Effect of torrents and/or free downloads on culture generally
June 15, 2011 3:15 PM   Subscribe

Have you read or can you point me to any interesting articles about what will be the future of media like films/software/books given the way they are all being distributed online via torrent sites & the like. Will copyright go away or what? I am looking for INTERESTING theoretical speculations, not some person just saying the letter of the current law will be enforced or the usual doomsday-talk.
posted by cmp4Meta to Society & Culture (12 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
The Institute for the Future of the Book has a lot to chew on, including a blog and a site for discussion about the future of academic publishing.

A shame Astra Taylor's throught-provoking article "Serfing the Net" is no longer online at The Baffler. Eyebeam has an excerpt. I probably have a hard copy somewhere. Memail your email and I'll send it to you.
posted by jng at 3:27 PM on June 15, 2011

Heh, though ideally you'd go out and buy a copy of that issue of The Baffler and support them so they can continue to afford to showcase high quality work during this digital age where art and thought have become commodified and packaged into "content"....... (or something like that).
posted by jng at 4:01 PM on June 15, 2011

Response by poster: to jng: well, this gets precisely at the dynamic i was thinking of in posing the question. DOES buying it really "showcase" and "encourage" high quality work? or is that perhaps a lingering notion from a bygone time. it seems pretty much a moot point that file-sharing is here to stay. so the question is: does it mean the end of interesting culture, or is there going to be some way to work with it?
posted by cmp4Meta at 4:11 PM on June 15, 2011

Response by poster: interesting, i found and read Astra Taylor's article--the basic point being, as i take it, that internet piracy is not anti-capitalist at all but is in fact "punk capitalism" -- not changing the existing system but playing within its pieces. so, in essence as the article claims, "piracy is just another business model." what do people think of that?
posted by cmp4Meta at 4:26 PM on June 15, 2011

:) I was being a little facetious in my followup since my kneejerk first response was "Hey, let me send it to you," which is precisely the action which is being questioned in Taylor's article: how did we get to this point where we don't consider the labor that was put into the art and is it sustainable to continue along this path where digital pirates actively "free" data, to the detriment of a great number artists and their livelihood.

On preview, right, her thesis is that piracy isn't liberating us from the corporate masters who control markets, but rather it plays into their very hands. Relevant passage from the article:
Dressed to play the one hip guy at the business luncheon, Mason acknowledged that piracy can sometimes cut into profits; but in crisis, as they say, lies opportunity. He gave the example of drug companies distributing widely pirated patent medicines without charge. “They started winning corporate social responsibility awards,” Mason rhapsodized. “And all the advertising money in the world couldn’t help them do that; pirates managed to reach the place that other advertisers and advertising couldn’t reach.” Or take shoes; instead of suing a Japanese bootlegger for selling altered versions of their sneakers, Nike made a fortune appropriating the redesigns.

As Mason suggested, piracy isn’t just another business model; it is the greatest business model of them all. Its secret, as we shall see, is getting people to work for you, for free. That’s not “free” as in beer, that’s “free” as in serfdom.
I imagine folks like Clay Shirkey might have different opinions.
posted by jng at 4:35 PM on June 15, 2011

And of course Chris Anderson.
posted by jng at 4:39 PM on June 15, 2011

Response by poster: the thing i would say is how can we NOT simply send and exchange such things? it seems too stilted to say to someone, "oh, there is this interesting article out there that i have, which you could also buy and read." surely that is not going to be a workable model. but you are right, that on the other hand how on earth is someone going to be rewarded for making the effort to write such a thing if it's just going to be exchanged freely all over the place.

my friend claims there is too much media in the world as it is. there are already far too many great films for any one person to watch in a lifetime, and books, well, we all know that there are billions of them. his idea is that we don't NEED to pay people to make any more dross and that the few people who would go ahead and make it for free will do it no matter what anyway. so perhaps our next generation of creative geniuses will also be our great cultural philanthropists, giving us their wonderful creations simply because they want us to have them?
posted by cmp4Meta at 4:45 PM on June 15, 2011

so perhaps our next generation of creative geniuses will also be our great cultural philanthropists, giving us their wonderful creations simply because they want us to have them?

But we already do! (sorta) (Previously on the blue.) As much as we canonize Jonas Salk for giving away his polio vaccine (and how can we not laud such an action??? that was awesome), it does play nicely into the argument that you sort of make passing to: "Artists should give their work away for free for the good of all society." Which probably shouldn't be true. While most amateur content creators don't need to be rewarded for their mediocre work in order to encourage them to continue to create on the side, what of professional artists? It's a thorny question, trying to figure out how much we should value art (and work in general) in an age where art can be distributed for so very little (and yet still cost as much ever to make). Some people might look at the $30 Time Magazine cover and say it's a shrewd move by a magazine: the art is good enough for their purposes. Others would decry it as a debasing of our culture. I find myself straddling the middle most of the time, as do I imagine most folks who grew up in this generation. No one wishes Jonas Salk hadn't given away his vaccine (I'd say it worked out pretty well for both him and society), but would we have shitted on him if he'd decided he'd earned his keep and had the right to a just reward? Shrug, I don't know. We're also the society that celebrates $50 billion IPOs of companies with big ideas and no profits, so who knows how things will or should turn out in the future...

Heh, as much as I'm enjoying this discussion, I'm not sure this is falling under the typical guidelines of how an AskMe is supposed to go, but I'll continue to respond unless someone suggests we shut this down and take it to MeMail (hopefully others will chime in with more articles... the number of people writing and talking and wringing their hands over this topic are many).
posted by jng at 5:23 PM on June 15, 2011

Response by poster: yes, i'd love to hear more articles. i'm more interested in articles than books--by the time these ideas hit a book they've already fossilized to the point of no longer being workable. does anyone have other article suggestions?
posted by cmp4Meta at 5:46 PM on June 15, 2011

Richard Nash is worth listening to RE: the future of the book.

Start with his 4/22/10 interview on "Bob Edwards Weekend" (available through iTunes) - very, very sharp and insightful.
posted by ryanshepard at 8:46 PM on June 15, 2011

Response by poster: The interesting angle is what the effect of this will be on people's lives and the economy. If tens of thousands of "creative" types are no longer able to find work producing the their works, what will they do to support themselves. Will they bite the bullet and work in jobs less suited to their interests? Will we revert to some kind of patronage system where artists are supported by those rich enough to fund their interests? Will the government have to 'socialize' art? It seems to me that embedded in this matter of free-sharing is much more than a threat to copyright--it might be more something that might be akin to restructuring many of our most basic assumptions of what makes society work.
posted by cmp4Meta at 5:39 PM on June 16, 2011

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