Monday, April 07, 2008

Steering away from the Rocks

Today the Guardian report on ‘Home copying - burnt into teenage psyche’ and the reality that file copying is bigger than file sharing and together they are redefining the music business. Ironically last week’s Litopia podcast raised the word ‘piracy’ and whether the book industry faced the same problem. We visualize the wreckers who used to steer ships onto the Cornish rocks.

Are we not surprised to hear that research carried out by the University of Hertfordshire, suggests that, home copying remains more popular than file sharing for 18-24-year-olds and that two-thirds of people it surveyed copy five CDs a month from friends. Overall, 95% of the 1,158 people surveyed had engaged in some form of copying. It’s nothing new it’s just easier today. We fondly remember taping radio shows and albums or lending copies to friends. Music like any media is about relating, connecting and sharing. We all read in solitude but we all give or lend our friends books to read. Imagine being branded as a pirate and thief for lending someone a book?

So the question is do we once more attempt to batten down the hatches and drive more copying, open the free floodgates and is there an acceptable middle ground?
Today we live in a material world and our media and our collections reflect ourselves. We all build libraries of stuff that rarely gets aired, let alone taken down off the shelf. But must we own it and it must belong to us. Is this about ownership, unfettered access or rights? What would be the reaction if a track were only to be available online. It could be made available to play at any time on any machine and even from a number of providers but the music will remain online and never downloaded? Will this happen, can it happen, can it be broken? It doesn’t automatically presume that it’s paid for by a direct subscription model, or that it is exclusive to one service. The answer is not the issue, its whether we accept the premise of ‘ as much as we want at any time online’, or we remain wedded to having to own it in order to appreciate it?

We can’t say whether online is the answer but with emerging technologies such as the grid and connectivity anywhere and at anytime, maybe it makes sense. After all, what on earth do you want 200 books on a Kindle for? To us this is like dragging around a cart load of all our physical books just because we own them and can do it. What is the point of an iPod with thousands of tunes if we listen to the same ones? We have a cupboard with hundreds of vinyl albums and can’t remember when we last played one.
Technology always has to work within the social framework and it is impossible to find a solution to one without accepting the other.