Who's Colonel Panic? Is he any relation to General Failure?

"Stop fighting technology and USE IT"

Date/Time Permalink: 03/23/06 01:59:11 am
Category: General

The title of this post is a quote I just heard on Slashdot, in a discussion attached to the RIAA's latest hissy fit about people recording music. Sounds like there's a whole book title in "Stop fighting technology and USE IT", doesn't it?

Yes, that's it, that's the battle-cry of the digital divide. There's an old market whose profits settled to the old way of doing things. And there's a new market coming up which will have it's profits based on a new way of doing things, enabled by the new technology which is, ironically, born from the old market!

It's astounding how many new gizmos and devices have come out in the last decade which some capitalist suit sold to you in the first place, then wants to pass laws against your using. P2P file sharing. iPods. Digital radio. Mp3 formats. RiVo. A whole generation of technology has been born which the business world seems to desperately want to be un-invented.

But you can't put the genie back in the bottle. When it comes to new inventions, you just have to adjust to the new world you now share with that invention. For certain, we can't have anarchy. We must develop new laws which prevent the misuse of new technology. The trouble is, our ideas of what constitutes "misuse" are sometimes based on painfully outdated models. If, instead of having all of the audio-media technology dribbled out to us over the past 50 years, we were to have gotten all of it in one fell swoop today, would the laws have been organized differently? Yes, of course they would. People would be asking "Why sell us devices which are then outlawed for any use at all?" But we've had one format or device after another come along every year, each one subtly changing the landscape, and we've had to rewrite the laws over and over again, sometimes getting them wrong.

In programming, when you have a piece of code which is so outdated that it's been patched numerous times, you have the result we call "cruft". Code that's been patched and repatched begins to resemble a Rube Goldberg contraption that's horribly inefficient and ugly as sin besides. Eventually, the cruft gets replaced. And we now have a "cruft" of outdated dogma in our legal system pertaining to audio technology, and I dare-say we have quite a bit of it in our business models as well.

So we need to throw out the cruft. But *what*, exactly, do we replace it with? The whole nature of music distribution has changed to resemble open-source software: play it once, distribute it freely everywhere. But it's business models are still more like proprietary software: they want you to pay for each individual user and in some cases individual uses! The problem seems to be: open-source can still survive because a community of developers can derive the maximum enjoyment out of their own software that an end-user who didn't develop it can. And you can still sell support and professional installation methods. Give away the software, but publish the manual as a book. Sell the full CD set to save the end user from the hassle of downloading and burning the CDs themselves. Support your project's home page with advertising. Get contracts for custom-made software for a particular industry's need. And so on. The software business model has plenty of opportunities to make profit on the new ways of doing things.

Now, how do we apply any of this to "open-sourced music"? Are musicians to be condemned to forever playing on street corners with a hat out? No, of course, we don't want to treat our artists that way. So we have this business model where the artist uses a middleman who will clench their songs with a deathgrip and rake every penny they can out of the audience, and in exchange the musicians get...just about as much as if they played on a street corner with a hat out. But they're dignified in this business model. They get to pretend to be capitalists, even if they don't have much capital to show for it. So what the heck do we do instead?

No matter what the answer is, it isn't anywhere near "Fight technology." Technology is advancing, no matter what. We will have to advance with it, because we just plain old have to.

The obligatory link: Boycott RIAA.

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