The major political issue of today?

The incredibly productive Kragen Sitaker, in Exegesis of “Re: [FoRK] Calling [redacted] and all the ships at sea.”:

The major political issue of today [0] is that music distribution companies based on obsolete physical-media-distribution models (“record labels”) are trying to force owners of new distribution mechanisms, mostly built on the internet, to pay them for the privilege of competing with them; the musical group “The Grateful Dead” used to permit their fans to distribute their music by making copies of taped performances, and most of the money the Dead made came from these performances; it is traditional for performances not to send any revenue to the record label. Long compares the record labels to buggy-whip manufacturers, who are the standard historical symbol for companies who went out of business because of technological change.

This clearly relates to the passage the footnote is attached to, which is about the parallel between Adam Smith’s economic “invisible hand” and the somewhat more visible hand that wrote the king’s doom on the wall in Daniel; in this case, the invisible hand has written the doom of the record companies on the wall, and their tears will not wash out a word of it. What this has to do with Huckleberry Finn’s prohibition on seeking symbolism or morals in the book, I don’t know, although clearly Huckleberry Finn’s prohibition relates to mortals hiding messages in texts.

[0] Yes, this means I think this is more important than the struggle over energy, or the International Criminal Court, or global warming, or nuclear proliferation — the issue is whether people should be permitted to control the machines they use to communicate with one another, in short, whether private ownership of 21st-century printing presses should be permitted. (Sorry my politics intrude into this message, but I thought “the major political issue of today” required some justification, but needs to be there to explain the context to people reading this message who don’t know about it.)

That will probably seem a pretty incredible claim, but I often agree, and think Sitaker understates the case. Music distribution companies are only one of the forces for control and censorship. The long term issue is bigger than whether private ownership of 21st-century printing presses should be permitted. The issue is whether individuals of the later 21st-century will have self-ownership.

6 Responses

  1. gurdonark says:

    I don’t think it matters so much where to prioritize the issue. What matters is that the issue justifies the time we all put into it. I think that the article is correct that there is a buggy-whip-manufacturer factor at work here, and I believe that inevitably the buggy will no longer rule the road.
    I think that those of us who seek ways to hasten the onset of the new musical automotive technology are doing something productive.

    I never believe that one need question the concept of state-sponsored private ownership of publicly-performed intellectual property itself to create the world in which a sharing culture overtakes the dinosaurs of the intellectual property past. A fountain of new content creators, armed with new technology and CC/open source/GNU/PD creations, can work in
    a single generation a change that will revolutionize music and the arts for the future, without changing a word of current copyright law. The fight at the ramparts, I believe, is not even the ill-advised copyright extension acts (though they need repeal), but instead to ensure that new things don’t creep in the back-door to bar content creators from free and open distribution. If enough content creators share enough material through liberal licensing and PD, then we’ll all profit, and the world will change.

    In my view, to pirate conventional record industry material is entirely counter-productive (I almost typed ‘counter-revolutionary’) because even the act of piracy bestows upon those works a cachet that they don’t deserve. I buy conventional record label things, and I’m not a purist by any means. But I recognize-and try to practice–that if we are to create this sharing culture it must be not only as ‘creators’ but as listeners and promoters.

    The ramparts we must storm are not to win the hollow rights to sample from dinosaurs. We must instead create our own catapults, and breach the hegemony of the music industry with new artists we listen to instead of their offerings.

    So a lot of what Sitaker states flags the issue well. Yet even within the current legislative regime, we can simply create new material, on our new technology, and watch the RIAA become an irrelevance.

    To me, therefore, the major issue is not “political” in the traditional sense–but cultural. We have before us the chance to create an entirely new and satisfying culture of the arts. Rather than worry about language of confrontation, I’d rather be about the business of creating–and listening.
    Every time I download from a netlabel and find myself enrapt, another
    RIAA company loses the price of a CD. Every time I exchange samples with a fellow music hobbyist, the RIAA hegemony on how to experience music fades.

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