Tuesday, January 25, 2005

seeding, spreading, sowing together

The Sunday version of the UK Guardian-Observer has an endearingly/irritatingly whimsical article describing several of not-quite-file-sharing systems managed online.

First he describes etree.org, a site that lets you post a list of recordings you would trade for other recordings (I think you actually trade copies and not the originals, and you do it by mail). He says: "It's not really legal but has a fairly clear self-imposed moral code that has kept it at the bottom of the to-do list of the label lawyers and copyright cops - no money changes hands, no commercially available material is allowed to be traded."

Echoes of Grateful Dead bootleg traders. Apparently the GD did not prosecute people who traded music as fans, but did prosecute people who sold them outright. This sparked my old grump about Metallica, self-righteously going after pirates while not recognizing the role of bootlegging and piracy in their own fame - I remember when NO radio stations would play Metallica! It was the fans, the pirates, who kept interest up and spread the word about Metallica, copying and trading tapes. Although Lars Ulrich makes an argument (more familiar in Europe) that artists have a right to control what happens to their music.. I think they didn't have the ability to control it back then, they just didn't care because it helped them, building a fan base so loyal and willing to spend money on them that they eventually had the ability to sign with a major but still own their own master tapes, a fact that allows them to profit from suing people for infringement now. I admit the fans copying now are maybe not all the same as the fans that made them strong back then, but the argument on Ulrich's side is pretty weak (and weakened further by his pedrsistent equation of copying with stealing - as if you could measure the effects of copying that simply).

O for some sociologists to do a study of metallica fans from the 1980s and their social norms around taping shows and copying the tapes..

Anyway, back to the article. He describes two more complex and interesting systems than etree: audioscrobbler.com and last.fm..

For both, you download a program which works while you are playing music on your computer - it simultaneously uploads NOT the files you are playing, but a list of the artists and titles of the tracks, and compiles them into a chart, and adds them to a central chart "which always seems to have Radiohead on top."

He says: "The really sexy bit is that it compares my tastes to other people's on the system and gives me the charts and recently played lists of people whose tastes are statistically close to mine. So I visit the page of a person whose tastes are 40 per cent the same as mine and take a look at what makes up the 60 per cent I don't play myself. Last.fm takes the whole thing a step further. The site uses the statistics from audioscrobbler to stream a radio station to your machine based on the same calculation that you'll like the same stuff as other people with broadly the same tastes."

One interesting policy implication for me is that the author speaks of these activities in the context of "the future of radio." Embedded in this (and maybe there's an English thing here- do they usually think of these issues in the context of radio?) is an assumption that downhillbattle and others state more explicitly: that there is a similarity between online publishing and broadcasting. I see that analogies with broadcasting could perhaps provide more useful legal precedents for fair-use arguments. It gives you more of a chance to brings in the rights of the public, and of fans, and of genre and music communities in a way that the fair-use arguments based in libraries and photocopying do not.

An idea I'm hoping to get more into as a scholar is presaged here: These systems allow you to connect with other people you musically 'overlap' with and broaden your taste on their recommendations. Reminds me of the fun I've had "browsing hosts" with Limewire and using their chat function to meet crazed breakcore fan/producers in Edmmonton, Alberta (big up!)..or find out who has my mix in Belgium.. and also sitting in Berlin with the Society Suckers and watching them chat via soulseek with producer/fans all over the frickin globe.

Capitalizing on a sense of cameraderie based in fandom, taste, maybe identity? Something I don't think has been discussed or explored in terms of public interest. Hey, a niche, maybe?

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