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Doctorow and Sterling Cyber-Riffing at SXSW 140

Posted by timothy
from the free-tequila-brother dept.
Bruce Sterling is the sort of writer who invites his audience to an open house with "anyone they'd like and anything they can carry." He's also busy in his non-writing life keeping up with the resurrection and commemoration of dead media and not-dead-yet online freedoms. Fellow online agitator and decorated science fiction writer Cory Doctorow seems more of an Ernster Mensch; Doctorow points out that he's a writer second, activist first. When these two started a freewheeling discussion ("intellectual cyber riffing," as Sterling described it) on The Death of Scarcity Tuesday afternoon, the quotable quotes were everywhere. Read on for the ones I jotted down, and a link to some more.

Within five minutes Doctorow was describing the common ground that economists of all stripes might find in a world of increasingly information flow and decentralization, and Sterling was questioning conventional wisdom on Google, file sharing, and other sacred cows of the techno-elite. This public conversation in a smallish but packed meeting room in Austin's Convention Center served as an endcap on the Interactive portion of this year's
South by Southwest Interactive conference, and probably crystalized a lot of what conference attendees had on their mind between panel sessions and parties. Below are some of the thoughts that came out in the course of the Sterling & Doctorow Show. (And Sorry, but the open house is over now. Thanks, Bruce.)

The worth of Information:

Sterling: "All of this circles around the central declaration of S. Brand -- 'Information wants to be free.' Yet, Information also wants to be expensive. ... I have to wonder, what would happen if sheep actually did shit grass -- would mutton be free? ... Doesn't [widespread file trading] crowd out what was formerly a competitive menu of available choices? What if you just can't sell music any more? Nobody's going to go down to [Austin record store] Waterloo, nobody's going to hang out with them afterward. ..."

Doctorow: "Whether Kantian or Marxist, the most valuable stuff isnt the world is the stuff we want to concern ourselves with, because when stuff is really valuable, it becomes scarce. ... [by contrast], the Napster ethic is, 'Be as selfish as you possibly can -- the more crap you download, the more crap there is for everyone to download.' ... Code is a little like speech, a little like a tractor. Keynes and Marx both talked about speech [being different from] a tractor; Code is a little like speech, and a little like tractors. When you've got something that's both speech and a tractor, you've got something really interesting."

Napster, the RIAA and file trading:

Sterling: "[Napster is] a kind of profoundly undemocratic technical fait accompli. 'Look at this neat gizmo that we geeks built while you weren't working. We geeks accidentally ate your industry.' [This is a] techno-imperative market argument which I don't think really makes all that much sense in a stagnant monopoly ... where is the steamroller going, I don't see it going anywhere particular, it's just abolishing other people's money. Does Napster give anybody money for a reelection campaign? Do they have a friendly judge? Is there somebody to sue?"

"What would the music scene look like if the industry disappeared? I imagine things like the Royal family paying for the production of Handel's Water Music. "

Product Interfaces.

Doctorow: "[...] That's what why we have wrappers. If you have good stuff in a crappy interface, somebody will build a wrapper around it. ... This revolution is ongoing -- Travelocity may suck, but it's a lot better than SABRE. This process of wrapping is going on every day."

Sterling: "I think that the crappy interface is one of the reasons for the power of the computer revolution. People are trapped."

Google

Sterling: "It's a beauty contest, not a credibility contest. ... How is [google's reference-count system] different from turning on TV and seeing Dean Kamen talking on 22 channels about this revolutionary scooter? What I want to see ... the kid in Left Elbow, Kazakhstan, you give him an 802.11 Linux box, running google [and left to play]. In 4 years, I want to see him matriculate. [Laughter]

"... Now if we had an idiosyncratic version of google, that was sort of a Bruce Sterling google ... 'Well, Bruce, here are the things you're going to find really great today!" you know. There are things they they always claim on Amazon. 'So you've bought this book, ok? You might want to try this CD.' I've never bought any CDs on Amazon, they always think I have the worst possible taste in music. No luck over there at all.

"People gather together in little tidepools and trust, otherwise there would be no limits [on stagnation]. You'd simply say 'Oh, what's everybody using? Oh, Apple IIe, OK, that's it, end problem, Apple IIe, boy, that's for me ... Macintosh? Never heard of it!"

Doctorow: "I think the problem is that, as a society we've consistently choose the crappier and more available thing over the more beautiful and less available thing."

The last 5 years:

Doctorow: "In the last 5 years, Linux became useable. In the last 5 years we finally got. In the last 5 years we got Tivo. In the last five years we got 802.11 widespread. I mean, my life has been changed."

Sterling: "You mean, 'that fantastic innovation we saw until about 5 years ago.' ... I think [Innovation has] slowed to a crawl, and moving in a slow reverse, you're not going to see a lot of major innovation, outside of Linux --which is in danger of being outlawed. The 802.11b [phenomenon], same thing -- there are people who sit around all day trying to demonize 802.11b users and say that they're stealing -- 'the Parasitic Grid.' It's a social hack, but because of that, they're very vulnerable to political counter-hacks. They're not the same as genuine technical innovation. That's a difficulty."

Cultural spread and cultural inertia:

Doctorow: "There's an amazing story about the day someone sent the first hotmail message with 'Get your free email account at hotmail.com' at the bottom to India. The traffic statistics the next morning, they quintupled overnight, on the strength of one email."

On Copy Protection, the RIAA/MPAA, et cetera:

Sterling: "When will the U.S. snap? What will it take to put the genie back in the bottle, how many times will the genie have to be hit on the back of the head? What if someone accidentally breaks the bottle with his baton? What are we going to be left with that commands value? What can't we copy?"

Doctorow: "By an amazing coincidence, last week Congress held hearings about [copy protection in hardware] I think it's actually possible, I think it's actually possible, but the social consequence is quite horrendous. When Turing machines are outlawed, when universal computers that can do anything are no longer allowed to exist, then that kind of thing, I think the innovation we've seen over the last 20 years [will end].


This being SXSW Interactive, quite a few people in the audience were taking notes. Krow put his on LiveJournal, and I hope others will link to theirs below.

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Doctorow and Sterling Cyber-Riffing at SXSW

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  • When Turing machines are outlawed

    When Turing Machines are outlawed, then only outlaws will have Turing Machines.

    • ThinkGeek would sell a ton! Every time I order from TG, I order a "Go Away..." sticker or three. I'd add this bumper sticker to every order I make.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      The strange part is that this got modded up as funny. Folks, life is stranger than fiction...
      the purpose of sssca is to make it happen. It's not funny. It does deserve a bumper sticker.
    • God is a Variant.

      An unweildy union of multiple types
    • I'm waiting for someone to finally prove, Gödel like, that perfect copy protection is an uncomputable number...

      Nice romp tho.

    • That sounds like an answer that a Turing machine might give.

      I think you failed the test, put the human back on...

      • Turing machine != Turing test
        • Turing machine != Turing test

          Sorry about that (mea culpa!)...

          So what *IS* a Turing machine?

          • Loosely defined, a Turing machine is a computer.

            Originally, Turing (and others before him), hit upon the idea that a mechanical system of levers, relays, punch-cards, whatever could be built to solve a particular equation: "find the circumference of a circle of radius X", or whatever. The machine was a mechanical implementation of the formula for finding the answer--you could plug in your variable at one end, turn the crank (or pull the lever, &c.), and it would spit out the answer at the other.

            But only the answer to that one question. What Turing (and others) did was attempt to prove in theory that it was possible to build a single mechanical device that could answer any question in a formal system (give or take Godel's theorem, of course); that is, a single machine that could solve any mathematical problem.

            This theoretical mechanical device was known as a "Turing Machine", and represented an incredible breakthrough in math theory.

            Now, of course, we all have one on our desk: the bulky mechanics have been replaced by much more efficient electronics, but the theory (and the functionality) is the same.

