RIAA’s Legal Blitz Begins

From Wired:

The music industry began a promised wave of lawsuits on Monday, suing 261 people it accuses of illegally distributing about 1,000 copyright music files each, using peer-to-peer networks.

FOXNews.com adds an “innocent victim” scenario by pointing out that a 12-year-old New York City girl is among these “pirates”. Meanwhile, the EFF says individuals should not accept the RIAA’s amnesty offer. PC World has a good wrap-up of the RIAA’s current tactics and the EFF response.

Testing Ownership of Digital Music

Let’s pretend we are deeply naive for a second: when you buy a CD, are you buying the music it contains? Or an aesthetically value-added material object that enables you to access the music? i-Tunes (and other online digital music outlets) would prefer us to believe the former, and the price differential between ludicrously expensive CDs and digital music would appear to bear them out. So, if the one-off “purchase” of a digitally-encoded track is in some way analagous to the purchase of a CD, then surely the purchaser has the right to subsequently transfer ownership, right? However counter-intuitive (and possibly silly) it might seem, 90% Crud has decided to test this twisted logic out by offering an m4p bought through i-Tunes for auction on ebay. It will cause a stir (well, here I am blogging it) and probably is an interesting, if unsophisticated, test of the legal limits of DRM, but will probably only help the lumbering carcass of the record industry to refine the purchase model – they will never ever let go of the idea that music is a thing that can be owned, bought, and licensed, when of course it isn’t a “thing” at all, but an experience.

As an aside, the alternative to the “purchase” model of course is the “pay per listen” one – far more creepy.

[update 05/09/03]: As a commenter to this post pointed out (see below), I need to account for the special nature of the i-tunes DRM system, which includes a swag of copy-protection measures, therefore making George’s experiment a bit less silly (the file cannot be infinitely reproduced and distributed, so the analogy to a CD purchase is not so far-fetched). Mac-Rumours has a good summary of the i-tunes model (although I admit it is possibly a little out of date–I’ll find a fresher version when I have time).

George’s i-tunes track reaches $15,000 on ebay

George’s iTunes m4p has reached a bid of $15,000 on ebay. Either there are a lot of wingnuts putting in bids for fun, or someone is really really committed to some fuzzily formulated anti-hegemonic principle or other. Either that, or someone really, really, wants a totally non-unique inferior-quality compressed recording of Double Dutch Bus by Devin Vasquez. With all funds going to the EFF, though, good on ’em.

[update: 05/09/03]: apparently someone made a bid of $99 million before ebay removed the listing due to violation of their downloadable items policy. Get the story from George.

Social Capital and Micro-Networks

In The Network is the Market, Ross Mayfield introduces us to the social theory behind Tribe.Net, a friendster-type social network-builder that is just coming out of beta. Like friendster, (but without that whole icky high-school-esque vibe) the idea is to build interconnected nodes of common interests.

But unlike friendster, tribe.net is about information flow (classifieds, messages) that facilitate social trade, not just social connections. The most interesting aspect of Mayfield’s arguments about all this is his suggestion that social capital should and could replace economic capital as the driving force behind the political economy of the web. We can see how this might ring true when we look at the related debates about audio “piracy” and the difficulties that offline media outlets (including the record industry ) are having online, and the dismal failure of web advertising (at least he earlier, pre-viral broadcast model of advertising), compared with the apparent success of the social networks built through, say, blogging. Secondly, the “value of the small” that is an integral part of the tribe.net philosophy: “the smaller the network the stronger the ties and the more valuable the information flow.”

I think this is what creative networks need to think about as well – music subcultures, for example – creating nodes – small, dense networks with explicit social ties, and explicit or implicit social and cultural economies of exchange and value (these New Economy types stole it from “underground” communities in the first place anyway). A good start would be something like Soulseek, which is quite unlike the vast anonymity/broadcast model of Napster or KaZaA, and which sonic cultures at the more experimental end of music seem to be embracing – to the extent that new music commentator Jeff Harrington can sing its praises. Try finding Stockhausen on KaZaA.

