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Wednesday, April 03, 2002

Technology = Democracy

Cassius: And why should Caesar be a tyrant then?
Poor man! I know he would not be a wolf
But that he sees the Romans as sheep.

-Julius Caesar

As long as a populace has access to the internet, government is unable to completely control the press. Web publishing, although underutilized now in its infancy, is a powerful tool in the hands of the people. Weblogs, as we know them, are generally a waste of time but there is a booming backlash to the standard press in the opinions posted daily on the web. The need for a truly alternative press seems to be a low priority in this American sea of affluence that washes in the 21rst century. Let’s hope that the web will be around when we need it.

Not many people know this, and fewer people care, but the airwaves are owned by the public in the USA. The networks are allowed to use them. This is all in theory, and in fact, nothing could be further from the truth. Even public TV and NPR rely heavily on corporate funding that dictates content. The closest thing we have to democracy on the airwaves is public access TV, if you call cable the airwaves, and nobody does. This medium remains extremely marginalized and poses no threat to the corporate status quo.

For too long consumers have been sheep, willing to be sheared. We’ve been paying $17 for cd’s and $8 and upwards for movie tickets. Blockbuster has monopolized the video rental industry. These producers dictate not only how much we will pay but, more importantly, the content of what we purchase. They edit movies for content, sap TV of any true controversy, and basically rule over us like some sort of benevolent dictatorship. This wasn’t the democracy I signed up for.

Thanks to Napster, and now its progeny (kazaa.com, sharebear.com etc.), the metaphor is changing. Instead of the sheep we are becoming the fox that raids the chicken coop of ‘intellectual property.’ File sharing, or internet piracy—depending on who you talk to—has not affected sales in any meaningful way. The music industry reported that sales were down 3% last year. They blame file sharing for their woes. They don’t consider that they have simply put out a bad product. What have they put on the market for anyone too old for Britney, rap, and boy bands? The truth is that studies on the subject suggest that people who use file sharing are the ones buying the most cd’s. Blaming file sharing for revenue loss will be the argument industry will use to limit the freedoms of the internet.

I hate to use such a monolithic label but 'Corporate America' would sell our 1rst Amendment rights to the highest bidder faster than you can say 1984. It looks to me like the cat is out of the bag as far as file sharing sites go. They have sprouted up like mushrooms. The record companies should be looking for a means to cash in on this and stop trying to fight it. They make us believe that they are only looking out for the interests of the artists when in fact artists see very little of total cd sales. Only the top names in the industry make anything more than pennies on the sale of a $17 cd. They are looking to preserve their own feudal duchies they have ruled for decades.

The initial promise of Napster was the democratization of the music industry. They were offering a distribution vehicle for musicians who had been denied access to the hallowed chambers of the recording industry. This never really panned out because Napster was immediately besieged by lawsuits by an industry that feared they would soon be irrelevant.

With the leaps digital video technology has made in recent years, along with its growing popularity in the file sharing domain, the movie industry will also be joining the fight against internet freedom. It is hard to think of an industry as incestual and monopolistic as Hollywood. Hollywood will undoubtedly remain the only manufacturer of the big scale movies but, as people are slowly beginning to realize, big does not mean good.

The idea that small, character driven films, shot on digital video, and distributed world-wide via the web must scare the living hell out of the schlockmeisters of Hollywood who try to tell us that a piece of shit like A Beautiful Mind was the ‘best’ movie last year. I was tricked into seeing that turd and my money was much better spent on the digital Italian for Beginners which probably cost less to make than one day’s catering on Ron Howard’s dud.

As this controversy over file sharing gains momentum just remember that the argument isn’t about big business maintaining the integrity of its ‘intellectual property.’
The issue at stake is whether or not we maintain the status quo in which we are the sheep and they remain the wolf.

Blog of the day comes to us from Jerusalem. I wish that this guy would write ten times as much from his vantage point on the front lines. Good war reporting is a lost art.

P.S. I volunteered to review a blog. I can't even remember what this review thing was all about but here is a link to it. Make your own opinion.

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