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Ownership of music and books in a digital world January 14, 2017

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.
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Vexed, vexed I tell you. Discussing downloads and streaming last week one key issue seems to me to be the issue of personal ownership. This may seem odd or counterintuitive in respect of leftists, but it’s actually a good example of how contemporary media pushes in a way that removes ownership from individuals and gifts it to commercial enterprises. Personal ownership can be the antithesis of the private, the enclosed, the cut-off.

It seems to me that when we think of personal music collections, as was, it was never quite as clear cut as that term may seem. I had an album which someone else liked and I loaned it to them, or they taped it or subsequently ripped it, and vice versa. This generated something above the individual, something that was genuinely communal. Listening was always both about the individual and communal, appealing at different times to the solitary and the collective.

With streaming – and one can include Kindles and similar in this, the ownership of an artefact (file really) resides with the company that issues it. Personal individual ownership of the sort that was perhaps most characteristic of the 20th century – books, albums, whatever is removed from those who purchase it. Yet with streaming there’s still purchasing – there has to be. But it’s on a sort of loan basis. If a streaming provider goes to the wall that’s it. One’s individual ownership of tracks vanishes entirely. There’s the blackly entertaining example of Amazon pulling 1984 from Kindles some years back. That was rectified, but look at Netflix, how programmes come in and out of availability.

I find this problematic on many different levels. Personal ownership allows for borrowing and gifting in ways that streaming services don’t. I also, and perhaps this is the libertarian side of me, find it depressing to see private monopolies build up.

There’s something akin to the company store in mining towns about streaming. The sense that options for use are shut down rather than expanded, that ones monies only go so far. The sense that our lives – our autonomy, is made more rather than less contingent, more in the gift of those who have as against those who haven’t.

Some years back a friend gave me a drive with a heap of electronica and dance on it. I love both but there was something soulless about the experience. In the end of I deleted the files. Not because I don’t like the music, anything but, but because it came too easily and the resolution was 128kb and even to my poor ears didn’t sound that hot. There was too much of it. Group and group, album after album and again nothing curated, just a pile pushed across a table – as it were – to be consumed.

Again, where is this going to end? And who is going to push back against it?

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1. Aonrud ⚘ - January 14, 2017

You mentioned this with Kindle, from which Amazon can pull books at will, but the same issue of ownership extends to physical devices as well, I think – not just the data.

IPhones seem to function similarly – this isn’t your device, it’s more like it’s rented as part of a service (especially when many get their phones as part of a monthly contract).

There was a case taken against Sony when they sent a software update to Playstation 3 that stopped people running Linux on them (which Sony lost, if I recall). Similarly Microsoft have made various attempts to lock laptops into Windows in various ways. (Add to that the move towards Windows being more phone-like in terms of your control, the need for a Microsoft account etc.). There are also various household devices that have been intentionally rendered useless when a company is bought out and they want to push new hardware (Google’s Revolv, for example: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nest_Labs#Intentional_disabling_of_hardware_devices)

All of which suggests that when you buy a piece of electronic equipment, it’s not really yours to do with as you please.

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RosencrantzisDead - January 14, 2017

There is a certain irony in seeing our notions of ownership and property being completely undermined by the tech sector. I remember someone saying to me that if Sinn Féin ever got into power, they would take your phone and car from you (this person was a floater between FF and the PDs).

Looks like Tim Cook and Larry Page will get there ahead of Gerry and Mary Lou.

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Aonrud ⚘ - January 14, 2017

I suppose it’s a strengthening of the abstract property of intellectual rights etc. winning out over the individual physical property.

My phone has no warranty because the first thing I did was replace the operating system, so now I get a screen reminding me of this every time I turn it on.

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sonofstan - January 14, 2017

Except that your ownership of a book or a record was never just the ownership of a piece of physical property – you owned the paper and ink/ the vnyl/ the aluminium of the CD, but had merely an acquired right to use the immaterial content for quite limited purposes. Really streaming isn’t all that different, except the physical object that suggested ownership because it was the result of a transaction similar to that where you acquired goods to which you had unlimited rights of consumption or disposal has disappeared.

Composers and authors were always rentiers really; ironically, as that model increasingly replaces commodity production as the chief source of wealth in late capitalism, the people who instituted it as a series of practices are being hammered.

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Aonrud ⚘ - January 14, 2017

True, the rights of use were limited in way distinct from goods with unlimited rights.

But it seems like the right acquired from the physical object couldn’t be as easily revoked. And with CDs the right was also somewhat transferable – i.e. you could rip the CD and listen to it by different means. That meant you weren’t locked to the format.

