Just over a month ago, the infamous SOPA legislation was halted by the largest online protest that the Internet has ever seen. It was certainly a time for celebration, but it is important to remember that the fight for online freedom is not over.
All this SOPA talk has resurfaced the decade-old debate on the ethics of online music downloading. Another round of seemingly SOPA-hired goons are taking it to the streets and arrogantly demanding increased copyright protection for their music.
In all fairness, the gist of their argument is a fair and common criticism. It suggests that a musician’s final product is the result of an intensive process, and therefore the musician deserves to be payed for their work.
Although sound, the argument succumbs to one fatal fallacy: it reduces music to the product, on par with furniture, Ferraris and Kanye West sunglasses.
Music is a form of art, but more so than many other forms of art, music is about the shared experience. We make music because we love music; there should be no other motivation involved.
The music industry is becoming increasingly decentralized and the means of distribution is now in the listeners’ hands. This is an incredibly empowering time for musicians and listeners alike; we now have a bigger say in what gets played and passed around.
We need to stop looking to the stars and demanding grandeur, fame and money. There is no money left in the industry for anyone thinking of waltzing along the unbeaten path. Instead, look at the local scene in front of you and meet the people there. Sure, you won’t make a pile of money, but you’ll be rich in other ways.
Very few musicians profit from the music that they spend countless hours writing, recording and releasing. This shouldn’t discourage anyone; it has only been the industry standard for the past 50 years. If money needs to be made, it can be made through performance and, regrettably, merchandising.
Compare that to deep history and try to imagine the first musicians. Think of the first human for whom the rhythm of a stick against a rock became infectious. Another joins, and within moments the whole tribe is thrown into a percussive trance. It is likely that this sort of event is responsible for birthing not only human music, but language and ritual as well.
Now ask yourself: what inspired these first musicians to play? It was the rhythm of their pulse, the rhythm inside that sustained them. To demand money for this rhythm is to put a price on the human soul. Downloading is a means of active protest, an attempt to stake out a space for freedom of expression in a society obsessed with commoditisation.
As another year meets us, another glorious threat to the livelihood of the World Wide Web rears its ugly head. Unlike those that came before it, however, this new threat is not in danger of simply dissolving to the cries of public opinion.
This time there is a real danger of digital catastrophe, with the only question being how we will rebuild the net in the wake of hurricane SOPA.
The Stop Online Piracy Act may seem harmless at a brief glance, intended only to deter those who would otherwise steal copyrighted content for their own personal consumption. It also works on the second front of protecting the interests of intellectual property owners, but even some of those are lashing out against the bill.
The real meat of the bill allows the U.S. law enforcement officials greater power in their legislative battles against online piracy. It gives them the ability to force search engines, ISPs and even other websites to block out any sites that the government feels is ‘enabling or facilitating online piracy and theft.’
That is the point that the bill becomes highly poisonous to our modern way of life. Entire digital acres of the Internet are devoted to sharing, mashing, mixing, and trashing copyrighted material for mass consumption, in the name of satire, humour and good old-fashioned trolling. Should a SOPA-like bill pass, we would cease to see most content that sites like Youtube are comprised of in their entirety. We would be left with our pick of official movie trailers, video blogs and Black-Eyed Peas “music” videos.
While I agree that piracy in the form of movie and television streaming has gotten a bit out of hand, given that I can watch entire seasons of my favourite shows for free within the top three Google searches, this measure is far too all-encompassing to fight such a minor battle. A revised bill should be put forth to combat websites that explicitly host or enable blatant piracy, but the SOPA bill in its current form is too volatile to co-exist with free speech.
There are arguments to support even the anti-business sentiments that some feel are going to emerge from a purportedly pro-business bill. Web experts on the whole seem to believe that digital media organizations, and even some non-media-centric jobs on the net would be at risk to lose all outside funding, as most investors would back out in fear of encountering later legal troubles.
The main argument that resonates with me the most is the idea that combating piracy directly is never a sensible decision, as the costs are often too high for the return. The amount of resources it would require to investigate and prosecute an offender through sites like Google and individual ISPs would far outweigh the cost and time spent by any one individual, who can whip together an identical site in his or her free time. You can see the same effect in PC gaming, where more often than not, paying customers are the ones that are frustrated with restrictive anti-piracy measures, such as activation limits and online-only access. In the meantime pirates and the hacking/modding community as a whole usually removes the anti-piracy measures from their copies of the game for uninterrupted, illegal fun.
Resources are better allocated towards giving paying customers a better experience, making them feel like they are getting their money’s worth. I’m sorry to say this, record companies, but the average consumer does not feel that twenty dollars is a fair price for a mass-produced album that only really has three songs they like, when they can spend 3 bucks on the songs they want online, and for the more frugal, listen for free before they decide on YouTube or Grooveshark. If consumers are being met halfway with value expectations, then piracy on the whole is less of an issue outside of the truly desperate or lazy among us.
There is a good chance this bill will pass when the American Congress returns from its winter recess, and a greater chance that, if passed, the American government will urge their northern neighbours to adopt a similar bill. There is the best chance, however, that enough people will stand in the way of such an atrocity so that it never sees the light of legal day.