            The current desire of the content industry is to make the Universal Turing Machine illegal--they want to replace our current transistor arrays (which, by nature, can do anything) with new arrays that are limited to doing only those things which the content industry approves of.
          • google is your friend.
            I had written a bit of guff about state tables and transitions and such, but this definition is so so much neater:

            Definition: A model of computation consisting of a finite state machine controller, a read-write head, and an unbounded sequential tape. Depending on the current state and symbol read on the tape, the machine can change its state and move the head to the left or right. Unless otherwise specified, a Turing machine is deterministic.

            (From: here [nist.gov])

            • Definition: A model of computation consisting of a finite state machine controller, a read-write head, and an unbounded sequential tape. Depending on the current state and symbol read on the tape, the machine can change its state and move the head to the left or right. Unless otherwise specified, a Turing machine is deterministic.

              The above is correct, but does not show the beauty of what Turing proved. First: Notice how limited-seeming the machine is - its only input is one piece of tape, and its only output is being able to write a 1 or a 0 wherever the tape happens to be. Based only on its "state" and the bit right in front of its nose, it has to decide whether to (1) Change the bit or (2) Move the tape, and then it can change its state accordingly.

              What Turing proved is that ANY problem a computer program can solve can be solved with a Turing Machine. (Granted, it will take a lot of time and a long piece of tape to get PI computed to 1 billion places, but it CAN be done)

              If this seems obvious to you now, I would say

              (1) Oh, is it? Let's hear your proof.

              and

              (2) Realise that you have so much more background than Turing did. It's like talking Engineering with Scotty ("Who d'ye think WROTE the spec?") Turing figured all of this out without having taken a programming course at his local university. He showed how his Turing Machine could be set up to do arithmetic, to execute loops, to store values, and (most important) to make branching decisions ("If X > 3 goto 100")

              Then he showed that once you have a computer that can do the simple things that Turing Machines can do (Increment a number, Compare two numbers, Branch based on the result of a comparison) then it can solve any problem that any other computer can do.

              DJS
              (P.S. It has been a long time since I read about this stuff, so don't quote me verbatim) (But love me for admitting it)
              • It's not obvious at all. What it is is mind-boggling, and possibly the greatest intellectual achievement of the 20th century.

                Which makes Turing's actual life all the sadder.
              • As well, Turing never originally envisaged hardware as being part of it. At the time, "computers" were people who sat in a room doing sums all day. Stuff like lookup tables for missile targetting systems and planetary movements were calculated by _people_ back then. Turing's gift was to reduce the operations possible to the bare minimum and still have full functionality.

                Our PCs today do not behave in the same way as a Turing machine, however it can be proven that they can be emulated by a Turing machine with a sufficiently large tape and a sufficiently long time to execute the instruction sequence. Since that's the case, it means that what can be done with a computer is limited to what can be done with a Turing machine, for which there is much mathematical work. In spite of the apparent flexibility of PCs, there are some things which are not possible with a computer; also, there are further things which may or may not be possible on a computer such as encryption-cracking methods which improve on the "brute-force" hack, so until anyone can prove that they are not possible, the encryption guys have to assume that it _is_ possible and design accordingly.

                Grab.
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  • Finally... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by crumbz (41803) <<remove_spam>jus ... CKWARE>gmail.com> on Thursday March 14, 2002 @10:39AM (#3162533) Homepage
    .. an intelligent discussion without a lot of FUD.

    However, I do object to this constant hyping of putting a computer in front of a kid in Afganistan, Pakistan or wherever and suddenly the world has changed for him/her. There is an interesting article over at MSNBC [msnbc.com] about how truly inpoverish Pakistani schools are. If they can't even get textbooks and running water, how do you expect to support a student's school with a fiber optic line and steady power to run PCs?
    Don't get me wrong, technology has a tremendously liberating effect, but the short term impact must be realistic.
    • Well one thing (although it isn't going to feed them), but they might be able to do without so many, if any textbooks! (lol I guess especially if they are doing a PhD in pr0n, but you see my point)

      But assuming (big assumption) that they can get food, water, and shelter- oh and I guess read english (or have google in Afghani and the various other languages in the region), the googlebox thing would definitely help education!
    • Re:Finally... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Detritus (11846) on Thursday March 14, 2002 @10:59AM (#3162632) Homepage
      Although it is currently in the realm of science fiction, what if the Pakistani kid had a cheap notepad computer with enough internal storage for a large library of books. When I say cheap, think of four-function calculator cheap. It would run off a solar cell embedded in the case. It would have a built-in RF modem to receive data broadcasts.
      • i think he--bruce--was saying that by providing information, you are not necessarily providing an education. he is simply being witty with the matriculation thing... this is perhaps coming, unless outlawed per later comments. content is cheap, look at slashdot! It's called conversation.
      • ... and it would be called A Young Lady's Illustrated Primer.
      • With a 55% illiteracy rate, no math or language textbooks in the public schools, and only half of children ages 5-9 in any school, all the books in the world won't help much. They need the basics.

        I doubt "Hooked on Phonics" is available in Urdu, though. ;)

      • Something like this .... simputer.org.

  • I don't mean to sound sarcastic, but isn't one Jon Katz enough?

    Seriously, though, whose side are they on? It reminds me of Adequacy.org, i.e., don't take sides, just piss everyone off. It really sounds funny hearing all these technical terms mixed with such heavy double-speak though.

  • Interfaces (Score:2, Insightful)

    by TrollMan 5000 (454685)
    I think that the crappy interface is one of the reasons for the power of the computer revolution. People are trapped.

    I don't think people are really trapped. If computer interfaces are so bad, then why is computer use so widespread over many OS'es? Windows, Linux, Unix, etc. have all sorts of differences which may appeal to different people. Want a GUI? Try Windows, for example. Like a command line. You've got Linux.

    And considering the complexity of the modern computer, I think the designers a doing a pretty decent job.
    • Re:Interfaces (Score:3, Insightful)

      by dasmegabyte (267018)
      It's not, really. Something like 95% of the visitors of google, a fairly cool search engine that attracts all sorts of people, use windows. About 2.5 use a MacOS, and half of that use Linux.

      Doesn't sound like use is so "widespread" when less than 5% of the net community use alternative OSs. It sounds like people are trapped. And can you blame them? Windows OSs are different looks of the same idea, MacOS shoots itself in its foot and Linux has such a huge menu of choices it's impossible for a newbie to pick the right one.

      And don't blame complexity for the shittiness of computer operating systems. If you make a simple interface, you can add what you need to it. That was the whole idea of the Linux kernel -- at least, until everybody & their mother decided to force feature x or feature y into the most common releases.
      • While your ballpark figures are probably in the ballpark, keep in mind that most statistics about "what browsers visit our site" are generated from the browsers agent string. I haven't used Windows in nearly three years (and never used it much), but one of my browsers claims to be IE, because that claim tends to provide a more hassle-free browsing experience. Another claims to be "telnet/plan9", just to shake up anyone who actually looks at the minority hits, and possibly remind them that what a browser claims to be is not necessarily what it is.
  • by SirSlud (67381) on Thursday March 14, 2002 @10:51AM (#3162598) Homepage
    > Doesn't [widespread file trading] crowd out what was formerly a competitive menu of available choices? What if you just can't sell music any more? Nobody's going to go down to [Austin record store] Waterloo, nobody's going to hang out with them afterward. ..."

    It says much about the misunderstanding of market principals when people equate circumvention of 'unfair prices' (as determined by the market) as the death of a market. The music industry is a monopoly. People dont feel the value/price ratio is fair. Given paying an unfair price and free, people choose free. What the music industry is trying to convince legislators is that between 0.1 cent per song and 0 cents, most people choose 0 cents. This is so untrue, its not even funny. People pay _fair_ prices, even whenfree alternatives are available. There is a host of research showing that humans dont like being or living with freeloaders, and that humans do expect to give something in exchange for something of value, provided they feel the price they pay is fair. There is no death of an industry here, only (potentially), the death of a monopoly. And not a moment too soon, if you ask me. Millions of napster users have every right to illustrate that an elite few are profiteering the fundamental human need for art and culture. Once the music industry realizes that they are spending too much on packaging and promotion, they will be able to offer things at a fair price. Until then, the music industry situation is like if only one auto maker existed, and they only sold cars with gold rims (which isn't to say that quality is high, but production values are through the roof.) While everyone needs a car, people dont want the gold rims. The monopoly is holding the market hostage by not offering cars without gold rims (ie, the extra production values that people think they want, but can't afford at the end of the day.)
    • Given paying an unfair price and free, people choose free.

