This must be a very disappointing blog to follow. LAtely I really haven’t been making the effort to write much, which is partly because I’ve been rebuilding the BlancoMusic website in between the times when my attention is focused on bands and recording and gigs and suchlike. The other reason is because the in-between times are getting fewer and fewer, which is a happy circumstance. It is, frankly, nicer to have a lot of business at the label, a lot of new projects and new music to deal with, than having chunks of time with nothing to fill it.
That said, I still rise to the bait like a chummed reefshark every time I see someone spouting uninformed rubbish on the Guardian’s blogpage. This time it was in response to Cory Doctorow’s technology column, which he devoted to a popular-science-meets-Jerry-Springer-style character assasination of Helienne Lindvall. Helienne had accused him of hypocrisy in her column, by citing that his 25,000 dollar fees for speaking at conferences, and how she felt it was at odds with his assertion that musicians should embrace the culture of free content. Well, it turns out that Doctorow ‘only’ asks for 15,000, a detail he seized upon to build a whining, disingenuous, mob-pleasing regurgitation of all the facile pro-filesharing arguments that everyone in the music business has been swatting down in flames for the past ten years. Of particular interest to me was his insistence that the internet be left to function in exactly the free and unpoliced manner that it does currently, and his implication that the unfettered use of the internet, for good or ill, be linked to peoples’ rights to freedom of speech. At this point it was probably all he could do to stop himself from singing the Star Spangled Banner, and whilst it is always a safe bet to cite the freedom of speech argument in your favour when you want public sympathy, it is a poor justification for malicious use of the internet. At the point where he claimed that having his ‘right’ to a free internet curtailed would mean he would have to make pictures of his two year-old daughter in the bath available to the faceless authorities he is so opposed to, I’m afraid I broke my promise (to myself) not to write about filesharing any more. Here’s what I said (the initial paragraph is in response to LaurelRussworm’s claim that the music industry betrayed the consumer by selling DRM-protected records, hence denying them the opprtunity to duplicate what was now ‘theirs’:
As a non-industry consumer, it’s not expected that you should be conversant with copyright law, but the legal reality is that you do not actually buy a copy of the work when you buy a record, you actually buy a limited license to the use of the work. That license is limited to use for personal listening use. The license does not cover copying, distributing or altering the recording. These rights can be bought, but at different price points and through direct negotiation with the copyright owner. As I say, it’s easy for a consumer to be mixed up on this, so no drama. However, Doctorow, who has decided to use his technology platform to make comment on the music industry, has no excuse for making the same mistake in his article. Some of the fact-checking he whines so interminably on about when it applies to Lindvall might be well-applied to his own practices. The same could be said of his article above, which although he voices it as if he is an original thinker, has brought no new facts or opinions to the discourse on the impact of ‘free’ music to the music industry. Any regular reader of Helienne’s blog will have seen his points raised in the comments section numerous times, and will have seen them robustly dealt with by the contributors to what is one of the most vigorous and active conversations on the Guardian website. If Doctorow seems to be being treated by some commentators on here in a brusque way, it is simply because the points he makes in his article are so many years behind the current state of the debate that it is irritating to have to address them all over again. It wouldn’t be a problem if he were just another commentator, but as author of a GU piece, the bar is usually set higher.
Now, someone asked if there was anyone willing to comment on the state of piracy-stopping legislation/technology. That’ll be me then.
Doctorow, like a great many bad science-fiction writers and technology pundits, is great on the tech/mech stuff, but completely blind to the human side of things. Of course the internet will be patrolled and restricted in the future, we can see that already in the way that certain online RPGs no longer allow anonymous accounts for players. The internet is new technology, bolted onto a society which has evolved its ways of existing over millenia. So far the internet has not threatened our society in any significant way (the income of the music/film industry is unimportant in the grand scheme of things), and has been all-but ignored by the legislative bodies of the western world. The concept of punishing repeated lawbreakers with nothing more stringent than the need to spend ten minutes on the phone changing their ISP shows how very little the UK government care about online copyright violations. Why should they? As Doctorow points out – online music theft is the musicians’ problem, let them deal with it.
The internet will not end up being policed because of film/music theft. It is a new technology that has yet to be dealt with by law in any significant way. Right now it’s like the early cars that appeared in the 20th century. No doubt, when potential car owners were told they would now be expected to pass tests, hold licenses and not drive under the influence of alcohol, they felt their rights were being curtailed. But society demanded it because society was fed up of going to road-death funerals. Technology is always given too much credence by technology commentators as something which will fundamentally change the world, but the truth is, the vast majority of technology does very little to fundamentally change the world. Handguns are a piece of technology that make it very easy to finish an argument. But arguments still happen. Why? Because, at least here in the developed world, society outlawed the handgun. Certainly the responsible and less-responsible handgun owners felt that their rights were being curtailed, but after Dunblane the demands of UK society was that these things be collected up, destroyed, and be banned. An unrelated case? Not really. People have already committed suicide due to the depression brought upon them by internet abuse. Certainly, the internet is just a communication medium, and as such cannot be blamed for peoples’ misuse of it. But that anonymous misuse can, and will, be stopped.
To (ab)use Doctorow’s example of his 2-year old in the bath. At some point a kid somewhere will figure out a way to break passwords so that he can get free porn. He’ll share that info. That info will eventually be used by paedophiles to access personal photos. Those photos will be shared. A child will be abducted, later we will find that internet info was used to facilitate the crime. At that point the anonymity of the internet will be stopped.
This will not be condemned as ‘draconian measures of a big brother state’, but will be demanded, howling, by our society. And then, of course, the new laws will be expoiited by copyright owners.