It’s time for a reality check on the digital convergence thing that’s bringing music, film and other entertainment online.
For consumers, the attraction is that it’s easy to find what you want, in many cases without paying for it. The argument many media companies use against technology is that it has removed the notion of fair exchange (paying for it) from the agenda.
Music labels, film companies and many creative people feel their art has been subsumed by technologists to make products and solutions more attractive to consumers. They’re angry because that affects their livelihood.
Music labels have reacted to this by accusing file-sharers of ripping off artists, and launching legal action against individuals, including young children, in which they demand punitive settlements.
Consumers now see the labels, and, by association, musicians, as mendacious bullies, making them even less likely to buy their sounds.
Now we hear the UK government plans to force ISPs to kick file-sharers off their networks. Not only is this the thin end of the wedge of mass surveillance of any action anyone ever takes online, yet another erosion of those few civil liberties we still have left, but it stinks of protectionism.
To protect the music industry as it is from the sea change of the internet is as backwards-facing a concept as protecting UK manufacturing industry would have been seen under Thatcher. If the industrial environment changes then free market theory demands industry itself must change. It’s up to the music labels to change, not to government to offer them a level of protection The Daily Mail would be up in arms about if it were exercised in any other industry.
The combined effect of this comedy of errors on the part of freeloading consumers, technology hippies, and greedy music labels is ultimately to reduce the value of that most valuable commodity, human creativity.
It’s artists across all sectors of human endeavour who will suffer the consequences.
Once it’s clear there’s no point trying to make a living in the creative arts, people will just stop trying. This will impact everything, ushering in a new creative dark age, albeit a dark age well-equipped with shiny toys and successful media companies. But not in possession of anything particularly beautiful, unless it sells in large quantities, where the kings of creation are the captains of commerce.
But somehow in all of this the collusion between technology, big business, major labels, government and other vested interests never stops long enough to ask the people who create and consume new content what they want or need.
Now really is the time to ask ourselves what value we place on our culture: music, art, photography, magazines – what value do we attach to creativity?
You can see the answer to this in the minds of technologists and labels in cases currently wending through US and EU courts in which major labels and others argue that artists should receive lower royalty payments for online music sales (particularly mobile music sales). Clearly those who stand to benefit the most from convergence – the online stores, music and media companies – see the artist as a liability.
If they could automate art, package it and continue to sell it, dispensing with the humans who create it, they’d be happy. And it’s not a rip-off if the courts say it isn’t – it’s just business, the modern mantra that justifies the noxious vapours at the heart of this soulless age.
Let’s be clear: It’s not the music labels against the technologists in defence of the artists at all: it’s music labels and technologists fighting against the rights of artists and consumers.
The way I see it, whether you’re a digital native, a musician, photographer, or just an aficionado of the arts, it’s time to stand up against this wholesale attack on the value of creativity.
Do we really want to walk into a future in which the only cultural creators are people of wealth or those in receipt of patronage?
Does any art lover really feel great about a future in which all human expression is reduced to the level of a utility, where creativity only counts if it makes a good profit?
If we remove the poets, artists, seers and visionaries from the world’s stage by depriving them a living, then what’s next for humanity? In the endless cycle of birth, life, work, and death, what will be the purpose of connected convergence technology and media delivery systems if there’s no one left who has anything interesting to say?
There’s a real danger our convergence culture could be both humanity’s great triumph and utter failure. A tower of Babel with feet of clay. Nothing inside but echoes of the great works of yesterday, the empty corridors of potential global communication, depopulated by mendacity, ignorance, and greed. We’ve got to pay the artists, people.