The copyright debate has always been framed as the effort to protect the works of the artiste. Historically (and many artistes don't even know it themselves!), the copyright battle has been waged to protect the artiste from the industry. Philip Cheah reports on why fans file-share to save the history of music. Part 2 of a four-part series.

If the new generation of music fans have fled to the web because high CD pricing has pushed them there, perhaps it is left to the web to bring back the culture of music by returning to them the wonder of pop. If there is any alternative left to the generation that can only dream of Britney Spears, then sharing music and its culture is imperative.

 

For instance, would record companies bother to document the last year of jazz saxophonist Eric Dolphy's life? Would there be another way to reconsider Steely Dan's under-whelming Gaucho album without hearing the interesting demo recordings? Or what chance have we got to hear Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon live and in album sequence without music sharing? Not much of a chance at all. If record companies had their way, history would be buried.

"Home Taping is Killing Music" was the slogan of a 1980s anti-piracy campaign, by the British Phonographic Industry (BPI), a music industry group. Back then, if you can still remember, the cassette tape recorder was the popular music duplication device. The music industry feared that home taping would cause a decline in record sales even though surveys then showed that the fans who bought the most music were also the ones who did a lot of taping. The "Home Taping is Killing Music" mantra became extinct by the mid-80s when the record industry found salvation in the new CD format.

Unfortunately, the rhetoric continued in the other popular arts. In 1982 Jack Valenti of the Motion Picture Association of America famously argued that the Video Cassette Tape Recorder would ruin the US film industry, and this year, Mitch Bainwol of the Record Industry Association of America claimed that CD burning is hurting music sales.

What most fans don't realise is that the copyright issue existed from a long time ago and it was always the industry that tried to stifle it. Take for example, the issue of screenwriting in Hollywood. As early as 1905, screenwriters fought for ownership of their own material lending a New Jersey court to rule that "a photograph which is not only a light-written picture of some object, but also an expression of an idea, a thought, a conception of the one who takes it, it is a 'writing' within the constitutional sense, and a proper subject of copyright."

It took another 30 years before younger Hollywood writers resumed the battle for ownership because Hollywood never even covered minimum wages or minimum periods of employment. In 1927, when the new Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences was set up, it was a company union to protect the interests of the studios. As poet and screenwriter Dorothy Parker noted: "Looking to the Academy for representation was like trying to get laid in your mother's house. Somebody was always in the parlour, watching."

The battle raged on till 1948 when the Supreme Court destroyed the basis of the Hollywood studio system by breaking its monopoly and reasserting free trade and more importantly, the "free' distribution of ideas. The destruction of the big studios paved the way for the independents to rise and paralleled the increasing ownership of television sets.

In many ways, we are seeing the same phenomenon in the music biz today. The fall of many big labels that have been forced to form partnerships with each other parallels the rise of the internet and an awareness of fans who want to take control of how they consume music.

While the music industry is struggling to decide on the next technological platform to sell music, file sharing remains the only sensible way in maintaining the culture and ensuring that every generation of fans will still be around to love the art in whatever form it takes.

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Note: Between April and June 2005, BigO collected collected 413 albums amounting to 580 CDs, through trades with music fans and through music downloads from bit-torrent sites.

For a complete list of all 580 albums, click here


Part 1: Is Piracy Or The Music Industry That Is Really Killing The Music?


Click here




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