      Hooey!!! Given paying any price and free, people choose free. Why do you think there are so many surveillance cameras and plainclothes security in stores? Because if people could shoplift in total anonymity, many would. Alot would.

      What Napster, Morpheus, et. al. have done is the equivalent of removing the surveillance cameras and security guards in music stores and people are stealing like crazy.

      The music being stolen is NOT your intellectual property and no matter what the owners of the property want to charge for it, that doesn't give you the right to steal it.
      • by SirSlud (67381) on Thursday March 14, 2002 @12:05PM (#3162954) Homepage
        "Given paying any price and free, people choose free."

        "Why do you think there are so many surveillance cameras and plainclothes security in stores?"

        You, my dear friend, are a moron. I'm sorry to say that, but this argument is the most moronic argument known to man. What you are telling me is that before surveilance cameras, everyone stole. Nobody paid for anything, because we couldn't keep tabs on people. Idiot. I am truely sorry for your narrow minded view of fundamental human values. The suits have turned you against your common man, and if your rhetoric is any indication, their tactics are working great. (Unless you're a suit, in which case you have a vested interest in beliving your assertions are true, because it gives you an excuse to exercise technological control (ie DCMA, SSSCA) over your consumer base.)

        "The music being stolen is NOT your intellectual property and no matter what the owners of the property want to charge for it, that doesn't give you the right to steal it."

        If many people in an economy steal it, yes it does. Does anyone remember that economies are to serve the interests of a society? What good does it do to hold a society hostage to the interests of an economy? Your argument is like the Brits saying to their American colony, "No matter how much you dont like this situation, the law says you must adhere to it. And you can always work within the rules to change it." When people realize those rules are not serving the social interestest of a society, you know what they do - they fuck the rules. Those in power always claim that its because the people are just immature and criminal. The people know better - they understand the situation is jury rigged, and that any opportunity to change the game within the rules of the game are futile.

        What you simply cannot comprehend is that all these IP laws were passed under the nose of an unknowing public (indeed, who has the time to learn our complicated legal system as it stands today) by a few. Now that those laws are not reflecting the interests of a many, you can't lock up those many. You shouldn't have made those rules in the first place if it ran counter to the actual interests of people within that society.

        You have to think bigger. Who made the rules, and why are people forced to abide by them when those rules were asked for and passed by an already wealthy few?
        • You, my dear friend, are a moron.

          It is a sign of a true rational thinker that when you are wrong you lash out with personal attacks.

          Shoplifting clothing is not the same as downloading songs from Napster. Shoplifting is not free. Even before surveilance cameras you would get caught if you stole often enough. There is a price to be paid here, given the cost of shoplifting and the cost of buying most people chose buying. Not because the prices are "fair" but because the price is less. Do you really think most people consider the price of clothing to be fair? In most people's minds stealing is not worth the cost of peotentially being caught.

          Now, if someone were to set up a booth outside the local mall and give away genuine designer clothes for exactly $0.00 do you think it would hurt the stores? Accoding to your argument, as long as the clothes were priced "fairly" people would buy them for some non-zero cost even given a truly free alternative. Maybe you would, but no one else.

          Who made the rules, and why are people forced to abide by them when those rules were asked for and passed by an already wealthy few?

          Here in the US, we make the rules. It isn't vogue to admit it, but this country is run by the people. It is much easier to blame some vast conspiracy of wealthy corporations and individuals than it is to acept responsibity for our own laziness and lack of involvement. Politicians only listen to the people who are talking. If you want to be heard, you have to speak up.

          You are not forced to follow these rules. At least in most contries you are free to emmigrate to anyplace you feel better suits you. There are plenty of places in the world that have no problem with a wealthy few, or wealth at all for that matter. I don't want to live in any of these places though maybe you do.

          • > It is a sign of a true rational thinker that when you are wrong you lash out with personal attacks.

            Sarcasm duly noted. Although I'd prefer to be called 'frusterated' in this case.

            > ... give away genuine designer clothes for exactly $0.00 do you think it would hurt the stores?

            Here's where people get confused. First off, I'm talking about monopolies. Second, leather goods are a luxury. Lets take a commidity everyone 'needs', where 'need' is not 'need to live' but 'need to have in order to feel like I am reaping the benifits of participating in this socioeceonomic system'. For example: you dont 'need' a car to live, but they are considered a commodity that you should be able to afford if you participate in the job market. If most people could not afford cars tommorow, one might argue, "dont buy until the prices come down". In reality, if only 5% of the population could afford /a car/, 95% of your society would be wondering why they are working 40 hours a week if they can't even afford (or justify the purchase at current market prices) something that should be within the reach of the majority of the participants of an economic system.

            Okay, so CDs .. music. Music is something that no society has EVER lived without. Music is a very basic need of a human - we need art and culture. If you don't believe that, I challenge you to turn off your TV, radio, stop reading anything fictional, and basically live without any sort of cultural intake. It's destructive on a very fundamental level. If I can't assert that, then CDs are a luxery, in which case I agree with you. Then again, if Napster existed for leather goods, lots of people who wouldn't _mind_ a leather coat probably wouldn't napsterize one, because their desire not be a freeloader would outweigh their 'need' of a leather coat. The vast numbers of people playing the file sharing game really goes to show how basic the need for music and art is (to say nothing of the quality of that art .. just that we must have access to it in some form or other.)

            So, lets say that shoes will replace leather goods in your example. You dont need shoes to live, but you'd probably question your involvement in an economic system if you felt the price was to high. You'd also not want to go without shoes as a means of attempting to force the price down. It's not an option. Fortunately, the shoe industry is not a monopoly, but imagine if it was! Would you really tell your brother to go without shoes if shoes were only available in a very narrow price range that he felt didn't reflect the value he placed on shoes? I mean, because people need shoes, is that a carte blanche to a monopolistic comany to raise their prices as high as they please? When do you order them to lower prices? When everyone in a society goes without shoes, or when people start setting up 'black market' shoe stores? Since we know nobody is going to go _without_ shoes, we have to assume that the existance of a black market is a good indication that shoes are too expensive (and there is no alternative). So understand this .. nobody is going to go _WITHOUT_ music, ok? Access to music at fair prices is a fairly universally accepted 'right' in an economic system. If only 40% of the people in an economy can justify the price of music, that is not an indication that 'everything is okay', because people are still buying music and the industry can continue to be profitable with that 40%. You might contend that it would be in the monopolies interest to bring prices down to expand their consumer base, but in reality, marketers are taught at a very early age that the majority of your profits come from a very small segment of your consumers (usually 20% of your consumer base is 70% of your profits.) So no, there is no motivation to serve the 'potential' market, because it is usually more profitable to extract higher prices from a heavier user base with the means and salaries to justify the purchase of the commodity.

            So there you have it. If CDs are leather coats, I wouldn't give a fuck. Humans dont need leather coats. If CDs are coats (and I contend that they are), then I do give a fuck.

            By your reasonsing, it would be impossible for bands or theatre companies to hold 'Pay what you can' nights, because nobody would pay anything. The reality is, if given a choice between unreasonable prices and nothing at all, a black market will form. People will not 'go without' just to drive a price down, unless the item is not fundamental to a 'normal' participation in a society. When monopolies exist in markets where the commidity is something humans have enjoyed fair access to for thousands of years, people will fuck the rules. That doesn't make them criminals - it makes the monopoly holder an asshole for forcing people into unethical behaviour, and for causing them to suspend caring about the livelihoods of the people the monopoly holder is supposedly attempting to protect.