For those interested in going into more theoretical depth into augmented social networks more generally, there is a recent article on the topic at First Monday. From the abstract:

This paper proposes the creation of an Augmented Social Network (ASN) that would build identity and trust into the architecture of the Internet, in the public interest, in order to facilitate introductions between people who share affinities or complementary capabilities across social networks. The ASN has three main objectives: 1) To create an Internet-wide system that enables more efficient and effective knowledge sharing between people across institutional, geographic, and social boundaries; 2) To establish a form of persistent online identity that supports the public commons and the values of civil society; and, 3) To enhance the ability of citizens to form relationships and self-organize around shared interests in communities of practice in order to better engage in the process of democratic governance. In effect, the ASN proposes a form of “online citizenship” for the Information Age.

RIAA tactics revealed


The music industry’s methods of tracking down suspected music pirates have been revealed for the first time. Using digital fingerprints, or “hashes”, investigators say they can tell if an MP3 file was downloaded from an unauthorised service. The industry also tracks “metadata” tags, which provide hidden clues about how files were created. The details were given by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) in a legal case against a suspected pirate.

Dyke to open up BBC archive

I’ll leave the puns about the title alone and just send hurrahs to the BBC for this. The BBC has announced plans to give the public full access to all the corporation’s programme archives, that is, digitally – the service, the BBC Creative Archive will be available to everyone not trying to turn a dollar out of it. Director General Mr. Dyke sez: “‘I believe that we are about to move into a second phase of the digital revolution, a phase which will be more about public than private value; about free, not pay services; about inclusivity, not exclusion. In particular, it will be about how public money can be combined with new digital technologies to transform everyone’s lives. “

iTunes iSbogus

Again, sonic proliferation as strategy from “below”: check out the radically snazzy Down Hill Battle’s (as in, the RIAA is fighting an uphill one!) stylish manifesto: iTunes iSbogus
An excerpt from the warcry:

Steve Jobs says the Music Store is “revolutionizing music.” What an impoverished imagination he has. An expensive jukebox and a long-playing walkman aren’t revolutionary. A revolution in music will be when people stop buying music and start living it: when 25 cent donations support more musicians than CDs ever did, when payola’s dead and radio is commercial-free all day long, when every American highschool has a recording studio just cause they’re that cheap to set up. This can all happen right now.

The manifesto will send some extra adrenalin around the old bloodstream, whatever side of the file-sharing fence you are on, but it is also unusually well-informed and coolly analytical.

Open content and value creation

First Monday has an article by Magnus Cedergren that is related to the stuff about sonic proliferation I have been writing about lately. The abstract of his paper Open content and value creation says:

“The borderline between production and consumption of media content is not so clear as it used to be. For example on the Internet, many people put a lot of effort into producing personal homepages in the absence of personal compensation. They publish everything from holiday pictures to complete Web directories. Illegal exchange of media material is another important trend that has a negative impact on the media industry.

In this paper, I consider open content as an important development track in the media landscape of tomorrow. I define open content as content possible for others to improve and redistribute and/or content that is produced without any consideration of immediate financial reward — often collectively within a virtual community. The open content phenomenon can to some extent be compared to the phenomenon of open source. Production within a virtual community is one possible source of open content. Another possible source is content in the public domain. This could be sound, pictures, movies or texts that have no copyright, in legal terms.”

He ends ups with a model of the driving forces in open content “value chains”, (concerning both producers and consumers), in which personal motivations and social benefits are linked.

Illegal Art

Amidst all the hype, all the gasbagging, all the soapboxing, and all the mind-numbing statistics, here is a really refreshing intervention into the explosive juggernaut that is the IP debate: an art exhibition called illegal art, explained thusly:

The laws governing “intellectual property” have grown so expansive in recent years that artists need legal experts to sort them all out. Borrowing from another artwork–as jazz musicians did in the 1930s and Looney Tunes illustrators did in 1940s–will now land you in court. If the current copyright laws had been in effect back in the day, whole genres such as collage, hiphop, and Pop Art might have never have existed.
The irony here couldn’t be more stark. Rooted in the U.S. Constitution, copyright was originally intended to facilitate the exchange of ideas but is now being used to stifle it.

The Illegal Art Exhibit will celebrate what is rapidly becoming the “degenerate art” of a corporate age: art and ideas on the legal fringes of intellectual property. Some of the pieces in the show have eluded lawyers; others have had to appear in court.

Loaded with gray areas, intellectual property law inevitably has a silencing effect, discouraging the creation of new works.

Should artists be allowed to use copyrighted materials? Where do the First Amendment and “intellectual property” law collide? What is art’s future if the current laws are allowed to stand? Stay Free! considers these questions and others in our multimedia program.

Sounds like a great way to give the issues some cultural reference points.