If you think of the Kindle example, Amazon can remove files, and use DRM to prevent you from, say, converting them to an epub and reading them on a generic ereader.

Though, I suppose, counter to that is the fact that the same things were tried and just less successful with physical formats.

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Aonrud ⚘ - January 14, 2017

Actually, now that I think about it, DVDs are a serious counter-example to what I just said 🙂

For quite a while, it was technically illegal for me to play a DVD on my computer because Linux had no license to decrypt them… (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DeCSS#Legal_response)

It did lead to some great efforts to parody the illegality of the decoding though. Such as this prime number that is technically illegal.

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sonofstan - January 14, 2017

” And with CDs the right was also somewhat transferable – i.e. you could rip the CD and listen to it by different means. ”

Not legally?
Currently in the middle of reading ‘How Music Got Free’ by Stephen Witt which sets out exactly how stupidly the music industry went from being extremely successful to being ripped up and were completely complicit in their own destruction by refusing to understand the coming technology.

I bought it yesterday (for £3) in Fopp, a shop that sells new CDs at a fraction of what they cost 20 years ago -and vinyl at twice the price.

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RosencrantzisDead - January 14, 2017

That is true, but technology has made enforcement of those rights more prevalent and easier, especially via streaming. Mass production and digitisation have also made breach of thise rights simpler and more achievable – a HDD filled with electronica tracks would have been a car-load of vinyls or CDs previously. There is a sense of ownership of a book or CD collection, for example, that would not entirely gel with the idea that you ‘rented’ the text or the music on the track. You could not say the same for your 80GB of tracks on iTunes.

But I was referring to the physical devices and the phenomenon of companies ‘bricking’ them via OS update or removing certain functions. Ownership is tied to the service (in this case the OS or other functionality) and a device can be rendered useless or practically unusable because the manufacturer has tied a particular service to its use, a service which they have no obligation to keep up.

It has also become common for tech and car comoanies to make maintenance and service of devices more difficult. Analysis of an engine management system requires proprietary devices and software, for example. The battery on your MacBook need replacing? You’ll need to buy a special screwdriver to fit Apple’s proprietary screws.

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Aonrud ⚘ - January 14, 2017

As far as I recall there was an entitlement to rip CDs for backup purposes, resulting from some test case or another (though I’m entirely open to correction on that vague memory). Either way, it was a much greyer area and not easily stopped in the way that remote disabling, or service-based stuff is, as RiD points out.

It’s interesting how vinyl is saving those shops though. Will trying to wind a tape to your favourite song make a comeback as well? 🙂

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sonofstan - January 14, 2017

Interesting snippet from the Witt book; when the industry really began to suffer fromP2P and later torrents, the RIAA – recording industry trade body – went to capitol hill to lobby for stronger legal protection. And got told to f*ck off. Why? Because, the previous decade, they’d refused to play ball with Tipper Gore and the PMRC. Not sure how true …..

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RosencrantzisDead - January 14, 2017

What years would we be talking about here, SOS? Because DMCA was promulgated in 1998 and, at the time, was seen as a wide-ranging and intrusive measure and one that heavily favoured the recording industry.

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sonofstan - January 14, 2017

A little later than that – after napster turned file sharing into a mass pursuit. 2000 onwards. That was the record indusrty’s most profitable year ever; three year later, revenues were down 30%. The industry, via the RIAA, won a suit against napster, but lost against rio who made the first mass market mp3 player. Which effectively sealed it.

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2. An Sionnach Fionn - January 14, 2017

I was an early adopter when it came to ripped/softcopies of media but I’ve avoided cloud storage precisely because of worries over ownership (and ease/fidelity of access which streaming is still struggling with for HQ music and video). Consequently my home media is in one HTPC with two – laboriously maintained – external backups. If it was off in a cloud somewhere I’d still end up having to make a local copy as a safety net.

I remember some friends being caught out by early cloud companies loosing data or having their files erased for supposed copyright reasons. In one case the company just disappered along with all the data.

So, yeah, as a purchasing consumer who owns my files, software or tech?

On 128kbs I had so many music files which I loved, ripped from my too big CD collection. I got rid of the latter eventually. Then I heard FLAC audio files. OMG! Then plummeting stoarge costs made it affordable enough to rip and save FLACs onto big TB harddrives. But I’d already given away my CDs.

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Aonrud ⚘ - January 14, 2017

You remind me of this campaign from the Free Software Foundation:

I’ve been running Nextcloud for a while to replace Dropbox, Google’s calendars and contacts, etc. It goes some way to mitigating the problem, though of course the server I’m running it on is still, well, someone else’s computer.

