May 13, 2000

Napster & Pandora

We have to rewrite the rules yet again.

The rules, in this case, are copyright laws. The latest skirmish in the battle between online freedom and copyright involves the napster program and the band Metallica.

Younger Son discovered napster last fall, shortly after it was released, and uses it frequently. As I understand it, it allows its users to search for and download specific MP3's from other users' computers. This rubs me the wrong way for several reasons:

  1. Downloading stuff from "some guy's" computer is an invitation for viruses even though I'm set up to scan incoming files.
  2. Whenever the program is running it allows "some guy" to root through my files and pull out my MP3's. Eww.
  3. It IS stealing.

Younger Son, who has begun writing his own songs with his band, doesn't see that point. When presented with a "how would you like it if.." sentence, he replies that if his band were in a position to have their music pirated, he'd be overjoyed.

Not that I'm above stealing, but on a smaller, more personal scale. I've been known to trade cassette tapes by mail with people I met on the *gasp* internet! I even used to rent children's videos and copy them to blank tapes, at least until they did something that made them come out dark and unusable.

I know, it's like the old joke, "we've already established that, now we're just haggling over the price"..

Today, this article appeared in our newspaper:
Cyber-cowboy laughs at copyright laws by John Markoff, New York Times. It says, among other things:

Bands suing Web sites over copyright infringement should act quickly: new software is in the works to hide the identity of information-swappers.

..(The programmers of this software) express the hope that the clash over copyright enforcement in cyberspace will result in a world in which all information is freely shared.

.."If this whole thing catches on .. people will look back in 20 to 40 years and look at the idea that you can own information in the same way as gold or real estate in the same way we look at witch-burning today."

..Some legal experts believe that the intellectual-property laws are being used in an effort to grapple with technologies they were never intended to address.

Well. I'd hardly compare today's copyright laws to a witch-hunt, at least not literally. There have been many instances of new technology bringing forecasts of doom to the recording and movie industries. It hasn't happened, yet. Movies are still doing a booming business, albeit a little differently.. instead of huge majestic theaters, we have multiple small rooms screening various films, within malls or other entertainment complexes. VCR's came into general use about twenty years ago and film rental has not done away with the Saturday night movie date. The VCR and its ability to record television programs for later viewing has not wreaked havoc with the commercial economy either, judging by the plethora of ads that remain on TV.

And of course the recordable cassette and even the recordable CD have not sunk the music industry. In my own experience, I found that being exposed to new (to me) music actually resulted in my purchasing more CD's, and I've even bought albums that I already had on tape. There's also no denying that an online presence is a wonderful publicity tool for new (and established) artists of any genre.

Yet.. the free availability of music online (soon to be followed by movies and books, no doubt) is pirating on a vastly larger scale than has ever been seen before. The phrase "a world in which all information is freely shared" makes me nervous. Like it or not, communism doesn't work and capitalism does. We need motivating factors such as riches and fame or else some of the world's talents just might not bother.. or not bother hard enough or for long enough.

I suspect that the music industry and all the other intellectual-property-related industries will survive but not without some serious reshuffling of laws and sources of income. (I'm thinking of something similar to the surtax on blank tapes that goes to make up for lost royalties.. that does exist, doesn't it?) The early days of the internet, where everything was, or could be obtained, for free, spoiled us. Now that the wilderness has been tamed, civilized (pervs notwithstanding), and populated by the general public, it was bound not to last.

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