            I havn't met one single human being who felt music should be free. Not one. Ever. I have, however, met tons who think CDs are too expensive, or who would rather have lower prices than 20 songs and 'extras'. Those people napsterize, because they dont have a choice. The real irony is how many of them bought more CDs while they were napsterizing, because, for once, due to the fact that they could prelisten and evalauate recordings before they purchased them, they could be garaunteed of the value of the CD before they bought it, thus bringing the average price/value ratio of their purchases in line with their demands. However, the thing that got them started was a lack of choice. Not buying is not a choice. Only those who can afford to pay more than they intrisically value things, or who do accept a price most people deem unfair because they place less value 'per dollar' instead of more value on the commodity due to larger earnings on their part, will suggest that voting with your anti-wallet is an acceptable means of expressing displeasure with a monopoly.

            On a side note, the reason you're a moron is because your argument completely discounts the 'neccessity' factor of particular commodities and services. The neoclassical economic rheotic in vogue these days absolutely ignores that fundamental needs and monopolies do not go well together. Monopolies /know/ how much their needed, and simply extort higher and higher prices until they find that proper balance between scarcity (how much of their potential market still finds the price 'fair' according to how much wealth they have) vs. profits (by serving a wealthier few, you will make more money than charging at a lower price point that a majority can justify.)

            This is why you rarely see monopolies in the luxery markets - because luxuries, by their definition, are things that you can reasonably go without. Is music a luxery? Think carefully, I'm not sure you want to prevent people from hearing music ...

            And yeah, I get upset when people like you throw an Adam Smith or two at a vastly complex non self correcting eceonomic system that was designed to benifit the people participating in it, not make life better for a few people inside it so they could feel good about having access to things other people couldn't justify purchasing. Saying the people who refuse to fall on the 'i cant justify buying that at that price or I cant find a way of giving back in a way that I feel is comesurate with what I'm getting' side of commodity X are just a whiney bunch of criminals is essentially asserting that you don't agree with a democratic economic system - that you agree more with a system that actually encourages producers to limit their distribution to maximize their profits instead of accepting that the whole point of this all, in the first place, was to make basic commodity X at a price point that provides access to said commidity to people participating in the system at a price they deem fair. You miss the fact that most classic economists say that this system eliminates scarcity - when what we actually see is that it creates it where it otherwise wouldn't have to exist.
            • Music is a very basic need of a human - we need art and culture. If you don't believe that, I challenge you to turn off your TV....

              That's when I stopped reading. We *need* music, we *need* TV. TV is art. ROTFLMAO. Good troll.
              • We *need* music. We dont need TV, but we certainly need theatre, in whatever form you choose. In western society, thats movies and TV. Obviously, we can do without TV, but we can't do without culture and art altogether, in whatever form that may be, regardless of quality, and by way of whatever medium delivers it.

                It's not a troll, and I'm sorry people always have to focus on the trees instead of the forest. I'm not talking about the black box in your livingroom; I'm talking about the messages contained within it, regardless of the effect of value you place on those ideas and messages.
        • "If many people in an economy steal it, yes it does. Does anyone remember that economies are to serve the interests of a society? What good does it do to hold a society hostage to the interests of an economy?"

          Just a note, economies aren't meant to serve the interests of society; they simply evolve under a set of rules/regulations imposed on them by the participants. The exception to this is when economies are designed by Man (in the form of some kind of powerful government) to accomplish some outside goal - equality, Socialism, absolute State power, etc. And historically, these kind of structured economies fail miserably.

          Some basic economic theory: supply meets demand at the "equilibrium price". But if the price imposed by Suppliers is forced above the equilibrium price, a Black Market will form. Actually, this happens anytime Demand exceeds Supply for a certain price point, but the black market tends to form only when there is an excessively large demand for the product over the amount suppliers are willing at that price.

          Hence the Napster situation - people were willing to pay some lower price for an increased selection of songs; if they only like 1 song off an album, it's likely they'd pay something like $0.50 to $1.00 for that one song, rather than $15 for a CD that has another 10 songs they don't want. However, no one was supplying this "1 song for $1" demand segment; the music monopoly refused to allow it. Then Napster came along, letting you "buy" whatever single song you want for $0.00; and since Napster's illegal "price" was closer to what people would be willing to pay for a song than the legal alternative of $15, Napster became the black market for music.

          (I personally believe that if Napster had implemented a $0.50 per-download charge from the start, then roughly the same revolution would have happened. Maybe not on the quite the same scale, since there's more demand between $0 and $0.50, but definitely a huge impact.)

          There was excessive demand for a product. The industry didn't supply that demand. A black market formed. Simple high school level economics. Anyone in the music industry who was taken by surprise either failed some important courses, or is a first class idiot.
          • "Just a note, economies aren't meant to serve the interests of society; they simply evolve under a set of rules/regulations imposed on them by the participants. The exception to this is when economies are designed by Man (in the form of some kind of powerful government) to accomplish some outside goal - equality, Socialism, absolute State power, etc. And historically, these kind of structured economies fail miserably."

            Duly noted. Although its worth noting that state-enforced property rights (contended to be the only purpose of government in a purely capitalist society, although its phrased "protect people from fraud and theft .. same thing") fall under this category. You need a centralized power to enforce property rights that a population would naturally consider 'unfair'. (Imagine if the police couldn't protect Bill Gates' house .. how many people do you think honestly believe he deserves the house? Many under neoclassical economics conditioning (that he deserves to have that big house, because if he didn't, people might actually consider not growing in wealth), but fundemantally in a pre-capitalist society, I would say few.) So free market eceonomics are also 'enforced' by the government in so far as to place a higher priority on the need for people to grow in wealth for capitalism to work than the overall social climate of a society. So while the markets are not 'planned', the system still is. I see your point tho. I guess you're saying that this eceonomy grew as a result of the rights we placed on private property, but the 'economy' is left to its own devices instead of centrally planned in communism.

            Okay, I gotcha, but I think these are subjects so intertwined that it is unwise to discuss what are 'rights', and what economy serves and protects those rights 'naturally' as seperate issues.
          • Even the pay-for versions didn't do too bad. I paid for an Emusic account for a couple of months, and had they had shit worth downloading on there (the range available just _sucked_) then I would still have it.

            Trouble is, all the producers need hitting with the fabled clue-by-four - until they actually sell their stuff online, they're screwed. Even today, no-one has any choice except to (a) buy monstrously-expensive CDs (and in the UK the standard price is £14 which is about $20), or (b) rip them off Morpheus. Shit, there's a market out there, they've demonstrated that they've got money simply by owning $500 of PC, they've demonstrated they want music to download, and they've demonstrated that the technology exists. Ho hum - I think your "first class idiot" hypothesis is getting closer to being a theorem...

            Grab.
      • Bottled Water? (Score:1, Insightful)

        by lyphorm (209309)
        Hooey!!! Given paying any price and free, people choose free.

        Just about anyone in the U.S. can get it for free from their kitchen tap, and yet it is a thriving industry. In other words, people are willing to pay a reasonable price for a product that they feel is worth the cost, even if a free alternative is available.

        This is why people like me go out and purchase a CD for some artist even though we have the entire CD sitting on our hard drive in the form of MP3s that were ripped by someone else and given to us for free.
    • I'm not sure if I would call N'Sync and Britney Spears gold rims...
      • The amount spent on audio-engineering, choreography, songwriters, laser-light shows, payola for placement in the WB prime-time lineup and on MTV's TRL, TV commercials, In-store displays, posters, "Airtime consultants" (more payola), Movie soundtrack placement, etc. are the Music production-inflation equivalent of "gold rims" on every car.
      • No, but the RIAA pushing them on us is a rim job...
    • It says much about the misunderstanding of market principals when people equate circumvention of 'unfair prices' (as determined by the market) as the death of a market.

      That statement says it all about your absolute lack of understanding of market principals. The whole point of markets is that buyers and sellers decide for themselves what price is appropriate, with no need for rulings on what is "fair" or "unfair". If consumers think CD prices are too high, they're free to vote with their wallets. And they have been, which is mostly why sales are so down.

