Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Is music piracy wrong?

I thought this might stir up some interesting debate on the heels of Erik's rant about iTunes.

Found here, reprinted in full:

In Defense of Piracy: Democratizing the Public Library

Music is primarily an art form, not just a product to be consumed. I mean this in two ways. First, the logic of music creation follows that of other art forms, literature, painting, sculpture, theatre, etc., not the logic of supply and demand. Music has always been and will always be created as a form of expression regardless of the economic circumstances surrounding its distribution.  Artists create because they have to create, not because it is profitable. Writers continued to write, painters continue to paint, musicians continue to play, not because they know they will receive a paycheck every two weeks, but because of something inside them that requires this form of expression. Second, the enjoyment of art should not require certain financial resources, much like public sculptures and murals, free access to public libraries, taking pictures of anything found or created that one considers art, etc. Art has been maintained in various ways, including certain styles of music (i.e. jazz, classical) not because it is profitable, but because it is considered something valuable, something that represents the beauty and the absurdity within us all.

Free access to museums and galleries (in many places), and free access to books through libraries has not destroyed other forms of art. Why has it come to the point where free access to music has been considered a crime? The absurdity of this crime becomes all the more incomprehensible when we view music as art, not as a capitalist product with a copyright. The fight to restrict music to those who can pay has a striking similarity to those who ban books, to authoritarian regimes who restrict internet access and censor cultural production. Is music revolutionary? Music can be powerful, but I’m not so idealistic to think the message of music will destroy the dominant forms of power. What are they afraid of?

For years, music has been available for free through public libraries, although the selection was somewhat restricted due to budgetary and other constraints. Libraries have not killed music, artists still create, labels still produce music, people still attend concerts. Home taping was considered the death knell of music in the 80s. But surprise! music is still around. 

Think about what it is that libraries provide to our societies. I can go to the library, check out a book, read it, return it, and never have to pay a penny. I can do the same with a compact disc, a vinyl record or cassette (for those libraries that still have them), or a DVD or VHS. Nothing stops a person from copying any of these works, yet a campaign to shut down libraries to protect copyright laws would be unthinkable as many have come to depend on library access or consider it a right.

While through libraries and other public institutions, many people have access to the greatest literary and artistic creations, for some reason, it is considered inappropriate to have access to the greatest (and no so great) musical creations. To become educated about literature, about painting, and about other arts, requires very little in terms of financial resources. However, to become educated about an equally valid art form, music, regardless if you think that applies to Mozart, John Coltrane, Morbid Angel, Led Zeppelin, Aretha Franklin, Kanye West, Albert King or the Dead Kennedys, is extremely difficult without a significant financial investment. Music is a record of the human experience, to protect this form of art for the benefit of all, for enjoyment, for enlightenment, for educational purposes, does not require making everyone pay for it, it requires making it available to as many people as possible.

File sharing, music blogs, mp3s, home taping, burning CDs, these are all ways of democratizing art, of creating a democratic library of music that ensures everyone can enjoy a popular form of art.  Lovers and appreciators of music have taken it upon themselves through the internet to revive lost musical creations to educate the young and the old about all they missed because of the absurd idea that only one art form can be enjoyed if you pay for it (while others can be free). The nameless and anonymous individuals who provide music for free are creating a historical record of music that could easily be lost or only enjoyed by a very few. Libraries and other public institutions have failed in this regard, appreciators of music as art have come forward to not only protect, but revive and share what should be available to everyone.