The news outlets are picking up on a report from the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry that bemoans, yet again, the extent to which people use the internet for transmitting data — in particular, for transmitting digital versions of music recordings without the permission of the record companies. We’ve been ’round this bush a million times before, so let’s note by title (as it were) several features of this tendentious reproduction of the industry’s perspective.
The article cites industry sources repeatedly and verbatim, and summarizes their perspective, while only alluding vaguely to a contrary outlook. The article reproduces the biased vocabulary of the industry (“piracy”) rather than steering toward more even-handed vocabulary; the only time the article uses “file-sharing,” it quotes the phrase from an industry spokesperson who appends the modifier “illegal” to it. (“Piracy” and “file-sharing” are different phenomena, as the British couple whose lives hang in the balance can testify.) The statistics to which the article refers should be questioned, as in virtually every other case when the recording industry has generated estimates of their losses to file-sharing, the figures have rested on very tenuous assumptions about human behaviour. And the article insulates the industry from the pertinent criticism: that it has repeatedly failed to embrace a changing technological environment for what it makes possible, and adapt their business models to accommodate reality. Instead, they try to institute the legal perpetuation of the ephemeral state of affairs that began about a hundred years ago, and will end pretty much as soon as governing cultures allow it to.
I’m in favor of musicians making money, and I’m in favor of the internet doing what it does best (i.e., transmit data). If that means that the specific ways that musicians earn money has to change, that should be a no-brainer — not a basis for legislation that forestalls adaptation to changing circumstances.