      (Whether relying on markets to set prices is good or bad is a separate issue, and I'll leave that for the Randroids and Marxists to sort out between themselves.)

      • > If consumers think CD prices are too high, they're free to vote with their wallets

        There is no such thing as the anti-vote with a wallet. I can only opt out of participating. This means that 30% of a potential consumer base can 'hide' the interests of a larger amount of people by keeping an industry profitable. Marketers and suits know that only 20% of your consumer base is 70% on your profits, so they are not entirely interested in serving the needs of a market, but rather serving the needs of 20% of their market. When all these people started stealing music, this wasn't people saying, "Hey, now I can get it for free." .. this was a large chunk of their non-heavyuse-consumer base saying, "Well, they wern't listening to us, so I guess this is the only alternative."

        I understand the concepts behind market forces - I simply content that they do not find the price the market will bear. They find the price that a small segment of the people who want the product will bear. Since the music industry is a monopoly, there's only one price level, and thus no alternative for the opted-out (or reduced usage) consumer base. So sure, they are stealing, but only because the mechanics of the market are not serving the needs of the market; only those who contribute the most to it. (This makes sense, but an economy fails to meet the needs of a society when there is a monopoly on a commodity, because those who are not contributing (ie voting 'no' with their wallet) are often cast off as worthless of the monopoly holder right off the bat instead of being seen as potential customers.)

        Which is to say, in a monopoly, it is usually more profitable to create scarcity than to serve the interests of 100% of your potential consumer base (think about 'Limited Edition' commidities. You increase the value of something by limiting distribution .. with CDs, you charge the few who can afford and make more than setting a price the entire market will bear.). That's just wrong. Eceonomies are to serve a society - a society should not bend to an economy.

        • Nitpick: "segment of the people who want the product"=="market".

        • by Otter (3800)
          I understand the concepts behind market forces...

          With all due respect -- no, you clearly don't. You're raising the (entirely valid) question of whether letting the market set prices is the fairest way for a society to do it. But even Lamborghini prices are set by the entire market: by the .01% who are willing to pay the going rate and the 99.99% who aren't.

          You're also throwing the word monopoly around pretty loosely, although you're right that a true monopoly is unconstrained by market forces, which is precisely why we have antitrust laws.

          • > But even Lamborghini prices are set by the entire market: by the .01% who are willing to pay the going rate and the 99.99% who aren't.

            Well, okay, I get the point - I guess what I'm saying is 'willing' is not 'willing'. It's 'able'. And when you're talking 'able', to me, thats no longer a market. When people are not 'able' to afford something (like, maybe from their total net worth they could, but able as in able to have in addition to the other things they perceive they need), that is no longer a market. To me, thats a potential customer, but you have lost the priviledge of claiming he was part of the price setting decision your market made, because he isn't choosing not to buy your product - he flat out can't. And that was entirely your decision to experiment and exploit the eceonomic demographics of the people who express an interest in gaining access to what you are offering (ie, everyone, regardless of whether or not they are 'choosing' not to buy or 'cant' buy.)

            So many people on earth dont want a lamborghini, even at 0$. There is not one person on earth who doesn't want music in some form in some way in their life. The US wouldn't have a [insert extremely frightening number that escapes me right now] consumer dept if people only offered up to 'what they were willing to pay' for going rates. People will often pay more than they feel is fair or can afford if that commodity is seen as something that most people should have reasonable access to in their society. People purchase things on leases, even if they can't afford it. If people offered what they felt they were willing to pay, we wouldn't have consumer debt. People pay more for certain things, because they cannot live with themselves in a world where they feel they are contributing but are not reaping the rewards that are advertised.

            > which is precisely why we have antitrust laws

            I'm under the impression that anti-trust laws allow monopolies, so long as they are not used to leverage business in different markets. This does not address, in any way, the fact that monoplies can hold markets that offer 'basic' commidities hostage, and cater to the best price/profit ratio, cutting access to said commodity off from many people, or turning them into criminals if a black market is available.

            I think the problem is that I'm rejecting such fundamental tenets of free market ideology that I honestly cant argue the specifics without munging the semantics - I'm an astute thinker, but very 'model' oriented. I dont hold much interest in dicussing the ins and outs of a specific model if I believe it's built on a set of flawed axioms or assumptions regarding human purpose and behaviour. Thats porbably why I get so frusterated .. I am attempting to rely on demonstrated human behaviour in the last 2000 years, where everyone argues the aptness of this system using examples of how humans behave within it. To me, thats maddeningly circular .. you cant proove calculus with calculus, y'know?

            Anyhow, if anyone's still reading, apologies to those I flame. =) I just get frusterated that I must learn the specifics of a game with feundamental rules I believe do disservice to large numbers of people playing it.
          • With all due respect -- no, you clearly don't. You're raising the (entirely valid) question of whether letting the market set prices is the fairest way for a society to do it. But even Lamborghini prices are set by the entire market: by the .01% who are willing to pay the going rate and the 99.99% who aren't.

            It's a little closer to, "the people will decide to break the laws when a monopoly or cartell sets unfair prices." That is the market making a decision, and it has an effect on prices. The music industry certainly doesn't compete for customers the way say ... car companies do. They've bought my freedoms, and I didn't sell them.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 14, 2002 @12:10PM (#3162984)
      But the central point is that the industry may die, but NOBODY NEEDS THE INDUSTRY. People sang for their supper for millinea before the gramophone was invented, and the hundred years afterward.

      Most musicians make their money the old fashioned way- playing gigs. I buy my CDs straight from the bands, who sell them for five to eight vs the industry fifteen to twenty five, and they make three to five bucks vs the thirty cents Vivendi would give them.

      Most of the CDs I buy say something like "Thank you for buying this CD. Please burn a copy for your friends!" Because except for the likes of Lars and Ringo, mp3 trading is the best thing to happen to musicians since the invention of the les paul.

      Face it, I'm more likely to pay a five dollar cover if I've heard and liked your band than if I've never heard of you. Morpheus is, for the musician, radio for the 21st century. Only now they don't have the damned RIAA gatekeepers standing between them and you.

      I for one will celebrate when the likes of Vivendi, Bertlesmann, and Virgin declare chapter 11- more money for the musicians, more money for the customers. Death to the industry who would gouge both the musician and music customer, and to those who would trade my freedom for protection of their industry!

      -steve mcrew
      thefragest.com
      mcgrew.info
      • You the man. Right on.

        Part of my point was that the industry becomes weaker (and thus less capable of being evil) should they serve the /entire/ market, instead of those simply willing to pay higher and higher prices. So whether its death or elimination of power, the end result is the same. The industry dies, or is forced to serve the /entire/ market, in which case, they make less money and cant fuck nobody anymore (and also reliquish monopoly control of the distribution of culture and music.)

        I totally agree with you. Those who claim Napster show that people steal if they can tivialize 1900 years of people who didnt steal and kill each other due to the lack of security cameras and network traffic sniffers. On the musician side, the most prolific and famous musicians will ALWAYS come as a result of reasonable control over their creations, not total control.
    • More accurate would be Uranium rims. Far more expensive than gold, not all that pretty, and in general a dangerous thing to have around.
    • It says much about the misunderstanding of market principals when people equate circumvention of 'unfair prices' (as determined by the market) as the death of a market. The music industry is a monopoly. People dont feel the value/price ratio is fair. Given paying an unfair price and free, people choose free.
      Yeah, and given a choice between paying a fair price and free, they still tend to choose free. Retail prices are determined by the market--CDs cost what they do because that is how much they are worth to their buyers. But an while that CD may be worth $15 to the average buyer, that doesn't mean he wouldn't rather pay $7.50 and pocket the difference. Or pay nothing and pocket it all. Voluntarily, most people will choose to pay much less for a product than what it is worth to them. In some cases, the product may be so great that the pittance that people choose to pay is nevertheless enough for the creator to make a living, but that doesn't mean that consumers aren't ripping off the creator by paying much less for the product than it is worth to them. The value of a product to you is the highest price that you would be willing to pay if the only alternative is doing without.
    • I'd choose the free song.

