Archive for January 3rd, 2010

U2’s Bono needs a clue

U2’s Bono calls for control over internet downloads, says on his guest column at NYTimes.

I fail to understand how this can be done though. He mentions child pornography as being combated successfully by law enforcements, but thing is, child pornography is less widespread than… mp3s. And it’s ALL illegal, while not all mp3s are illegal. It would cost an arm and a leg to get officers tracking down every possible mp3 on the internet, since it’s not just bittorrent we’re talking about, but also a lot of “music blogs” that link to illegal files, and PR/artist/label/music magazines that link to LEGAL files. So how do you know which ones are illegal and which ones are promos/freebies? The only ways to really regulate the situation fast-enough, and cheaply-enough, are two:

1. Make ALL downloaded media file formats illegal. No exceptions. This of course is not a very practical or even constitutional solution.
2. Require that all WMA/AAC/MP3s files are digitally signed. Not DRM’ed, but signed with a license. It’s the only way to easily find out via a ‘crawler’ utility that FBI could build if an offered mp3 is a promotional free-as-in-beer file, or an illegally uploaded one.

And this would create massive problems to indie and Creative Commons artists, because it would make every artist a registered provider. Given that most of them can’t even complete their mp3 tags properly on their free promo mp3s before uploading on their server, I fail to see how the same people would be able to properly get a license to give out mp3s. Such a measure won’t only make users outlaws, but some of the artists as well! In other words, such measures for file distributions would have the exact opposite effect of what that Bono claims to “the young, fledgling songwriters who can’t live off ticket and T-shirt sales“.

The music magazines will also be hit with the problem because they won’t be able to give out mp3s as easily anymore. Which would mean less exposure to the artists. I mean, I spent most of my holidays tracking down legal mp3 promos. I added 2.7 GBs of legal mp3s in my music collection the past 10 days, and I found some really good artists this way that I actually later bought their full albums or more mp3s from them. Under a new regime, downloading mp3 promos would be an ordeal, and an added risk. The magazines wouldn’t bother, the users wouldn’t bother. Too much trouble about nothing. Who’d pay the price for it? The indie artists.

The major labels and artists won’t be hit much from it, since they almost never give out free promos anyway! If such a law ever passes, it will be a massive kick in the nuts for the indie industry and Creative Commons artists, because the promos or freebies are the only way for these artists to be heard. In fact, according to reports, the average indie artist is making increasingly more money these days rather than back in 2000 — despite the rampant piracy that’s going on in the last 10 years. Obviously, restricting the media transmission will bring the world back to a pre-internet era, where the major labels have the upper hand again, because they would be controlling the internet too, in addition to TV and radio, while the indie artists will be dying of hunger.

Not to mention that wild rumor that’s going around for a while now that RIAA is preparing an international copyright treaty where people would be questioned on the airports about where they got their music files from. Think of having to give out your iPod to a special machine during security checking to check for all the embedded licenses. What would happen on the older files that have no licenses? CD-rips? Not to mention that going through 120 GB of data is enough to make you miss your plane too (these hard drives are dead-slow). Sure, this is just a rumor for now, but there’s no smoke without a fire. This is why I _always_ update the “comments” tag of all legal mp3s I download with the URLs I downloaded them from, to prove that it was from either an artist/label/PR site, or a well-respected music magazine. Might prove me wise in a few years time.

And if airport checks might never realize, house-to-house checks might. I trust RIAA to lobby for things like that. Just like you get your door knocked in UK by officers to check for your TV license, there’s no reason why an officer wouldn’t knock your door to check for your mp3s on your computer, if such a law passes. I trust that if they find “what seems to be illegal” mp3s on your drive they won’t charge you with thousands of dollars per song, but certainly $100 or so. There would be enough volume to pay for these officers, and RIAA, and the government. Who loses again? All the citizens, artists and not.

Sure, this sounds like a “police state” to you, that “will never happen”. But if you had a time machine and you could transport yourself back to 1920s, and you mentioned to the people of that era that by 1980 everyone would need a license to have chickens in their garden, they would laugh at you and tell you that you’re fucking crazy. Sorry guys, but that’s how most political shifts happen in a capitalistic environment. Slowly, but surely, usually induced by lobbying. It’s never a swift change, it’s always done gradually.

And finally, the other problem of file-signing is technological innovation. If the governments of the world require all AAC, WMA and MP3 files to be digitally signed, then it might make it illegal to use a different file format, simply because the government won’t have ways to check licenses on newer media formats. And if not illegal, certainly a trouble-making experience. So basically, the media formats would be a “locked” affair, since no one would want to jump to another format, from fear of what might happen to them. This would kill R&D on audio and video formats. This is how technological innovation dies. With fucked up laws and regulations like the ones Bono aspires to.

So, my dear Bono, as South Park so elegantly put it, your ideas are the biggest pieces of crap in the world. Well, either yours, or the RIAA/UMG prick who wrote that article for you.