The Control of Digital Culture

// Posted by on 03/16/2012 (8:06 PM)

When I went to watch “RiP!: A Remix Manifesto” for class last semester, I remember being able to watch it on youtube, and being able to easily find the entire video in once place. While I know I can still find the movie, I know the website let’s you download it for free and Hulu has the movie too (albeit with way too many ads), it bugged me that youtube was trying to charge me to watch a movie trying to make the point that the movie itself, and a variety of other digital culture, should be free to experience. It is the limit on this freedom that Poster tries to explain by delving into the control of corporations like the music industry as a whole on digital culture.

The music industry, according to Poster, is comparable to the Soviet Union in terms of their desire to control the increasing spread of peer-to-peer file sharing. The music industry claims that more music is available today than ever before, and credits the current system (to them, their control over the spread of music) as working “just fine.” If you ask me, and probably a lot of other people who use the internet to get music, the availability is because of just that; the internet, and not the music industry, is responsible for the fastest, easiest, and cheapest distribution of music. Most of the music I get today comes from the internet, and no, not all of it is obtained illegally. There’s been a huge increase in the number of artists advocating “open content” in digital culture, making their music available, for free, to their fans via the internet (especially websites like SoundCloud).

I understand the need for copyright laws, and agree that artists should be compensated for their work, or intellectual property. According to Poster, however, the artists are not being justly compensated by the music industry. In fact, it is the music industry that is being protected by these laws, not the artists, who are themselves held under contract to produce work that they won’t even have the rights to.

My biggest issue with the current state of digital culture is that these laws are clearly in place now strictly to ensure that a particular group of people (namely, the big corporations) get their share of the money (I won’t use the regular phrase “fair share” because it’s obviously not fair). Instead, like Poster, I believe that “we must invent an entirely new copyright law that rewards cultural creation but also fosters new forms of use or consumption and does not inhibit the development of new forms of digital cultural exchange that explore the new fluidity of texts, images, and sounds.”

While not directly applying to digital culture, this has been the protocol of the scientific community for decades. When I publish a paper, I’m publishing my own unique results; I conducted the experiment, collected and analyzed the data, and drew my own conclusions. What happens then, however, is that I submit the paper to a peer-review journal, so that other people can not only see exactly what I did and how I did it, but take my process and replicate it for themselves, either completely to try and come to the same conclusion, or partly to see if the process works under other conditions. The point being, although my experiment was my intellectual property, I publish the results to promote the development of new forms of cultural exchange. And in case someone wants to argue that replicating my experiment doesn’t really affect me like it does by copying a digital music file and sharing it with friends and this robbing the artist of monetary compensation, there is A LOT of money involved in scientific research, based solely on what you’ve done that no one else has.

The biggest question to ask then, is when will this evolution in copyright laws take place, if ever? Or, will the laws stay the same and peer-to-peer file sharing become obsolete. Or, will the two seemingly opposing sides somehow blend together? If SXSW is any indication, the blending together is already happening. Take for example, whose creators admit was developed without any idea as to the legal ramifications. However, with the help of a digital music lawyer, the social music service now represents a “somewhat open” service, complete with licensing by four major music labels. Apparently, the music industry is slowly catching on that digital culture, as well as the technology that makes it possible, is here to stay. But where can things progress from here? And, with so much money at stake, will these services eventually be corrupted by corporations seeking to limit digital cultural freedom in exchange for a profit?


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