      You're right about the death of a monopoly, but an industry has been built up around it, and if it disappears others will suffer, the same way a small town suffers when a military base closes.

      Of course the answer isn't necessarily to keep the base open (or monopoloy in place.)

      But, every Napster user pays to use Napster. They pay for their computer. They pay for their internet connection. They pay for the MP3 players, CD burners, stereo speakers, and other devices they use to listen to the music they steal.

      So musicians will still get paid. They used to get paid by the guys who press the records -- who used to be the guys who built the record players. Now they get paid by the people who sell Pepsi. The inequality here is that not just anybody can sell Pepsi. You have to have a government granted monopoly to broadcast radio frequencies.

      If you couldn't sell Pepsi anymore, Viacomm & Disney might stop paying musicians, but do you think Sony would? I think there's enough profit margin on a walkman to encourage someone to make something to play in it.

      If I owned a radio station, I'd rather pay musicians to come in and play original stuff than to be forced to play what the RIAA tells me to. I'd probably sell more Pepsi that way too.
      • ps.

        The myth that there are only 43 decent musicians in the world, and that the record companies have signed all but three of them has got to stop. There are more musicians out there than contracts. And there is less music being recorded than ever these days. If there are fewer decent musicians, it is because the musical outlets have been restricted, not the desire or ability to create it.
        • I beg to differ, just a bit. There are thousands of great musicians in the world, and most of them aren't signed with the big five record companies (and the record companies wouldn't know what to do with them anyhow, they're so inefficient that they need multimillion sales to survive). And there's more great music (and more crap) being recorded these days than ever before because anyone with an increasingly small bit of cash can buy multitrack recording gear (or use software).

          I've been doing home recording for twenty years now, doing my own producing and engineering, and I've never paid for time in a studio. Hell, I own an 8-track digital studio (paid $2500 five years ago, you can get twice the tracks for half that now and it burns CDs) and it fits in a suitcase. I'm not saying I'm equipped to record orchestras or big-ass rock bands -- you need a ton of mikes and several acoustically-separated rooms for corporate rock -- but it's enough for 95% of the electronica out there, most of which is recorded at home anyway.

          Where I completely agree with you is that corporate marketing and distribution is the bottleneck. There's something to be said for gatekeepers as crap filters, but the RIAA and their clan (including payola-driven radio) have been corrupted through and through by greed.

          ps: Sterling's Distraction is a great sf-political read, though he got blindsided by reality when it comes to open source -- occupational hazard when you're writing close to the edge of journalism.
          • I don't see where we disagree, I said the "myth" that there are only 43 musicians -- perpetuated by the recording industry. There may be more music out there, but I won't hear it. Unless I expend great effort (and possibly break the law) -- I'm stuck with a rotating diet of 40 songs approved by the Department of HP&D&MC.

            I do think that overall the population's degree of musical skill has gone down, and that is primarily caused by reducing the opportunity for outlet, not wholly the responsibility of the RIAA, but strongly influenced by it.

  • by Fixer (35500) on Thursday March 14, 2002 @10:57AM (#3162621) Homepage Journal
    Sterling: "[Napster is] a kind of profoundly undemocratic technical fait accompli. 'Look at this neat gizmo that we geeks built while you weren't working. We geeks accidentally ate your industry. [This is a] techno-imperative market argument which I don't think really makes all that much sense in a stagnant monopoly ... where is the steamroller going, I don't see it going anywhere particular, it's just abolishing other people's money. Does Napster give anybody money for a reelection campaign? Do they have a friendly judge? Is there somebody to sue?"

    "What would the music scene look like if the industry disappeared? I imagine things like the Royal family paying for the production of Handel's Water Music. "

    Live performance, that's what would happen to the music industry. Rates for shows would rise to what the market will support.

    You make this sound like a bad thing.

    • Dear Sir or Madam:

      I humbly request for you to remove or replace your .sig line. It is a danger to me and all others who browse Slashdot instead of paying attention in class, laugh out loud upon reading it, and then get kicked out by the professor. Thank you for your cooperation.

      -Dan
    • In other words, if the music industry disappeared, recorded music would go with it.

      You make this sound like a good thing.

      -- Brian
  • just so you know (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward

    ScaredCity(TMp) [scaredcity.com] is NOT dead. IT's merely undergoing some changes. Long live the GNU FeatherWeight 'economy'.
  • by K. (10774) on Thursday March 14, 2002 @10:59AM (#3162635) Homepage Journal
    Nobody tell Congress about lambda-calculus!

    The problem with these kinds of people is that
    they're a cross between cargo-cultists and priests
    trying to read the future in entrails. They're
    randomly recombining ideas and making vague
    statements, and occasionally this turns up
    something useful, but usually it's just offal.

    K.
    -
    • The problem with these kinds of people is that they're a cross between cargo-cultists and priests trying to read the future in entrails. They're randomly recombining ideas and making vague statements, and occasionally this turns up something useful, but usually it's just offal.

      You said it!

      Oh wait ... are you talking about Doctorow and Sterling, or Slashdot?

    • Problem? No, that's the *appeal*. Permutation
      fascination. James Joyce on acid. Racter |
      travesty | eliza. What's amazing is that they
      speak so well for such a large community.
      • As someone who's taken quite a bit of acid, I've never understood the idea that it actually does anything beyond fuck you up in interesting ways. I really don't think James Joyce would have written better on it. He probably wouldn't have written at all if he was tripping off his face half the time.

        And I do think that it is a problem, as it makes it hard to take the occasional gem seriously when it's drowned under a sea of what we shall politely label permutation. Also, if said permutation is given the benefit of the doubt, it can end in a situation where one accepts everything one reads without the application of too much critical thought. Which is bad, in case you're wondering.
  • Rawk (Score:2, Funny)

    In the last 5 years, Linux became useable.

    And he's funny, too!

    Seriously though. Linux is finally nearing the desktop usability of Windows 95. Granted, this isn't saying much, but it's something.

    At least the desktop doesn't core dump every ten minutes anymore... remember Gnome 1.0? [tux.org]

    Next stop: why not head towards the clean looks and good driver handling of Windows 98?

  • Here's what... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by joebp (528430) on Thursday March 14, 2002 @11:28AM (#3162761) Homepage
    What are we going to be left with that commands value? What can't we copy?
    Emotion, love, knowledge, wisdom.

    These cannot be copied, nor faked. For example, the music industry may change for the better, or worse, but music will always exist. The RIAA and 'their senators' will pretend that the music industry is music until they are red in the face. The music industry will die from lack of emotion in their product rather than from P2P sharing.

    Note that freedom and justice are missing from my list. These are things which can be bought, and, from my point of view, are close to lost.

    "They don't want the voice of reason spoken, folks, coz otherwise we'd be free. Otherwise, we wouldn't believe their fucking horse-shit lies, nor the fucking propaganda machine - the mainstream media - and buy their horse-shit products that we don't fucking need, and become a Third World consumer fucking plantation, which is what we're becoming. -- Bill Hicks, 1991

    Yikes, Bill Hicks quote overload!

    • What are we going to be left with that commands value? What can't we copy?
      Emotion, love, knowledge, wisdom.

      May I respectfully suggest adding to your list: Time.

      Schwab

    • Emotion, love, knowledge, wisdom. These cannot be copied, nor faked.

      I have to respectfully disagree. Here's why:

      Emotion. Have you ever seen a talk show or news item that mad you angry? Happy? Or sad? There's a lot of content intended to persuade or incite emotions. Trashy talk shows, sappy love songs (or thrashing angry songs :), movies with happy endings... they try to make you feel what the creator planned.

      Love (and desire). If you think that love can't be copied or faked, you look at the screaming fan(atic)s of a popular teeny-bopper group, or visit a strip club where the lonely guys think the dancer's smile is just for him. There's even a branch of social "science" to fake love and desire: Marketing. Sad, but true.

      Knowledge. A lot of people confuse information with knowledge. Think about the PHB with a shelf of untouched computer books, or the manager with statistics that have no bearing on reality. Lots of information, passed off (incorrectly) as knowledge.

