t byfield on 25 Jul 2000 15:44:33 -0000

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[Nettime-bold] Re: <nettime> Terror in Tune Town

eric@OAKTREE.com (Mon 07/24/00 at 12:26 PM -0700):

> Indirectly, the celebration over the liberation of artistic intellectual
> property functions to legitimize theft. Because what Napster does is
> theft.  You are taking an artist's commodity/product and not compensating
> them for it.  And the argument that Napster represents an alternative
> distribution channel is weak at best.  First, you don't earn money from
> it.  Second, you have to spend money to promote your work so that it
> doesn't get lost in the tens of thousands of other works out there. 
> Third, everyone is refusing to accept any format/plan that involves
> payment.  So it's a lose/lose/lose prospect for the artist in the long
> run.  Even if you get artistic exposure or publicity from the Web, you
> still don't have any viable way to support yourself. 

what napster does *isn't* theft: to lift a line from the National
Rifle Association, napster doesn't 'steal' music--people do. 

but do they? most of the rhetoric surrounding MP3s assumes that 
people are downloading songs they never paid for. that's certainly
true for some segment of napster traffic, but it's not universally
true at all, and if arguments about napster etc are going to valid,
they really ought to account for those messy exceptions--otherwise
we're just arguing theology. here's an exception: i've been recon-
structing parts of my record collection in MP3 format. i *own* that 
music, and have a small wall of end-user licenses to it in the form 
of vinyl disks to prove it. (there are lots of correlaries to this:
for example, if i were to rip MP3s from a scratched-up record, i
could *sell* those MP3s if, with them, i transferred physical pos-
session of the originating vinyl and retained no copy for myself.)

the music industry response to this would likely be that there's a
substantial difference between analog vinyl recordings and digital
CD recordings, in that the latter required some amount--in some
cases, a substantial amount--of remastering: ergo, the MP3s i have
are 'stolen.' 

fine. now, is *that* form of 'theft' the same as a case in which 
someone has downloaded MP3s of something s/he doesn't own in vinyl
form? again, the music industry would probably answer: yes. but the
very underpinning of their claims against napster--basically, that
people are 'consuming' without 'paying'--falls apart on this point.
in one case, we have a consumer who *did* pay, in the other a con-
sumer who *didn't* pay, yet (if my guesses as to what they would
argue are correct) both are 'theft.' what we're watching is a pro-
cess in which the vague assumptions of a prior world--for example,
what 'rights' one obtained in purchasing a vinyl record--are being
'unbundled' over time and treated as discrete options to be bought
and sold at a higher level. 

when it came to turning singles into albums and vice versa, or 
turning analog into digital, the music industry was pleased to be
silent on these questions: everything was the same, and, oh, look,
your contract doesn't say *anything* about you having rights to 
the *digital* versions of this music, so the revenues devolve to
*us*. ah, but when it comes to MP3s, well, that's different--that's
*theft*. and what of the workers in vinyl record plants who were
put out work when the industry made the switch to CDs? did the
industry stand on the kind of 'principle' that posh notions like
'intellectual property' would seem to suggest?

'intellectual property' is really little more than the bourgeoisie's
attempt to distinguish itself from the working classes by claiming
that there's a qualitative difference between its own labors and 
that of its economic lessers. but that's not where things are headed,
historically speaking--quite the opposite.

the issue isn't at all what the music industry is making it out to
be. they want exclusive control over the power to transform ONE 
thing into MANY things--to effect the pseudo-magical transformation
in which a singular recording becomes a plurality of objects. but
digital technologies, to recite the old saw, put the power to do 
that into the hands of the many, and the many are exercising their
ability to do it. but with one key difference: now it's a question
of plurality compounding itself in an exponential increase. econš
omies of scale are coming home to roost.

and what you say about everyone refusing to deal with an format or
plan that involves payment. that's just not true: lots of people
are trying, and then there's the cypherpunkish notion of reputation
markets, which, in any case, were the logic that governed mass 
manufacture economies.


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