Marx and Engels start the Communist Manifesto with a warning: the people in power are scared of the coming changes. This warning can be adapted for our times:
A spectre is haunting the Internet – the spectre of file sharing networks. All the powers of old media have entered into a holy alliance to exorcise this spectre: the RIAA, the MPAA, the corporate lawyers and government police-spies of the FCC.
After reading Lessig’s book Remix, I realized the war waged on file sharing could be made into a Marxist argument.
Current intellectual property laws give rights to the copyright holders. In most cases, this is not the artist. For musicians that sign a contract with a record label, the record label retains exclusive rights to the artists’ songs. Over time, the length of a copyright has been increased dramatically. Originally, the rights to an idea, song or movie were held for 20 years. But now it has been increased to the life of the artist plus 99 years. Since the artist doesn’t own the rights to the songs, the record label stands to gain much from this arrangement.
After years of abuse, the musicians are fed-up with the poor treatment received at the hands of their tormentors. Music sales have also declined. The price of media has continued to rise, but there has been little reason for the cost hike. Online distribution eliminates the need for manufacturing and physical distribution, so it should reduce the cost to consumers.
Marx argues that when the working class rises up to fight the unfair and oppressive ruling class, it will then redistribute the wealth so that everyone shares ownership of property. After this revolution, anything created by an individual can be used by anyone without having to ask permission. Comparing this to communism, the file sharing networks take property in the form of mp3s from the RIAA or ripped movies from the MPAA (the bourgeoisie in this instance) and redistributes it to the masses (the proletariat). Most people do not view intangible electronic files as something that one can possess due to the lack of a physical presence.
It seems the time for revolution is now.
Artists such as Nine Inch Nails and, to a lesser extent, Radiohead, are releasing their music for free. File sharing networks are most of the traffic on the Internet. The MPAA and RIAA are trying to put the kibosh on any extra curricular activity.
The Internet is the great equalizer Marx envisioned. With the Internet, any one individual has as much power as the next. If the entire Internet community united against the media companies, nothing could be done to stop it.
So, do I feel sympathy for the record companies? Not really. I do feel bad for struggling artists. If I enjoy their music, I should support them in some fashion. If I don’t buy their albums, then I should at least make an attempt to see them live or purchase a t-shirt from their website. As one of my friends told me, “albums are loss leaders for tours.” The music is the advertising used to pull in more revenue.