Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Culture, Corporations and Big Brother

There are a lot of discussion in Sweden right now about how the internet in general and peer to peer networking in particular effects the production of culture. There are two things that make this especially current in Sweden right now. The first is the trial against The Pirate Bay (TPB) which is probably the biggest bit-torrent tracker in the world. The second is a new law called IPRED which is a law based on a new EU directive to help the music and film business fighting piracy online.

I'm not going to go that much into the trial against TPB except to note that it is weird how one of the biggest police actions in modern time is done against a handful of people doing something that isn't entirely obviously illegal (At least under Swedish law). The IPRED directive though is dangerous because it mandates that the producers of culture (Read MPAA, RIAA and their equivalents) can demand the identity of IP addresses directly from ISP:s instead of as now needing to go through the police. The weird thing is that in Sweden (And soon I assume the rest of the EU will follow) this means that the record industry now has better legal means than the actual police to get this information. For police to be able to get the identity of an IP number requires that there is a suspicion of a crime punishable by at least 2 years in prison (And fortunately sharing copyrighted material is not that bad yet). The record industry now has no such requirement. I find it very disturbing that the corporations now have better legal tools to dig into my personal life than the government. I generally don't trust the government, but I trust corporations even less.

In the discussion about this I keep hearing that without changes like these to protect copyright the entire industry based on it will collapse. And here is the key point I want to make. Why is this necessarily a bad thing? The industry tries to make this out as culture will go away if they are not around to distribute it. I hold that this is completely false. The people who are actually producing this will still do fine. Musicians will still do music. And they will still be able to live from it.

Imagine a world where musicians made about as much of the total profit selling their music as software developers do when selling their software. That world is here today with the internet. When you sell software online the processing of the sale usually costs around 10% in fees. From what I've read normally a musician today will get around 10% of the total proceeds of their music when under a recording contract. A good site selling music for around $1 to $2 a record or 10 to 20 cents a song would then actually produce about as much income for the musician per sold record or song as they do today charging 10 times as much when the music is distributed through the recording industry. Even weirder is that for some reason when the music is distributed digitally artists get even less than when a regular CD is sold. I have no idea why since the cost of distributing music digitally should be very close to zero when the infrastructure is created.

Other types of culture are not affected at all. Almost all forms of art still requires to be experienced first hand to really enjoy it (Think paintings and statues). Books are still nicer to experience flipping through the dead tree version even though technology is making inroads here with readers like The Kindle. But they are still way to expensive and the selection of books to read on them too limited.

The only industry that I think is pretty much doomed to fail is the movie industry. The problem is that you usually only see a movie once so that if you download a movie and watch it illegally (Perhaps because it is available sooner that way) the chance of you paying any way for it is pretty much zero. I foresee this industry basically heading towards the TV movie format where it will be financed by commercials or subscriptions.

My point is that I have a lot of friends who are both musicians and artists and I am pretty sure that they would all still keep doing their art (Whether it be music, painting or sculpting) regardless of if they would get paid for it. So I understand how the music industry is fighting for it's survival, but we must not confuse the music industry with the actual creation of music. Because the actual creation of music was around long before the music industry was created and it will be around long after the music industry is gone.

Copyright was originally created so that artists would be able to live off their work so that they could concentrate on their art and thus all of society would gain from it. That is a laudable goal, however it has very little to do with what copyright has turned into in modern times where copyright is retained 75 years after the death of the artists. What started out as a means to enrich the culture of our society has now become a tool to stifle it. It is depressing how little of the cultural work of the 20th and 21st century that has passed into the public domain due to the changes in copyright law. I get very upset that we are now signing away our privacy at the bidding of an industry that in my opinion is already doomed regardless and which have already robbed society as a whole of so much.

We have already lost our privacy to the government in the war against terror, we should not lose it to corporations as well.

PS. The conspiracy theorist in me can't help to note that the coverage of the voting on the IPRED law would have been a lot better if media hadn't been swamped with the coverage of the engagement of the crown princess of Sweden which was announced the day before the vote. DS

1 comment:

Henrik Johansson said...

Well said, mate!