For most of our history, creative content has moved freely – if slowly – through culture. Before the printing press, stories were passed through oral tradition of through hand written reproduction. Both of these models allowed room for change and adaptation. Once he technology of printing and publishing arrived, written content was increasingly locked, owned and protected.
The same has been true for musical content – especially in the folk tradition. Music passed from player to listener. People would learn and swap songs, change the lyrics, reuse the tune and create together. Obviously someone somewhere had written the song and the music and often it was available in sheet form for others to play. The understanding and assumption was that people would play and perform the music.
Once sound recording came onto the scene, that seems to have changed. No more sharing songs with friends. No more repurposing tunes or lyrics. Thanks to recording audio content became something that could be locked, owned, protected and commoditized. Are we better off?
There’s a relationship between the level of skill/technology needed to produce content and the lengths people are willing to take to prevent its reproduction. I mean if I relate a story I’ve read in a book no one raises an eyebrow. If I were to tell a story – or even read from a book – in front of a group, no one cracks down.
If I were to play a piece of produced content in front of that same group – whether it was sound or images – what then? Would that be OK?
One think that’s interesting to consider is that a company like Sony used to actively encourage people to reproduce copyrighted produced content. How many tape decks and blank cassettes have they sold over the past 40 years? Why was it OK to tape but now not OK to rip? And Sony’s taken the extra step to suggest that copying music you OWN for your own use may be criminal.
The barriers to producing and sharing content are down. We’re back in the content world that we have existed in for hundreds of thousands of years. Technology took the freedom to create and recreate and share away as the ability to produce and protect content became prevalent.
We’re kind of back to where we started but we need to be responsible. Wholesale copyright infringement isn’t OK but a more liberal understanding of fair use needs to be developed to allow for the resumption of non-homoginized cultural development.
Check out Tom Pettitt’s paper on the Gutenberg Parenthesis for more coherent thoughts on this whole issue.
What do you think?