SECTION TWELVE

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COLUMN SEVENTY-TWO, JUNE 1, 2002
(Copyright 2002 The Blacklisted Journalist)

CHICAGO LABOR & ARTS NOTES:
COPYRIGHTS, COPYWRONGS, PROPERTY RIGHTS, PROPERTY WRONGS

This issue of Chicago Labor & Arts Notes introduces nine articles that swirl around the issue of intellectual property in the era of electronics.  The current focal point of this swirl is the music industry, the leaders of which are frantically, fanatically grasping to maintain their hold on profit.  Outside the core of the controversy is the concern about who "owns" commodities of the mind, regardless of whether they are literary, visual, musical, scientific. More fundamentally, these articles question the commodity nature of cultural products whose transformation into commodities is challenged by the process of electronic production itself.

The nine articles include the following:

1. WHAT'S WRONG WITH COPY PROTECTION?

2. SUPPLY SIDE PATRIOTISM

3. UK SCIENTISTS CALL FOR ONLINE LIBRARY

4. CD ANTI-COPY TECHNOLOGY STARTS CONTROVERSY

5. THE GRAMMYS: 21ST CENTURY THUG LIFE

6. MIKE GREENE DEFROCKED IN THE NEW YORK TIMES

7. SURPRISE!! JACK VALENTI PUSHES FOR COPY-CONTROL PC'S

8. THE BUSINESS OF INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY

9. WHERE MUSIC WILL BE COMING FROM

If you would like copies of any or all of the above-listed articles, please email Lew Rosenbaum at rosetree@mindspring.com or phone him at 773-761-6229. These articles address primarily the music and film industries. The theme of the articles is succinctly stated by John Gilmore in the first article: "What is wrong is that we have invented the technology to eliminate scarcity, but we are deliberately throwing it away to benefit those who profit from scarcity."

In What Is Wrong With Copy Protection, he argues that the moguls of industry are blocking the possibilities to achieve the wide distribution of goods that as yet are not produced as cheaply as text and music. The focus on content protection is a sham, he states. Just as General Motors has no interest in "content"?--cars versus insurance, for example---the same is true of the entertainment industry.  It's interest is simply in preventing cheap replication of commodities without their authorization, without their profiting. In Supply Side Patriotism, Dave Marsh describes the further consolidation of the music industry even in the immediate wake of the September 11 events.

While pledging to move onward despite the tragedy, FCC chairman Michael Powell presided over the dismantling of regulations governing monopoly in the newspaper/television/film industry. Marsh also forwarded an article reporting on UK scientists pushing for an online library of scientific papers, freely available. Amy Harmon, writing in the New York Times, reports more on music and DVD copy-protecting devices and the controversy surrounding them.

"It couldn't have been more than an hour after the Grammys slouched to its conclusion that I had a full transcript of Mike Greene's attack on file-sharing in my mailbox," Dave Marsh writes in 21st Century Thug Life. What Greene did was claim that copying music files impoverishes the music industry and the


Unfettered dissemination of knowledge and information is one of the great needs of our time


musicians.  But more importantly, Marsh returns to another theme, raised in Gilmore's article, but more clearly enunciated here: the industry and the artists are not the same; the debate needs to be broadened to raise questions of how we can all share in cultural and economic abundance.

"Meantime, most artists have to work day jobs, capitalize their own recordings while being entitled---on paper---to less than a quarter of the money generated, and must hire accountants to do the permissible partial audits (never at the point of manufacture) in order to get anything at all. Meanwhile, they live without guarantee of income, health care or the record company's willingness to put out the next record.

"And those are the musicians with record contracts.

'that's what we really need to debate."

Neil Strauss further reports in the New York Times:  "But in addition, it seems strange that he [Greene] would admit on national television that he hired three people to break the law (the Electronic Theft Act) and then show them in the process of doing this, especially since one is a minor."

Tom Greene in Washington (presumably no relation to Mike) reports on Jack Valenti, president of the Motion Picture Association of America, who also rants about file-sharing in the movies. Greene suggests that Valenti, who is concerned with copying "content", might better turn his attention to another content issue: making better movies that more people would want to see.

"Copyrights meant to reward artists for their creations are now commercial products that pay most of their dividends to companies that trade in them. We have to think of a new and fairer way to fund creativity," writes Joost Smiers in The Business of Intellectual Property. This, of course, is the theme introduced by Marsh and elaborated here.

"Can a poem be created without previous poems?" Smiers asks. And, questioning even the necessity of the "industry," Smiers quotes Marilyn Monroe: "If I am a star, the people made me a star. Not a studio, not a single person, but the people."

Where Music Will Be Coming From returns us to Gilmore's point: Kevin Kelly writes in the NYT, "The industrial age was driven by analog copies; analog copies are perfect and cheap. The information age is driven by digital copies; digital copies are perfect, fluid and free. Free is hard to ignore. It propels duplication at a scale that would previously have been unbelievable."

If "free" propels duplication at a scale previously unbelievable, then we stand on the edge of a grand contradiction.  Gilmore envisions duplication for free that can create a "heaven on earth" (his phrase).  Marsh shows that, while in sight of this "heaven" we experience a distribution of wealth becoming more and more unbalanced, more like hell for most of us. "Musicians need national health care," he says, "but we'll never get it for singers and guitarists unless we get it for everybody." That is the bottom line of the battle over intellectual property.  

Thanks for listening.  Feedback always welcomed.  ##

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