[rumori] pho: Jaron Lanier's Love Song for Napster

From: Don Joyce (djATwebbnet.com)
Date: Thu Feb 01 2001 - 16:32:59 PST

Forwarded by Negativland.

>DISCOVER Vol. 22 No. 2 (February 2001)
>Table of Contents
>A Love Song For Napster
>Imagine what could happen to democracy if the courts kill off this popular
>By Jaron Lanier
>I'm in the unusual position of being both a computer scientist and a
>professional musician. On the computer side, I'm best known for my work in
>virtual reality, a term I coined in the early 1980s. As a musician I write,
>perform, and record my own work. Canons for Wroclaw, a concerto I created for
>virtual instruments, was performed last December by the Chamber Orchestra of
>Wroclaw, Poland.
>All of this means that I have a few deeply felt ideas about Napster, the free
>software millions of people use to share their music collections over the
>Internet. Big media companies see Napster as theft because they can't collect
>royalties when people use it. So they have asked the courts to kill it. As I
>write this, a settlement seems to be emerging. Napster will probably begin to
>charge for its services and pay royalties to at least some record companies.
>Whatever happens, the legal decisions surrounding Napster are important for
>reasons that transcend the music business and extend to our basic concepts of
>what it means to be free in a democracy. I believe the anti-Napster forces
>failed to foresee dangerous implications of their course of action. They
>thinking about the harsh logic at the core of this technology. They do not
>understand what I call the Law of the Excluded Digital Middle: Digital tools
>can be either open or closed but resist being anything in between. An open
>digital tool is one that can be used in unforeseen ways. A tool like e-mail,
>meant to send text, might alsoó surprisinglyó be used to send music. A closed
>tool is one in which there are technical restrictions that prevent unforeseen
>uses. Cell phones are currently closed; no 19-year-old kid can reconfigure
>them. The advantage of open tools is that more people can create new things
>with them; consequently, they tend to be more innovative. Closed tools are
>usually created because it is thought they will be more profitable: An owner
>can control them well enough to enforce bill collection. (Of course, the open
>software movement energetically promotes the idea that innovation ends up
>generating more money than control does.) At any rate, closed tools are almost
>always packaged as pieces of hardwareó with some powerful exceptions, such as
>Microsoft Windows, software that is turned into a closed system by tying it to
>a hardware transactionó the purchase of a computer. If Windows had to be
>separately, some people would share it for free over the Internet instead of
>paying for it, just as if it were a song on Napster.
>The alternative to allowing free file sharing ý la Napster is to enforce a
>frightening level of control of information movement. It might not seem
>why this would be true, so I'd like to offer a thought experiment to show you
>the future I fear.
>First, let's suppose that the supreme Court declares Napster-like software
>illegal this year. Then jump ahead with me to the year 2015 for a look back at
>how things went:
>After the court's decision, Napster was no longer available for free, but
>literally dozens of new, free Napster-like systems sprang up within months. At
>first, people hesitated to use this free software because they wanted to obey
>the law. Then a fresh generation of teen programmers came along and decided to
>give away the software anonymously. At the same time, music lovers felt that
>record companies were overcharging for CDs and underpaying musicians. By 2002,
>tens of millions of people were embracing this new software, whose use had
>designed to be hard to detect.
>Without a central company like Napster to sue, it became expensive to track
>down and prosecute individuals who shared music files. So more and more people
>quietly violated the law. Children, in particular, grew up as perpetual
>This shouldn't sound far-fetched. It is happening already.
>CD sales started to increase because technology made it easier for people to
>discover new music that spoke to them. The Internet proved itself a better
>means than radio for getting people excited enough about new music to go out
>and spend money on it.
>This shouldn't sound far-fetched. It is happening already.
>But CD sales plummeted when the wireless Internet began to work really
>well. By
>2003, every car radio, pair of headphones, and alarm clock was hooked up
>to the
>wireless Internet, and any piece of music could be coaxed out of any gadget
>anyone owned.
>The record companies tried to guard their copyrights by putting copy
>codes on music files. But there was always someone who could figure out how to
>break the code. In fact, if somebody couldn't break the code, he or she could
>simply rerecord the song through a speaker and microphone, then play it on any
>music software; the next day thousands of free copies could be flying around
>the globe.
>This shouldn't sound far-fetched. It is happening already.
>In desperation, record companies worked with electronics concerns to create
>what's known as an end-to-end solution so that they could enforce copy
>protection all the way to the end of the chain of delivery, which in the case
>of music meant the audio speaker. By 2004, it was illegal to build speakers
>that could respond to old-fashioned analog inputs. Instead, manufacturers made
>speakers that responded to digital inputs so they could play only music
>authorized to be heard at a given time and place.
>This shouldn't sound far-fetched. It is happening already.
>(The music industry is about to unveil an attempt at a complete end-to-end
>for audio called the Secure Digital Music Initiative. The system isn't
>implemented in speakers but in the next-to-last stage of the chain, just
>a musical signal goes out on a cable to a speaker. The makings of true
>end-to-end copyright protection technology have already appeared in the visual
>domain, riding on the coattails of the new flat screens that everyone will
>want. When equipped with encryption technology, the emerging standard for
>hooking up flat screens, called Digital Visual Interface, could be used to
>block image streams selectively.)
>End-to-end strategies for protecting copyright bothered some people
>because, in
