Tuesday, December 08, 2009


Update: Judge affirms $675k verdict in RIAA music piracy case by Jaikumar Vijayan

Today, musicians and the music-listening public need the recording industry the same way fish need bicycles. The recording industry was socially beneficial back when music had to be stored on big physical doodads that had to be shipped on trucks, displayed in stores, then marketed (then heavily, then more heavily) to stand out from the competition. Today, all of that is bunk. Superfluous. A drain on societal resources. There is no societal justification for the existence of the recording industry - why, so I can learn about the latest album from Smiley Syrup? The only recording of hers I would want to know about I can discover without the help of the recording industry, simply by googling her name along with the words "sex tape".

In fact, the continued existence of the recording industry is not only completely unnecessary, it is actually pernicious. Beyond committing the metaphorical equivalent of chopping kids' hands off for stealing gum - not to mention completely shafting artists in their division of revenues - the recording industry tends to lower our collective cultural product to the level of the lowest common denominator: look at the artists (and I use that word lightly) the industry promotes, which crowd out of the public consciousness artists with talent (but which may require more than an iota of thoughtful attention to appreciate). An undeniably better system would provide public financing for artists, just enough to allow those with great talent (or just a pretty face and a decent voice) to get their recordings out via the internet, where they can then make boatloads from live shows - which is where recording artists make the majority of their money from anyway.

On a legal level, one must be truly deluded to be oblivious to the true nature of law: a non-violent (at least overtly) means for the powerful to exert control over society. Now I wrote that in a way that may evince my disgust at this reality, but the same could be written to produce the opposite effect, like the conservative Thomas Macaulay formulation here: "What are laws but the expressions of the opinion of some class which has power over the rest of the community? By what was the world ever governed but by the opinion of some person or persons? By what else can it ever be governed?"

OK Tom, got your point, but the problem is that the ideals that define our society and give us meaning do not include "let's be governed by a powerful class of persons" - in fact, our ideals are sharply antithetical to such a vulgar basis for the law. Instead, our ideals demand that the laws that govern us emanate from us, collectively; again, sovereignty of the people is the opposite of sovereignty of some people. As the collective "we" is clearly not the provenance of the copyright "laws" that were used to hand down this preposterous judgment, the judgment is illegitimate in a fundamental sense.

Oh yeah and the recording industry might not have lost a dime even if that kid shared those songs with 50 million people. Those songs were bits of information, not manufactured goods. If I stole a manufactured good from a store, that's one less manufactured good that can be sold; but if I download a song, I haven't reduced the total stock of that song by anything - stores will have just as many copies of Jason Timberlake's latest album after I download it and put it on every computer and electronic device of mine. To actually prove damages in a justice system worth the name, the recording industry would have to prove that all downloaders of those songs would have bought the songs if it were not for the defendant sharing them for free. I don't know if my point needs any more elaboration, but I sure as fuck wouldn't buy a Jason Timberlake album.

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