Number 143 / July 1997

SOMETHING'S IN THE AIR ....
Throughout most of human history, music has been free. Over the past century, the advance of technology allowed music to be turned into various configurations that could be sold. Now the further advance of technology is returning music to its original, free state.

At thousands of web sites on the Internet, entire songs or albums can be downloaded quickly and without charge. With software that's available free on the Net, the music can be played through the computer's speakers or easily transferred to blank tape or CD. There's even a search engine (www.mp3search.base.org) to help find the sounds you want. The technology now exists to manufacture a Walkman-type device that could download and play up to a hundred hours of music.

"Also, people are starting to create Web rings, where one individual takes care of one genre of music, and another takes care of another," MIT student Lamar Lopez told Rolling Stone. Just point and click and forget about the segregated, niche-market bullshit of commercial radio.

The Internet's threat to the control of music has caused the handful of interlocked global monopolies which dominate the music industry to reveal their naked greed. In May, management for Oasis sent an email message to 140 fan-run Oasis web sites threatening legal action if they did not remove snippets of music, video, and even press releases. In June, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) filed lawsuits against the operators of Internet Music Archive Sites in California, Texas, and New York, asking the courts to close them down.

RIAA president Hillary Rosen, writing in Billboard, said: "Until the appropriate balance between free- flowing information and intellectual property is struck, the Internet can never achieve its potential to become a viable medium for the sale of music [emphasis added]." Rosen announced that the RIAA has launched a program to enlist universities and Internet service providers as snitches who will ferret out free music sites. She went on to express her fear that people will get used to downloading music for free and thus the industry "must not let a pirate market on the Internet get established before the legitimate one is ready." Betsy Sherman, who searches the Internet looking for music web sites to bust on behalf of Warner Brothers and Maverick, told Rolling Stone that we should pay for music or books because "....that's how we interpret having respect for things, isn't it? That we pay for them?"

We sympathize with those artists who, after being cheated by record company accounting and/or being forced to give up a piece of their own pie in order to get a record deal or tour support, will again be hurt financially by the Internet. As artists ourselves, we also sympathize with musicians who want to retain control of what music of theirs is released and how it is presented.

But the reality of the approaching millennium is that there will be no "appropriate balance between free- flowing information and intellectual property." There are only two choices. We can run for protection into the arms of an obsolete, corrupt music industry that, through high prices, payola, censorship, and incredibly narrow artist rosters keeps us from hearing most of the music made on our planet. Or we can, with open arms, embrace the new technology and its potential to make all the music available to all the people all the time.


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