>a democracy, citizens are supposed to act as partners in enforcing laws. They
>argued that those forced to follow rules without being trusted even for a
>moment are, in fact, slaves.
>Even after people adjusted to them, end-to-end schemes caused problems.
>Lots of
>folks still made their own recordings and wanted to send them to friends. As
>microphones and editing software got very good and very cheap, amateur
>musicians bought and used them. What the media companies decided they needed
>was an audio speaker that could distinguish a homemade song from a pirated dub
>of valuable copyrighted material. In lieu of that, they asked for, and got,
>legislation that forced everyone to copyright, or at least register, every
>of art, even those made by amateurs at home. By 2005, every stream of
>sound had
>to present the right documentation to a pair of headphones or speakersó or the
>music couldn't be played. Before long people were hoarding old analog
>In 2006, the recording industry persuaded eBay to refuse to list them.
>The same story played out visually. By 2007, computer screens had finally
>gotten both good and cheap. By 2008, people who wanted to e-mail a video of
>their baby's first birthdayó to doting relativesó so they could watch the
>infant's antics on those excellent screensó were forced to register homemade
>videos before transmitting them. By 2009, monitoring visual communications
>became hopelessly complicated because a new generation of Net-videophones,
>which offered a just-like-being-there experience, spread like wildfire. (In
>fact, a guy named Jaron Lanier had been pushing an early, primitive form of
>this technology, calling it "tele-immersion," back in the year 2000, but
>no one
>Then the real trouble started. In 2010, rebellious college students began
>throwing copyright-breaking "projector parties," in which one kid would pay to
>see a movie in a theater while he then broadcast it live to a whole gang of
>revelers, in some cases thousands of them. Instead of paying for a movie, kids
>just searched the Net for a party showing that movie and watched it for free.
>This shouldn't sound far-fetched. It is happening already with low-quality
>video-chat technologies.
>The movie studios complained, and the courts quickly ruled against projector
>parties. The FBI staged some highly publicized busts. After 2012 things
>deteriorated to the point where people had to register not only works of art
>but also each video or audio conversation they had over the Internet.
>Unregistered material simply wouldn't play on any video screen or speaker in
>the land. A snooping system checked to make sure that the person whose
>ears and
>eyes were about to be stimulated had to pay for the privilege. Now you're
>probably wondering: Who ran the snooping system?
>There were various proposals. In 2012, legislation to create a major new
>of government for performing such monitoring was proposed, but, after a bitter
>battle in 2013, Congress refused to fund it. For a while, thousands of
>mom-and-pop businesses, owned by the same people who used to run video rental
>shops, offered local copyright authorizing services. This proved inefficient,
>unreliable, and rife with opportunities for corruption.
>The only way to keep digital file transfers under control was to have a
>of strong, centralized authorizing businesses, rather like the three big
>credit-rating agencies that emerged in the late 20th century. Soon people were
>paying per item of media, resulting in a truly vast number of transactions
>had to be kept track of.
>You might wonder why people didn't receive just one simple monthly bill. They
>did, in 2013. The problem was that the bill covered telephone and videophone
>calls, e-mail, movie viewing, even moviemakingó every activity involving the
>movement of information. Constant and titanic legal battles developed over who
>would get what portion of the enormous sums collected. Industries with
>divergent business models simply couldn't find common ground. Every time a
>was resolved, the billing structure became more fractured and complicated. By
>2015 the system had reverted to per-item billing.
>Some people complained that the government had handed out a small number of
>multibillion-dollar gift certificates to this new breed of copyright
>authorizing mogul. While many agreed, there was no turning back.
>The logic of the situation compelled authorizers to intervene in private as
>well as commercial communications. These new middlemen became arbiters of how
>much citizens should pay when they shared information with one another. There
>was no rational means of setting such prices, because the scarcity of the
>product was artificially created and government-imposed. Fifteen years later,
>we can now see that when the courts killed Napster, they unwittingly set us on
>a road that ended in a massive government-sponsored protection racket.
>So that's my thought experimentó bleak and alarmist, perhaps, but one that
>follows directly from the logic of this situation. If we make Napster-like
>file sharing illegal, we'll have to rid ourselves of either computers or
>democracy. You can't have both. And the issues raised by Napster aren't going
>away. They are going to rise up again and again until our society makes some
>difficult decisions and adjustments.
>As a computer scientist, I see only too clearly that no matter how much money
>litigants spend in attempts to stop file sharing, the practice will go on
>anyway. As a citizen, I fear the threat to democracy implicit in my thought
>experiment, particularly because I suspect people might allow this threat to
>come to fruition before they understand the circumstances and long-term
>effects. The sane solution is not to waste all our energies fighting pointless
>battles in court but to seek out creative means of compensating musiciansó and
>the technicians and businesspeople who make it possible for them to create
>their songs.
>As a musician, I have come to believe that free file sharing is good for the
>soul. In the short run, we may lose money. But we are a tenacious lot, and we
>will figure out new ways to make money in cyberspace. If we believe in the
>future of musicó and I don't mean remarketing rock 'n' roll to each new
>generation but rather encouraging unbounded creative explorationó then we
>should celebrate the open Internet.
>© Copyright 2000 The Walt Disney Company.
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