Music in the Post Copyright Age

Dale Amon

I feel like one of the characters in The Matrix as I think about the different viewpoints on the future of music on the net and how far from the truth I think they all fell. Perhaps I have a different view because I have spent nearly my entire adult life in and around cyberspace. And I am not a teenager.

Copyright is going through its' death throes. It has some years and many, many billions of dollars to go, but there is really no hope for it. Don't even bother with the question of whether you like that or not... you can't change it without nuking the world back to a pre-net world or instituting a global absolute dictatorship.

Why do I say this? Simple. The cost of duplication is zero. The cost of distribution is low and falling. The source of redistribution is every single human being on the planet. No one considers it the least bit wrong to share with friends and relatives. No amount of government or corporate brainwashing will change that - and for every attempt to do so, there will be a thousand loud voices giving The Powers That Be a thorough flaming for the attempt. Laws will be passed and they will be ignored.

Technological fixes are being tried by companies with loads of money. But at the end of the day it is all nothing but software. Anyone with skills can duplicate the work, and the playing field is level. If it can run on your computer, it can be developed on your computer.

MP3 currently requires a bit of hardware to do live on the fly recording. But the next generation of computers (or at the latest, the one after that) will be able to do it without special hardware. So why bother with a special player? They are a novelty now but in 3 years you'll have a palmtop that can do the same thing in software alone.

Everyone seems worried about Microsoft. But you don't have to use closed software. There are many, many thousands of of the best programmers and engineers in the world developing free, open source software. Open source means that anyone can see exactly how it was done, modify it to their own desires, and override anything they don't like. Free source is freedom from control.

No one owns or can own Linux for example; and virtually every large company in the computer business is lining up to support that public domain effort as a check to the growing power of Microsoft. This guarantees that there will always be another, open choice.

[Note: Linux is a free "operating system". Most of you are using the commercial operating systems like MacOS, Win95, NT, and so forth.]

I sometimes say (using the old original meaning of the word) "The Hacker giveth and the Hacker taketh away." Ie, the same engineers who design kit and earn the large sums of money for creating the standards for the big companies and government slip the specs to others and eventually the means of cracking the systems becomes public domain. Their loyalties to the free flow of information can't be bought. Just borrowed for a little while.

Strong encryption will be used for selling things; but that is a double edged sword. Once I've bought and decrypted a product to use it, I can find a way to store and transfer it in total privacy.

And yes there is "digital watermarking". How many of you seriously believe there is no mathematician on Earth who can figure out a way to defeat it? And how many days after that will it be before the software is written and in millions of hands?

The old system is dying. It cannot be saved. Learn to "Think Different" as Steve Jobs says.

I stood up at a music business event in NY a year or two again and stated that there are really only three kinds of data on the internet:

New bits, Dead bits and Archived bits

New bits are live performance, things happening now. You can charge for the immediacy.

Dead bits are free. Once bits are distributed once, they are forever available to everyone for nothing if they choose to search for them.

Archived bits are for the lazy. People will pay for the librarian who carefully sorts and stores and labels information and charges for the service, not that data. Anyone can make their own database, but not everyone can keep an Oxford Dictionary current.

The industry as it exists today will try very hard to keep the status quo. But no one can stop time, no one can stop change. It is in fact a very dangerous thing to be a dinosaur when the asteroid is already here.

I suggest we all try to be mammals.

The preceding article appeared as the feature article in the Millenium issue of the Music Industry eZine, "Just Plain Folks".