      Wisdom. I'll concede that wisdom can't be mass duplicated, and that the listener is responsible for determining the accuracy.

      The only things that I can think can't be faked or duplicated (and some of these are iffy):

      Time, experience, prestige, opportunity, trust, and life.

  • by tshoppa (513863) on Thursday March 14, 2002 @11:49AM (#3162867)
    I have to say that I find many of Bruce Sterling's projects and thoughts fascinating. That said, the groups that form around him tend to be the folk who are much more interested in talking about the problems, rather than doing anything about it.

    Case in point (and very close to my heart): The Dead Media Project [deadmedia.org]. I'm in the business of recovering data from old media, and work with the media, its users, and associated machines every day. Bruce's group, however, seems much more interested in talking about the issues rather than doing anything about them.

    It's my impression that many Slashdotters are do-ers rather than talk-ers, and I'm just warning them that there's very little "do-ing" hapenning in Bruce Sterling's circle. That said, maybe there should be more talking going on - but it really doesn't fit my personal style, and either frustrates or infuriates me depending on the issue.

  • by renehollan (138013) <rhollan@noSpaM.clearwire.net> on Thursday March 14, 2002 @11:50AM (#3162875) Homepage Journal
    If Napster and its P2P clones ever get loose, nobody in the music business will make any money ever again. And if 802.11b ever works, nobody will sell Internet access and AOL will go broke. And if Linux had a decent graphic user interface, Bill Gates would have no business model. Bill would have to spend all this menace. [emphais mine]

    This menace? This menace!? Since when is being able to share a menace? Certainly, one might share things that one oughtn't, and sheesh, there are lots of sharp or poisonous things around with which I can kill people that didn't exist 1000 years ago, but should we make them go away, so laws aren't broken? Is the convenience not worth the new risks? Should we ban cars so buggy-whip manufacturers don't disappear? Is the potential to break the law in new ways or make one's business obsolete what this "menace" is?

    I guess so.

    I can see the legal issues, but only barely. Ideas and things don't break the law, people's actions do. Still, if I could have a "safer" firearm that was less likely to go off accidentally, but just as effective as a defensive weapon, that would be desirable. I'd likely support home owners' association covenents requireing any firearms on one's property to be of the "safe" variety, though I probably wouldn't want that mandated by law (not being able to shoot an intruder because you could not afford the safer gun, would be a bad thing -- the price difference would be about as much of an issue for a home owner in an upscale neighborhood as the need to keep their yard tidy).

    But the "menace" here is not the bad side of the good/bad dichotomy that technology brings. It is simply the threat that an existing business model is no longer viable. Guess what? Welcome to old-fashioned free market competition. Innovation. Americans call it "know how" and, gosh darn, it feels about as good as Mom's apple pie: you get to try to sell me something and I get to try to find a way to not need it. That strikes me as rather fair.

    I am a software engineer. My current skills go the way of the buggy-whip about every 3-5 years. Yet, I adapt, I keep up, I learn new skills. I also learn how to effectively apply new skills fast. I deal with progress and it's threat to me. Heck, I'm one of the ones making it happen. What the hell makes anyone think that they should be immune to progress, and gives them the right to keep us in relative misery compared to a prospective brighter and easier future? Profit?

    There is no right to profit. I suppose if there were, I'd go around shoving buggy whips and horse dung catchers in people's faces, extorting the profit to which I have a right, having auto manufacturers thrown in jail for violating my rights, while little Johnny and Janie die because they can't be brought to urgent medical attention soon enough.

    Those people who restrain progress by appealing to a supposed right to profit might not be accessories to murder in such a context, but they damned sure have a depraved indifference to human life.

    • In order to understand a menace, you have to understand who or what is being threatened by the menace.

      You're saying that sharing a thing does not threaten an individual, or society as a whole, unless the thing shared or the act of sharing carries a risk of personal harm.
      True.

      The copyright-based companies know that sharing copyrighted content threatens the absolute market control given them by copyright laws.
      Also true.

      The companies say that losing absolute market control threatens their business models and viability.
      Again, true.

      The companies state that loss of their business model threatens the development of new copyrighted content.
      Well, true in one way. It threatens the continuing development of cookie-cutter boy bands and britney-types and formula-plot movies. That's a threat I can definitely live with.

      The companies assert that loss of their business model will threaten artists' ability to be successful (= make money).
      Partly true. It threatens the ability of a very few artists to be very successful superstars, often at the expense of many other artists who have very little chance to be distributed.

      The companies claim that loss of their business model threatens the economy.
      Perhaps this is true, but on what scale, and how does this affect society as a whole? "The Economy" is often a poor measure of overall societal well-being. Even when The Economy is growing, the earnings of the majority of society can be shrinking, like in the US lately. Sometimes, threats to The Economy can help society as a whole, because people are encouraged to find satisfaction in participation rather than consumption (like being in a band rather than playing CDs)

      The ultimate threat, though, is that loss of market control threatens the current lifestyle of the corporate officers and superstars. Anyone will fight for the right to maintain their lifestyle.

      Does sharing of copyrighted content create a menace? Yes. Who or what does it threaten? It threatens the content companies, and those who have a high position or hope to have a high position in the content industries.

      Does not sharing copyrighted content create a menace? Yes. Who or what does it threaten? It threatens the richness and availability of content, artists marginalized by the uniformity imposed by the companies' market control, and innovation in business models to better cope with the ease of sharing content.

      The question isn't whether sharing is a menace, it's whether sharing benefits society as a whole. Which threatens society more, a threat to the few in control, or a threat to the many marginalized?

  • by Fjord (99230) on Thursday March 14, 2002 @12:42PM (#3163186) Homepage Journal
    "What would the music scene look like if the industry disappeared? I imagine things like the Royal family paying for the production of Handel's Water Music."

    This is one possibility, but this is the carrier path I see for a future musician.

    A musician forms a band, they practice and eventually come up with some of their own songs. They play local functions/high schools/clubs, etc from which they make enough money to rent a recording studio for a day to record some of their songs. Then they put the songs out on their webpage and send them to local and nonlocal clubs in an attempt to get gigs. They send them to more famous bands to get a chance at opening for them. The clubs/tours that hire them for a night put the MP3s on their website so that customers can know what the band-they've-never-heard-of sounds like. The band works on their stage performance so that it is bigger and better than just listening to the MP3s. Maybe they have lasers, maybe they have choreography, maybe they have a giant inflatible pig. Who knows. Just something that makes going to the show worth it. Eventually the good entertainers will build up a reputation and they will now be the more famous band looking for opening acts. As more people come to the shows, the band can afford more effects, they'll play at larger venues, and their files will be traded more. Eventually a music video may be made, and it will be put on MTV and their website as a way of marketing a tour and the band in general.

    Without owning the copyright to their works, the band could never do this. They would have to wait for their label to promote them. The clubs won't get as many people in since only people who have heard the band will know if they want to go.

    Eventually, there will be companies that aide in the promotion of bands by finding them clubs, maintaining their websites, and getting them in contact with choreographers/lazer manufacuters/giant pig balloon makers. I imagine these companies already exist, since bands do all this already. These companies will not own the copyright to the band's work.

    Also, they'll sell their CDs at their gigs and most of the money will go to them. People will buy them for the glossy liner notes and as a momento of the concert (much like a shirt purchase). This allows them to upgrade their recordings and make new ones. I also evision kiosks that burn CDs for people without a computer, paying back some of the take to the band. Once the band is large enough Walmart will start carrying the CDs.

    Note that this follows pretty much the career of a musician now. It has the potential to make a band even richer than the present system because they retain their copyright the whole time. They make money directly off their CDs and they can sell the rights for commerical use. Since no one had to pay for their music, people who really like them can more easily recruit their friends. At the very least, they can share the music with them to convince them to go to the concert.

