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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The REAL danger of music piracy

I read Seanachie's piece on home taping with interest and a degree of nostalgia.

What person, anywhere on Earth, who's currently aged between 25 and 50, DIDN'T make a mix tape, or record a live concert off the radio, after all?

And he's absolutely right - home taping didn't kill music at all.

He makes an interesting point (borrowed from AquariumDrinker) about the development of CDs. Basically, we can now acknowledge that the compact disc format brought us nowhere as consumers, but was a great payday for the record companies.

CDs couldn't record, were fragile, looked rubbish and cost more. What mugs we were for buying into that one.

I recall in the early Nineties visiting a factory in the West of Dublin where they made CDs. They had just installed a facility for making a whole new thing called DVDs. I was intrigued, and a bit impressed.

Until they showed me a DVD and it looked exactly like a CD, only double-sided. Now, I wasn't impressed.

"This is the same technology, right? You've basically taken two CD surfaces and put them back to back, haven't you?", I asked.

Effectively, with a little additional information compression and creation of further storage space, that's what they had done. The factory manager looked a little guilty and sheepish.

"We nearly didn't open this facility," he told me in confidence. "But a lot of money has been spent on this format worldwide. The music and entertainment industry are going to get behind it anyway. I reckon we'll get five years out of it."

"What happens then?" I asked in all innocence.

"The future is no media at all," he laughed. "Things will be stored virtually and you'll just download them onto your stereo or TV when you want them."

That was the first time I encountered the concept of digital media storage in the home. The industry knew it was coming a decade before it properly did, but they just had to squeeze one last tired media format out there in the hope that we'd all be mugs and buy all our albums all over again for the third time (or perhaps replace all our VHS and Beta tapes with shiny DVDs.)

Of course, with its business model predicated on soon-to-be-defunct product, that factory no longer exists today.

But it reminded me that we owe these industries no loyalty. The entertainments industry and their pals at Sony and the other format creators have systematically and cynically been ripping off the public for decades, selling them one set of Emperor's new clothes after another.

CDs were shit, so were CD-Rs, so were DVDs, so were DVD-Rs, so were... you get my point. It was all a delaying tactic (a lucrative one, too) aimed at preventing the dawn of the digital virtual storage era.

Now we're in that era, they've returned to a previous position - the mantra that piracy kills music (or film, or whatever) coupled with preposterous law suits against individuals worldwide.

Memo to those industries: suing your customers is not a smart business model.

As a result, there's been a predictable backlash, and now we're seeing 'Pirate Parties' sprouting politically in different nations. This is of concern, but not to the big entertainment industries. This is of massive concern to writers, painters, musicians - artists themselves.

On the one hand we have Google seeking to digitise and publish online every book they can lay their hands on. First they started with out of copyright books. Now they don't seem to care what they digitise. They've offered a crappy deal to authors who can take it or leave it. Google doesn't give a shit for creator's rights. They want to own literature, and that's what they're intent on doing.

In this regard, buzzing flies like the Pirate Party (basically a load of 'no to everything' anarchists) become extremely useful idiots for entities like Google. As the pirates agitate against copyright and intellectual property ownership, they seem to resemble a grassroots campaign that backs all Google's arguments.

See here, says Google. Look at these misguided European hippies. But say, perhaps they're right? Perhaps no one should be able to own intellectual property that they created? Why isn't every book in the planet free to all?

The real danger of music piracy is not that people make copies of things for their own enjoyment.

The real danger of music piracy is that it has led to the situation where we now find ourselves with music firms suing their own customers, and the public backlash against that is being used by multinational corporations to erode the concept of copyright so that they can steal the world's literature.


Twenty Major said...

Good post.

nearbeat said...

This is something I have followed as you have obviously from the days of backstreet pirated vinyl, yes they did exist and dammed if I can find a single copy in my cobweby and unused but still loved collection. There is very little I can add to your excellent article. well written and from the heart, so little of that around nowadays.

An Old Pirate says Truth is Free, Romano