October 1st, 2003


Music Theft/File Sharing?

rapper ll cool j joined entertainment executives in the music industries law suit against downloaders, to once again demonstrate that a supposed voice of the youth, doesn't understand a generation of change.

downloading appears to be one of those things that gets people all agitated no matter where you sit on the fence. i had a conversation the other day with my friend c., who is a writer, and who refused to believe that downloading was anything but theft. he wasn't limiting his opinion to just music, either: film, writing, whatever an artist once supplied for money, and which could now be moved around without such a transaction, was included. (we had a brief discussion about art as found in paintings. it's interesting how no one thinks an artist should receive money for the copies of his or her art that float around in images and scans, while copies of songs and writing should be. granted, it's not the same thing, but still.)

for me, i don't believe that downloading is theft. i don't believe any of it is, but lets just keep the focus on music, because with other art forms, there are different variations of it. but, if you spend any time online, it will quickly become obvious that downloading music isn't seen as theft, but rather as sharing, in the same way that you make copies of albums, and lend books, though the scale of your friends has changed. (that said, i have lent albums to people i wouldn't call a friend, just as i would allow someone to download a song from an album i bought on a peer to peer system.) it's not hard to see that a culture of sharing of information and property is fundamental to the web, and could indeed be argued as the founding principle behind it. it shouldn't, therefor, come as a surprise that this would be seen as a problem, or indeed, as 'theft' in a capitalist society.

the problem is, however, that net culture views downloading as sharing. the simplest example of this is in the title for it: file sharing. how can it be theft when you're getting a copy from another person? when there is no flashing light, no sensors to skip past, and no monetary value associated? yes, it could be argued that there is a monetary value, but if we take a hard and fast line with that, doesn't that mean that me making a copy of my cd for a friend is just as illegal as file sharing? and where does that place the radio? for years now, we've grown up viewing the radio as a tool where we can discover new music, a venue that is open to us--but clearly, the signal the record companies are sending us, is that the radio is not about music but instead about advertising their music, which is, i think, a fundamental change in opinion to how we view the radio. radio hosts begun, in essence, nothing more than voices that assist the packaging and sale of the object to us, much in the way that infomercials have hosts to sell us the new toaster or skin cream agent.

but, back to the argument of the cool j and his suited business friends: downloading takes money from artists. it is theft. and if it is, then surely what we are looking at here is petty theft? equal to a kid nicking a candy bar in the store, for, assuming we believe such an argument (and i don't, as i will explain later) then the theft that is happening, while on a grand scale, is no different to the thousands of mars bars that are ripped off on a daily basis throughout the world.

but that argument doesn't interest me. it's for someone else to take the pursuit of, because i clearly don't view downloading as theft. and what is more, is that i view downloading as an activity that is primarily indulged in by the youth, of kids between the ages of ten and eighteen.

(and i say this without any research, but there must be a large essence of truth to the statement for giant companies to sue a 12 year old girl for downloading, and say, in the board room to the question of the bad press that would naturally arise from this,

"Fuck it.

"Fuck it, 'cause we'll scare the little fuckers with the big bad whip of the law, we'll scare 'em with LL Cool J's face saying that they're naughty, and we'll sue the kids who have a disposable income of about thirty bucks, cause that's who we've got to stop.")

targeting a base who legally aren't allowed to be employed does not seem to be combating the people who are no longer buying cds. youths primarily get their cash from their parents, and on a general level, don't have the kind of money that allows them to buy a couple of cds a week. (when i was twelve, i would be digesting, through friends, through the radio, and through the tv, music that equaled a couple of cds, easily.) but more than that: it's ridiculous to target this audience. it's ridiculous to punish them because they're downloading because mummy and daddy won't drive them to the mall, or because they don't have the money to buy cds. but more than that, it's clearly ridiculous to target them when it is those people in their twenties to forties who are traditionally thought of as having the keys to the disposable income, are they are the ones who are turning around and saying, "I'm not going to buy this new pop music."

new pop music always aims for the teenager, and it is always traded around by them, but traditionally, it is the twenty to forty bracket who pay for the cds, who give them as gifts, or toss the cash. this is, after all, is the way music was given out to the generation that the thirty five year old ll cool j represents.

but there was no internet back then.

and now, for a new youth culture, music is no longer found--or experienced--through sharing on a face to face basis with you friends, or sitting down to rage at midnight, or on the radio. it's found online, and it's shared with the global community who exist online too. it's not something that can be compared to what has gone before, because the net is new, the net is new culture, new thoughts, and new social practices, and this, i think, is being totally forgotten when people point to file sharing and claim it to be theft.

you know, i began this as a simple thought. look how it got out of control. anyhow, if you read this, and you think some of the arguments are a bit weak, then that could be because they are. it's all off the top of my head. however, if you think this is neat, and you'd like to share it around the net, please, feel free. it's a global community.
  • Current Music
    Johnny Cash - Desperado (i downloaded it)