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WorldbyStorm - January 14, 2017

“But I’d already given away my CDs.”

I did the same with cassette tapes in an attic clear out. 😦

They never return.

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WorldbyStorm - January 15, 2017

Mind you, and I’ve mentioned it before. Blogspot between 2009 and 2011 was brilliant. Loads of stuff that was deleted was available and at good bit rates. I was very happy then.

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3. 6to5against - January 14, 2017

Its funny how some of these events became almost generation-defining. The U2 Croker gigs in 87 and Springstein in Slane both come to mind. I was at neither, and yet remember the events well, such was the buzz at the time. And yet other concerts – with similar crowds – seem to have faded from the collective memory almost instantly.

Was anybody else at U2 in the phoenix park in 1983?

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6to5against - January 14, 2017

Oops, that was meant for ‘this weekend …’

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Gerryboy - January 14, 2017

You could have heard a younger U2 for free at a ‘free festival’ held in the Phoenix Park in summer 1978 organised by an anarcho-hippy-republican called Bill Ubi Dwyer.

https://comeheretome.com/2012/01/06/free-peace-festival-phoenix-park-august-1978/

In his own zany way he said fuk-youse to the commercial rock scene of that era. Bands and their promoters today continue to employ the bean counters. And bands play on. And tickets don’t get cheaper.

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4. crocodileshoes - January 14, 2017

Speaking of Springsteen, didn’t he take a case against Apple over what would become of his iTunes Purchases after his death? Anyone know the outcome?

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WorldbyStorm - January 15, 2017

I heard of a case like that, not sure was it Springsteen. I’m not sure what the outcome was.

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5. GW - January 15, 2017

Commodity fetishism anyone?

Perhaps that title should have been “Ownership of music in a capitalist digital world’.

But it’s good to see people have a realistic view of what’s going on here – yes the move in contemporary capitalism is from commodity profits to pure accumulation extraction projected infinitely into the future. And a cluefull picture of ‘The Cloud’.

The experience of making or listening to music remains something ephemeral which perhaps escapes the form – anyhow in a post-capitalist age we won’t be having these discussions. Culture free for all and musicians supported for what they do.

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WorldbyStorm - January 15, 2017

And also multiple formats dependent upon individual and collective choice!

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sonofstan - January 15, 2017

Only discovered the other day that, for a brief period during the French revolution, an attempt was made by the Convention to nationalise music.

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botheredbarney - January 15, 2017

Amazing thought. How could any government ‘nationalise’ music? One good thing about Irish folk music is that it is the music of the people, uncontrolled by any government. During the notorious Section 31 days political songs relating to Irish history and the conflict in Norther Ireland were subjected to censorship.

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sonofstan - January 15, 2017

It’s a weird story really; until sometime in the middle of the 18th c if I understand it, the court and the king’s publishers had a virtual monopoly over the performance and publication of music. Then came a few years of ‘normal’ bourgeois capitalism, where a new paying audience consumed culture. Then, during the last days of the revolution, it was decided to make musicians state employees, tell then what to write, and forbid everything else. Pretty much as Plato wanted in his Republic, come to think of it. And in the USSR.

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6. Liberius - January 15, 2017

I’m currently staring at a stack of CDs that are to be ripped and then chucked, the physical bulk of them outweighs any thoughts of physical ownership. It’s mostly junk that I wouldn’t listen to but others in the house might feel inclined to at some point in the future.

On streaming, I’ve found that it has increased the variety of artists I listen to, adding several that I’d previous not known about, like Eisbrecher and Aafke Romeijn; along with miscellaneous Eurobeat. As a means of finding music it’s quite useful, albeit with that caveat that being offline means being disconnected from the music. For me only my most likely music needs to be physically beyond the control of a third party like a streaming service or radio station (it should go without saying that I’d prefer services owned and operated by workers’ co-op or the state).

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sonofstan - January 15, 2017

the physical bulk of compact discs?
remember when it was all ‘dump your bulky vinyl for these little cuties?’

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Liberius - January 15, 2017

My minimalist sensibilities are too strong for jewel cases, though looking at them against that previously mentioned stack of vinyl, I can see how they were an improvement.

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WorldbyStorm - January 15, 2017

“As a means of finding music it’s quite useful, albeit with that caveat that being offline means being disconnected from the music.”

To some of us that’s a massive caveat. If I’m travelling or away from home, or don’t want to use my mobile as a music device then that’s that for a start. That said for me the optimum is many different means of accessing music as long as those making it are decently recompensed.

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