Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Fair Use? Fair To Whom?

Corporate apologists and their lackeys in the federal government often bandy-about the term "fair use" as if they are doing us some kind of favor by putting more controls on printed and recorded material.

I am a fan of fair use. I do not purchase bootleg material and I shy away from making free copies of artists' materials for distribution.

In the spirit of fair use, I will sometimes make a mixed CD of fave songs for a family member, which is fair use of the products I have purchased. I paid for the CDs containing the songs, I own the PC and CD burner, I bought the blank CDs and jewel boxes. I am paid-in-full. Burning a mix of 70s hits for my sister is covered here. I am not breaking the law.

When I was a member of an online fan club for a mainstream rock god, people would freely share copies of his concerts that they had recorded or obtained from others who recorded them. Generally the CDs were traded, not sold, and the artist often received copies of them for his own collection. In fact, the artist would ask for copies to be sent to the office. He knew the score: these were his fans and they wanted his live performances and he wasn't going to stop them.

This is fair use.

I used to live at the intersection of W 34th St and Broadway, in the heart of Manhattan. Each and everyday, without fail, young men would place a blanket on the sidewalk and cover it with bootleg copies of the latest hip-hop crap and pop pablum being generated by the big record companies/booze manufacturers/luggage consortiums. These illegal CDs were sold to unsuspecting (or knowledgeable) tourists for some lower-then-market price.

This is not fair use. This is stealing.

I did not get involved with the file-swapping frenzy that took place some time ago. To me it seemed like stealing, and I don't steal. (Hey: we all pick and choose which laws we'll break, and I choose others!) I never got into Napster or the peer-to-peer market. I couldn't be bothered stealing a $12.00 CD or a $4.00 single; it just wasn't worth it to me.

I think the P2P/file-swapping community had a good thing going: Want one song? Here it is! The people I know who did participate in it were consumers who also bought CDs. In fact, I am willing to bet that they bought MORE CDs after becoming file-swappers than they would have if they never swapped files. They were exposed to new music and they purchased the CDs of artists they wouldn't have otherwise known about.

Eventually, as you know, the booze manufacturing/luggage consortiums that own the music industry got the government to shut-down file-swapping. They convinced Americans of the lie that file-swapping hurt the artists. This is a lie. The alleged dip in CD sales hurt only the corporations. Famous artists earn less than a buck per CD and the booze manufacturing/luggage consortiums earn about $15.00 per CD. Who's getting hurt? The booze manufacturing/luggage consortiums, not the artists.

A promise to introduce legal access to electronic music was promised and forthcoming. Eventually iTunes appeared. Even if you didn't own an iPod (and why would you when there are far superior products on the market?), iTunes would sell you single songs for ninety-nine cents! This was great! I could now download all the songs I wanted for a buck apiece and fill-in my collection with all those missing songs on full-CDs I would never buy!

I signed-up and started shopping. I downloaded about twenty songs at first. I would burn them to a CD so I didn't lose them, then I would rip them to MP3 and add them to my RealPlayer, which was a far superior desktop jukebox. I added these songs to my library of 4,000 songs I already owned. I generated random mixes with RealPlayer, burned them to CD and never tired of my collection, or heard the same songs repeated very often. This was great.

This is fair use.

Then one day I downloaded a stack of songs from iTunes, burned them to CD, and was unable to rip them to MP3 for inclusion in my RealPlayer. A new encoding had been invented and I was no longer allowed to do with my own property what I chose. I couldn't have the song in MP3 format, even if I wanted it that way, because the booze manufacturing/luggage consortiums were now encoding the files I bought.

This is not fair and this is the last iStraw.

I am now having difficulty burning mixed-CDs for my own use. Sometimes iTunes will burn its own song to CD, sometimes it won't. Sometimes RealPlayer will burn an iTunes song to CD, sometimes it won't. The technology is a failure and is unnecessarily punitive. It is not fair.

When I buy a song online or on a CD, I own that copy of the song, and as long as I am not breaking the law, I should be free to do with that song whatever I like.

Since the advent of Reaganomics, corporations have been given the world for free. They have been let loose on our wallets: from hundred dollar monthly phone bills and two-hundred dollar monthly utility bills, to thousand dollar concert tickets and ninety-nine cent songs you can't use, voodoo (supply-side) economics has screwed-over every consumer.

No more iTunes for me. No more encoded digital music. I am going to start getting my music for free. I've been playing fair for decades, but now I am going to accept illegally burned copies of CDs from anyone who wants to give them to me. I am going to accept any MP3 anyone wants to send me. I ain't paying the booze manufacturing/luggage consortiums for anymore music.

I'm taking music back and I recommend you do the same! If you want a particular song, let me know. If I have it, maybe I'll send it to you. Fair's fair!

Here are some links:

Downhill Battle Music Activism

"Free Culture," by Lawrence Lessig discusses how corporations are locking down our culture as our culture becomes more open. It is a long PDF file (352 pages), but it is a good read. Download it here.

No comments: