• 95 These Nailed to the Web

last modified August 17, 2012 by strypey

by Danyl Strype

The first article I had published in Bohème (Decommodifying Music - Sept 2003 ) was a manifesto of sorts, a call to arms for musicians and creatives in general inspired by the likes of the Adbusters' Media Carta and Jello Biafra imploring us to Become the Media. I challenged artists to see the internet as an opportunity to break with the corporate media monopolies, to disseminate their own creative work online and receive money on the busking principle - with their audience paying according to what they can afford and how much they like their work.

Since then various new tools and institutions necessary to make this proposed independent music network possible have come along in leaps and bounds and are finally converging to form what the Libre Society refers to as 'machines of struggle' for creative freedom. So, let's have a look at some of the modules of this independent media machine.

Firstly there have been a number of exciting developments in open digital multimedia software since I mentioned the open source sound format Ogg Vorbis (created by Xiph.org) in the original article. Vorbis is a 'lossy' format (like MP3) where sound quality is sacrificed for a smaller file size. FLAC is a lossless, CD-quality file format now also under the Xiph umbrella and is being rapidly adopted by everyone from album trading communities like ETree to established bands like They Might Be Giants.

Add to this the addition of Vorbis support to the Icecast streaming software and the release of significant portions of RealPlayer source to the newly created Helix Community which could eventually support streaming of Vorbis or FLAC audio with Ogg Theora video and things are looking good for people who want to distribute their music over the net without paying royalties to software companies. But it doesn't end there.

In my original article I mentioned BitTorrent. In this system anyone downloading a file is simultaneously and anonymously uploading portions of the same file to other users, making it structurally useless to leeches -people who take files from peer-to-peer systems without making them available to others.

While there are Kazaa-like desktop clients like Shareaza (GPL) and eXeem (adware) based on the BitTorrent protocol they suffer from the same problems of untrustworthy (corrupted, mislabeled, low quality) files as other peer-to-peer systems. But because utilizing BitTorrent shifts bandwidth costs from whoever is hosting files to the users downloading them it has been rapidly adopted by people offering downloads of anything from software to movies on their own websites. One example is BannedMusic who use it to offer downloads of musical works that have been censored by legal proceedings.

While the debates over the morality of copyright and piracy rage on, many artists musical and otherwise are actively encouraging people to share their works over the net. My original article referenced Creative Commons which has evolved into a tremendous resource, allowing artists to specify - explicitly, legally and technically - exactly what conditions they wish to impose on the distribution of their work. They also have a sister site CommonContent that catalogues work released under their licenses.

Science fiction author Cory Doctorow has released the entire text of his first novel and a number of his short stories under a Creative Commons license and believes this has stimulated sales of print copies rather than undermining them. Another enthusiastic supporter of free distribution of media is the Internet Archive who host the entire collections of non-profit community-based 'netlabels' much of which is also covered by Creative Commons licensing. Although the AdoptABand site mentioned in my original article seems to have vanished from the web a multitude of online labels like the Kahvi Collective and Mindawn, who both use Ogg formats, have sprung up to replace them.

But the most exciting new organisation and the impetus for writing this article is US-based Downhill Battle who have dealt with most of the points of action raised in my article. They have developed user-friendly BitTorrent hosting software called BlogTorrent, created a slick parody of the Apple's iTunes music shop site and founded the Society for Participatory Culture which proposes a radical new take on television incorporating BlogTorrent, RSS and a desktop tv. They also support the Electronic Frontier Foundation's Voluntary Collective Licensing scheme for compensating musicians.

These innovations also offer tantalising possibilities for areas outside the entertainment and information arts. OpenContent advocates the application of CreativeCommons-style licensing to scientific research and journals and free dissemination of their content. Patent equivalents are emerging that allow the benefits of inventions and discoveries to be shared with humanity while protecting the rights of researchers to be credited and compensated.

While it is fair to note that for the most part direct involvement in this new media movement is only accessible to those with internet access - still a fairly small portion of the world's population - it's also worth noting that this same portion are the ones likely to have access to tvs, stereos, vhs and dvd players, books, telephones and the various other accoutrements of modernism. The emerging media culture exemplified by the examples discussed here seems to me to provide a way out of the false choice between accepting the corporate monopoly over the field of creativity and giving up on media technology altogether.

But it's true that the free culture revolution needs to extend beyond the digital realms and in this respect I think it's relevant that the only aspect of my manifesto that shows no sign of being actively implemented is the one that could actually tie this online Boston Tea Party into the rest of the world - the Independent Sound Centres. My next project will be to write more about this concept with special focus on how existing independent music shops, venues, studios, book shops, art spaces, social centres etc. could contribute to the formation of an Independent Sound Centre in their area.

Overall these new approaches to the flow of information may prove to be as important as the original social contracts recognising the importance of freedom of opinion, speech and expression. If freedom of information is a prerequisite of a democratic society then preventing its enclosure by the corporations and their trade agreements may be as historic as the breaking of the spiritual monopoly of the medieval Catholic Church. Let the media reformation begin.

(note: as you may have noticed if you clicked any of the links in this article, I had to rescue this text from the Archive.org Wayback Machine, as I couldn't find the original on the Boheme site)

Originally published in Boheme Magazine (May 2005)


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