for the object"!! ie instead of imagining a system whereby you build up a sustainable system of cultural exchange from the demands of culture, you're simply lopping culture into the shape it has to be to conform to the demands of the market!! ie a quasi-object, where you have to keep pretending that eg when i hear a tune it somehow vanishes from your head

No, it's the scarcity economy idea that only when objects are exchanged that there should be a financial transaction that is nostalgic. The idea that music should be paid for is simply predicated on the notion that if you have performed labour, you should be rewarded for it.

btw think it's a weird notion of 'culture' that imagines that it is separate from the market --- i.e. that culture has to be 'lopped up' to fit into the logic of the market. This implies culture = product of moneyed lesiure.

Posted by: mark k-punk at March 18, 2004 07:52 PM

First off, Paul yes there is no denying that the labels are losing money due to filesharing and some artists as well. Just as there was damage done to artists when the talkies came about and eliminated the demand for live orchestra's in the movies.

And yes I do feel like I'm repeating the same arguments I've been making since 98. Only thankfully I have a touch more support now...

But once more into it. Its undeniable that certain type of artist, the rare one that actually sees major revenue from record sale royalties gets hurt by file sharing. But the vast majority of the artists see little to zero of this revenue. Often they make more from touring, djing, licensing, merchandising. Or waiting tables.... Removing the recorded music revenue stream only alters a small part of the equation. And with file sharing it benefits a whole lot of people. The fans. The starving musicians who can't afford cds. The touring musicians who want a larger audience. Most artists want the audience as much as the dollars, if not.

What really dies with the record labels (assuming they die, which is unlikely although the space might shrink) is the concept of the rock star. The revenue streams for working musicians don't disappear. The session gigs, the tours, the busking tips, the tshirt sales, etc. The record labels won't be giving out $1 million advances anymore, but who gives a shit... There will be smaller marketing budgets, which leads to less superstars. Paris Hilton steps into the super star void and musicians go back to the business of making music.

A few years Michael Wolfe had a great article where he compared the record industry now to the book industry 50 years ago. It used to be a superstar novelist (Hemmingway, Fitzgerald, Mailer) lived like a rock star. Drugs, sex and sleeping til dinner time. Then the industry matured. Writing became a real job. Profit margins shrunk but remained real. There are more authors then ever, more booksales then ever. All that's gone is the over the top myth. You sell books on writing not the lifestyle. And the same may hold for music.

Mark K-punk, those control at a distance arguments still offend me philosophy. You're essentially arguing that an artist should retain control over spread of their creation *after* it has been released to the public. So the artist is more then happy to seed my mind, get me to hum the tune, yet they want to retain control over what goes on with that same tune.

creativity does not form in a vacuum. A song is a rearrangement of forms. Many of them preexisting. The act of locking those forms to an owner via intellectual property doesn't help creativity, it slowly kills it. The Grey Album for one, is completely illegal. As are hundreds if not thousands of hip hop beats. Hollertronix, illegal. Mash-ups, illegal. Hell, unless Matt Woebot is paying ASCAP, BMI and the like his real audio streams are illegal too. www.illegal-art.org has a whole lot more. And this game's barely started.

The protections that copyright gives artists are extremely limited in scope. The potential damage? Vast. Lets think prehistory. What is more creative then the creation of a word? Imagine if the first talkers held copyrights. I created the word "dog", you want to use it? Fill out these forms and hand over a deer's leg please. 200 years from now kids might be paying EMI everytime the words "Let", "It" and "Be" appear in the same song. How that helps artists is beyond me.

The whole "copyright protects artists" bit is a big scam by my book. Yes it can in a very limited set of circumstances. But its not actually a right most artists want is it. Its a publisher's right. The right to copy, and when extended the right to control the copies. Its a right that nearly all artists *trade away* in order to obtain what they really want. Money to survive and prosper and recognition for their work. The system only worked when copying was a rare, laborious and visible act. Its broken as fuck now, as P2P makes abundantly clear...

Posted by: Abe at March 22, 2004 12:40 AM

Abe

File-sharing

benefits the touring musicians who want a larger audience. Most artists want the audience as much as the dollars .

Fair enough, if they want to give away their tracks for free, that's up to them. It should be their choice.

Not sure I like the idea of music becoming a 'proper job', really; one more line of flight closed down and looped back into drudgery...

Also not sure about the analogy between file-sharing and the book industry because: 1. There's no equivalent in the book world of product being copied indiscriminately. 2. There still are superstar novelists - Martin Amis famously got a 1 million advance.

I'm not sure what you mean by this 'control at a distance' thing, Abe: I'm not advocating brainwashing, just that ppl shouldn't be able to appropriate and replicate what has been produced by others for nothing.

Whether something's illegal or not is neither here nor there. It's ethics that are important, and the implications for cultural production. As I said before, illegal activities such as sampling are positive for culture and for producers; whereas (it could be argued) file-sharing is just consumer parastitism.

Point taken about words ---- but it's only when words have had some labour/ capital invested in them that they can be copyrighted. I

its not actually a right most artists want is it. Its a publisher's right. The right to copy, and when extended the right to control the copies. Its a right that nearly all artists *trade away* in order to obtain what they really want. Money to survive and prosper and recognition for their work.

Again, fine, exactly in fact; someone trading a right away is different from their being disappropriated of that right. It's precisely because file-sharing is a trade which leaves producers out of the loop that makes me uneasy about it.

The system only worked when copying was a rare, laborious and visible act. Its broken as fuck now, as P2P makes abundantly clear...

This is an argument from inevitability and also falls into the is-ought gap --- just because it IS happening doesn't mean we should welcome the development.

Posted by: mark k-punk at March 22, 2004 09:33 PM

just because it IS happening doesn't mean we should welcome the development.

true enough, but it does me that the development needs to dealt with. one option is to rigidify and resist, attempt to turn back time. another is to roll with it, and attempt to construct a system that address the issues in a new manner.

I think we all can agree that musicians should be getting paid. But its an issue of how. And I personally think the old intellectual property system is broken on a number of levels. Culturally, technologically, in my mind philosophically... Where are the solutions. I don't claim to have them all, but do have a degree of faith that we can make something work with the free circulation of MP3s. Of course I have the benefit of not having any real alliegence to the marxist direct relation between labor and compensation model.

I'm curious as to just how you expect to counteract file sharing. Teach the kids not to do it? Enact a DRM regime? Go with an EFF/ASCAP style mandatory licensing scheme? Its hard to get people to pay for things they can get for free you know...

Posted by: Abe at March 22, 2004 11:45 PM