    File sharing has made the RIAA redundant. The RIAA was important for distribution of works that acted as advertising for tours. Broadband has made distribution a nonissue. Home recording technology has made distribution a nonissue. A band doesn't have to convince thousands of stores to take the risk on carrying their CD in inventory, they just have to put their works out for free and submit their MP3s to the kiosk networks.

    So, you see, there are business models for musical artists in a personal file sharing world.
    • So, if you're physically challenged (can't play live), aren't physically robust enough to endure the grind of touring, or you create music that's not suitable for live music (unless you count "playback of prerecorded tapes" as a "live performance"), then that's just too bad? Someone in a wheelchair who has a home studio and creates electronic music should just give up, because they can't stand on stage and play a guitar and make the audience all sweaty? Nice.

      But I agree that bands should own the copyrights to their music.


      • Not to sound cold hearted, but that's one of the challenges of being handicapped. In fact, it's why being handicapped is considered a bad thing. If the world was structured in such a way as to make it easier for handicapped people to be successful, then some people would want to be handicapped. I guess I'm just not seeing the plan of action implied by your train of thought. You're saying that we should maintain the content industry monopoly on the pimping of artists because removing that monopoly would make it more difficult for handicapped people to make a living making music? That's pretty out there, my friend.

        BB King is 80-some odd yrs old, and he's touring. He walks out on stage, fat ass he is, sits in a chair and plays blues guitar. He puts on a great fscking show and people love it. But, I'm not seeing why people would want to pay to see a dude roll out on stage in a wheelchair and push "Go" on a sequencer. It sounds like your trying to defy natural law, here.

        For your wheel-chair bound example to make money off of his electronically sequenced music, he'll likely have to be creative about it. If he can't do live performances, he'll have to think of some other way to make money. That's just the way it is, and it's like that for most electronic musicians, handicapped or not. The electronic music scene is the province of the DJ and the few artists who actually do go out and put on a live show that doesn't depend completely on sequencers.

        .
        • Not to sound cold hearted, but that's one of the challenges of being handicapped. In fact, it's why being handicapped is considered a bad thing. If the world was structured in such a way as to make it easier for handicapped people to be successful, then some people would want to be handicapped.

          Was this serious? You really think that solutions that don't inherently exclude (or make it extremely difficult for) handicapped people would make people want to be handicapped? Are you one of those people who sees a handicapped parking space and goes, "damn I wish I were a paraplegic!"

          I guess I'm just not seeing the plan of action implied by your train of thought.

          I'm not suggesting a specific plan of action (here) -- this is a really difficult problem! I'm saying that this glib "solution" or "reinventing of" how a musician makes a living (by constant touring) has major flaws in it, and not just for the small class of handicapped musicians. If you don't care, because you're not in one of the classes of musicians that are affected by these flaws, yep, that's heartless, or at least self-centered.

          You're saying that we should maintain the content industry monopoly on the pimping of artists because removing that monopoly would make it more difficult for handicapped people to make a living making music?

          Um, no. The record industry and the current schemes for how people get paid, royalties, promotion, etc., are totally unfair and should be fixed or replaced with something better. But "tour your ass off until you die" and "sell CDs at your shows and don't worry about all the pirated copies" and "if you make music that's not suited for live performance, too fricking bad" are also unfair to sizeable numbers of musicians. It's also really sad that at the same time we have technology that allows people to create wonderful music (or software) in their own homes without spending millions of dollars, another aspect of the same technology, when combined with people who have self-centered ethics, makes it impossible for someone to make a living by selling music or software. I would love to see thousands of independent creators out there, making a living by creating great stuff without being dependent on some corporate monolith -- but it ain't gonna happen given "the way it is."

          But, I'm not seeing why people would want to pay to see a dude roll out on stage in a wheelchair and push "Go" on a sequencer. It sounds like your trying to defy natural law, here.

          No, I'm saying that any solution to the current mess should allow for musicians who make music that is either unsuited for live performance, or which might be very expensive to perform live (maybe it requires a 20 piece group). Why should one kind of music be given preference over another, just because it's more difficult to steal?

          For your wheel-chair bound example to make money off of his electronically sequenced music, he'll likely have to be creative about it. If he can't do live performances, he'll have to think of some other way to make money. That's just the way it is, and it's like that for most electronic musicians, handicapped or not. The electronic music scene is the province of the DJ and the few artists who actually do go out and put on a live show that doesn't depend completely on sequencers.

          Why exactly is it that he shouldn't be able to sell CDs? As for being a producer, remixer, etc. -- if you can't sell CDs, then those jobs are in trouble, too. Don't focus on the handicapped thing; I'm saying this is a problem for any media that can be copied, and you're saying that live performance is "the future" because... it can't be copied? So any group that's better in the studio than they are live -- all that music just goes away?

          Here's a point I'd like to make. Lots of people here have the general attitude of, "This technology allows people to get stuff (music, movies, games, etc.) for free. So you can't make money selling music, games, etc. anymore. Well, that's just too bad, that's the way it is now." ok, what if the next wave of technology is a device that allows you to teleport into anyone's home, grab a few objects, and teleport out with them? (Yes, I am aware that copying a CD doesn't deprive the owner of his CD -- that's not what I'm arguing here) Would you say, "Well, you're going to come home and all your stuff is going to be gone, teleported out by whoever. Too bad, you'd better get used to it... that's the way it is now!"

          I'd guess that very few people arguing in favor of "music is free," "information is free" etc. are so-called "content creators," that is, people who spend large amounts of time and money creating things that they quite reasonably expect people to pay for if they want them. It's real easy to argue "that's just the way it is" when you're one of the ones who stands to lose nothing (at least in the short run) and gain a lot (freebies). Just watch out -- that logic will bite you in the ass eventually.



      • Ohh yeah, chances are he'll figure out how to make some good money doing remixes or backing tracks for other artists. There are a ton of people out there making beats for other people. Often they are called "producers", which is not accurate in the traditional recording industry sense of a producer, but they had to call them something.
      • And how is this physically challenged person going to make money in the current model? The label takes pretty much all of the money from the CD sales. Without touring, this person isn't going to retain much of a fan base. If they do, however, there is always the kiosk sales.

        Also, not all physically challenged people can't play live. A guy in a wheelchair is perfectly able to play live.

        But ultimately, if they can't perform live and they can't get enough sales via the kiosks, then yeah, it's too bad. Just like it's too bad they can't get a job as a contrucion worker or a bus driver or many other things. It sucks to be handicapped.

        So can you point me to the list of current artists that have been so debilitated throughout their career that they could never tour and have rocketed to fame and financial independance under the current RIAA business model? I'm curious about who you were thinking about.
        • Look, I obviously shouldn't have brought up the case of handicapped musicians, because everyone's going to say, "hey, being handicapped is tough, we're sorry, but that's the way it is." Let's focus on the fact that lots of music is either unsuited for live performance or may be very expensive to perform live. For example, it may take five guitarists and a 20 piece orchestra or whatever. Or it may take a huge amount of electronics that aren't easily or inexpensively shipped around for touring. Or perhaps its some very very quiet ambient stuff. We all know of plenty of artists or groups that just don't translate well to live performance, but whose studio recordings are great. In this hypothetical future, none of these people can make a living doing what they're good at -- not because their music suddenly sucks, but simply because it's easy to steal it. I think that would be a shame.

          Doesn't anyone else regret the fact that this technology which has (had?) the potential to allow anyone to make an independent living from their home studio or software development lab, even if they live in South Bumfuck, Outer Mongolia, is being abused to the point where the only way to make a living is to drag your physical body around from location to location for live performance, like some human dongle? This doesn't sound like "the future" to me, it sounds like a giant step backwards, a narrowing of possibilities instead of an expansion.

    • ...they need protection from the mafia. The industry keeps a stable of "artists" (I HATE the "a" word [weblogs.com]) in servitude (ultimately at the "artist's" expense) in hopes that they can milk a few for high margins. I would rather have a reasonable chance of earning a living at music than a long-shot a superstardom. Access to channels is what makes this possible. Defense of channels is the Industry's mission in life.

Building translators is good clean fun. -- T. Cheatham

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