Copyright law is an interesting field in this day and age of internet decentralized flows of international information. Back when things like music, knowledge, and systems were all packagable and distinct, it was easy to delineate the producer, an audience, and a middle-man marketer. In order to get their music out there and heard, musicians mainly had to get their advertising and packaging done through big name record companies, who of course took all the profits. And the dislocated audience had to pay fees to buy the record, the tapes, the CDs, whatever.
Phish might have been one of the first big names in the music industry that heralded the power of word-of-mouth in the medium of cyberspace. Suddenly, hippies and college music aficianados were re-united, through a grassroots movement amplified by friends e-mailing, chatting, and sharing music on-line. This new undefined medium of word-of-mouth is also demonstrable in the slow but steady growth of homegrown record labels started by artists such as Hieroglyphics (Hieroglyphics Imperium) and Ani Difranco (Righteous Babe). These artists demonstrated that they could make money much more directly themselves by producing their own CDs, self-advertising, word-of-mouth, and live shows.
During the rise of Napster, Kazaa, Gnutella, and all the other various forms of information-sharing networks, the major record labels immediately reacted in panic, fear-mongering, intimidation, and other acts of regressive dinosaurism. For anyone with any clear view of reality, the recording industry is run by a bunch of numbnuts. I’m speaking as someone who was 19 years old at the time, when the free-music-downloading bonanza was at full bore, and I was saying back then that if the record labels were smart, they would start an easy on-line service that charged people to download music. It isn’t exactly rocket science: there is no way of controlling information on the internet; however, there is a way to make some information more easily accessible, and you can charge for it. Just like idiots still shell out doe for AOL when you can get all of that shit for free, all without the “You’ve Got Mail!” annoying ass voice. There’s always a market for lazy people. But of course, the morons that run the recording industry were too greedy and corporate dulled to note that. Instead, they quoted figures of how much money they were losing to on-line music piracy. But what was not calculated in such a figure was: 1) the money they could have been MAKING if they stopping whining and started utilizing the new on-line medium; and 2) the fact that most people don’t have such a large expendable income that they can buy all the music they’ve ever wanted to, and would never have shelled out the doe for many of the songs they downloaded for free.
What’s amazing is that now, almost 10 years later, the recording industry is STILL using Gestapo-like tactics and trying to instill fear in the populace, desperately attempting to save their toppling edifice of an industry. It’s pretty pathetic to watch, knowing that there is absolutely no way that they could ever stop people completely from sharing music on-line. It’s simply impossible. And this leads us to some interesting topics: in a time in which information is easily transferred and accessible, where do we draw the line between producers, and audiences; and where are new spaces opening for evolutionary collaborations, new economies, and a whole new way of thinking?
The fact is, not many people out there feel guilty about ripping free CDs. But nobody would argue that artists and sound engineers shouldn’t be paid for their efforts. It comes down to what one thinks about something like music, art, and all acts of creativity. Isn’t it a community thing? Isn’t it a social thing, at root? Yet somehow such simple acts as creating music have been disassociated from what they are really about, and it has become focused primarily on money. On projecting a marketable image. Such “artists” are pretty easy to discern: just turn on the radio, and there you are. A bunch of manufactured bullshit bent on appealing to the broadest possible lowest common denominator, just like McDonald’s. And the recording industry harvests giant profits off of these namebrands.
I think what is becoming apparent here is that simultaneous with the rise of the new medium for music distribution, there needs to be a new economic medium for artists and producers to make their money, that will hopefully enable them to make money directly, rather than having money be made off of them by corporate douche-bags. In connecting an artist directly with their audience, the internet may open new realms of possibility for music making that were hitherto unforeseeable. And it may just turn out to be a disguised boon for smaller artists who would be more than happy to see their music shared on-line for free to bigger multitudes of people. Suddenly, artists that before would turn out maybe 15 people in a distant city from their hometown may now be turning out 115 due to on-line file sharing.
One thing is for sure: those people who are innovative and creative will rise to the top of this new medium, and all the reactionary dinosaurs (like Metallica, for example) will settle on down to the bottom with rocks tied to their legs.