Of Mp3’s and Wikileaks December 16, 2010Posted by onyxashanti in Uncategorized.
I can’t be the only person that sees the relative correlation between the US government and its stance against Wikileaks and the music industry circa 1999 and Napster. It’s so obvious as to be comedic. Or to quote Battlestar Galactica “It has happened before, and it will happen again.”
If you are seeing your industry, whatever it may be, changing drastically in the last couple of years, you would do worse than to make a study of the Music, AND Recording Industry from 1998 to now. Let’s go back (cue dream sequence music…)
The time was the late 90’s. The “mp3 threat” had only just begun. Many people were beginning to rip their CDs to this new, tiny format and a few mp3 players had begun to trickily onto the market. But it was still underground, kinda. You could rip your CD’s and you could get an mp3 player for them but there was no really efficient way of getting them online besides chatrooms and ftp. But then, in July 1999 a college student named Shawn Fanning created something called Napster, which was his nickname at the time. It allowed you to share your mp3’s with others AND get mp3s that you wanted, FOR FREE!
I don’t want to give the ending away, but the music/recording industry was PISSED. They underestimated what was actually happening, how, and what they could actually do about it. they failed to understand, as many other industries are now learning, that the music was simply the first of many aspects of our collective culture that was to become native to this interconnected network of computersand servers known as the internet. They thought that shutting down Napster would (wagging their proverbial finger) show them all whose boss! So they went about the task of demonizing Napster with a full frontal propaganda assault and, long story short, sued Napster into irrelevance. But no sooner than they had even noticed that Napster existed, others were already popping up and evolving the concept. By the time Napster was finished, it had birthed an entire ecosystem of systems that did everything Napster did, better. The lessons learned from how the recording industry attacked Napster, allowed the next generation of file-sharing systems to be smarter and more resistant to attack. The Music industry helped, through its antics, birth bittorent and iTunes. (More on that in just a moment)
So, the result of this war on file-sharing? The music/recording industry, still resistant to change, has not only been decimated, but has allowed a computer company to become the biggest distributor of music in the world. They literally GAVE it to them, and by THEM I mean Apple. But simultaneously, they opened to door for the young guns to come in and rebuild the music performance, distribution and licensing infrastructure, without their input. Sites like Bandcamp and Reverbnation are potentially more important than iTunes in that they are providing a way for any artists to distribute their wares in any way they see fit while being able to connect with fans more intimately. Something the old industry was and still is, loath to do.
How does this relate to The US government and Wikileaks? It’s the exact same movie with different actors, in my opinion. Wikileaks releases a massive load of secret documents and the US government is PISSED. And again, this time the US Govt has underestimated what has actually happened, how and what they can do about it. their thinly veiled dDos attacks on the Wikileaks servers, grabbing their domain, actually having the shortsightedness to warn law students NOT to study the biggest leak of classified documents in US history (and really…who would hire someone who had NOT read them?), pushing for corporate reprisal, banning removable media, and on and on. the result so far? Wikileaks is going strong, with or without a domain name, people are mirroring the site to keep it up and best of all, they are giving Wikileaks loads of free publicity. They are creating the monster they think they are killing!
What’s gonna happen? My prediction is that they will continue their propaganda campaign and build more protections for existing infrastructures rather than adapting to the new realities, effectively taking themselves more and more out of the growing global conversation until the point where the viability of such actions is to stark to ignore, THEN, it will adapt as it always does. In the meantime, the technology of leaking will become more and more refined and efficient. Wikileaks recently began using bittorent which is ironic. Technology from the first digital content war is now being incorporated into the current one. Ironic and telling.
If one looks at the current state of the music industry, one sees that from the corpses of the old model of centralized distribution is springing forth an entirely new ecosystem of decentralization that is allowing more artists to create, connect and succeed. New industries have sprung up around new opportunities. And the old guard are dying or adapting. It has become truly democratized, for better or worse.
Using the music/recording industry debacle as a reference point, here’s what I see. The US Government needs to study the success of the more influential internet companies like Apple, Google and Facebook. Apple is the kingdom of secrets, but they are also resolutely innovative. They set the pace and I believe that if their secrecy becomes more hindrance than benefit (it will), they will adapt. Google provides a platform for interfacing with the world of information. From maps to mail to documents, they want to be the platform we stand on and build our lives on. Whereas Facebook is the surprise contender. What was an exercise in college narcissism is now a powerful means for all people to connect with other people and share the information they want to share. It is how an increasing number of us are getting our news, music, and even personal event schedule yet is simple enough to navigate and understand for most people.
These companies aren’t perfect but each of them understands the world as it exists TODAY, not 20-30 or more years ago. People complain about Facebook and privacy issues, but not enough to leave, because the benefits outweigh the drawbacks. If/when that perception changes, people will move onto something else, like they did with MySpace.
How does this relate to the US Government? I believe that the government must embrace the net and the world as it is NOW. It must realize that although it thinks it is in control, more and more people are investing themselves into this new world order. The internet has elected one president already!!! Without the internet, there would be no Barrack Obama for obvious and not so obvious reasons. The fundraising, the Facebook group, Democratic Party network that reached into almost every community in the entire United States…this was simply not possible to this level, in 2004 or earlier. It was as much the arrival of the political clout of the internet as it was of a new president. The old system was not enough to hold back the will of the people in this case. And the peoples will was informed and connected through the internet.
Currently there are attacks on net neutrality in hopes of controlling the internet but I posit that it is too late for that and it didn’t work the first time. There was already a time when people paid for tiered data packages at the beginning of the web, and all that will happen is that it will create a market opportunity for the companies smart enough to make it happen.
The US government must embrace the change. I would suggest turning all government data into open API where we can see the data in real time and create mashups to interpret that data. Being able to see how our tax dollars are spent doesn’t mean that America will stop fighting wars or provide healthcare for its citizens, but then again, it just might. Our representative must be able to have access to exactly what is it his constituents want, and be able to act on that instantly, knowing that that is what we expect and we must be able to see if this is happening, instantly. When they know that we are watching, right now, they will act very differently, which is part of the reason for the over-reaction to the Wikileaks documents. People acting with impunity, allegedly on our behalf are afraid of losing their cloak of secrecy.
being able to see just where and how our government is acting and being able to be part of the process rather than just subject to it, would, I believe, reinvigorate all aspects of American life and its economy. With data, we can start to vote in our own interest rather than just absorbing propaganda from over politicized media conglomerates (which is another model that is going to die soon). We can act on DATA. Not simply feelings, or patriotism or manipulation.
Will it happen? Not today. The amount of change happening in society is so exponential and profound right now that I don’t believe America can deal with a ground up rewrite of the system, of this magnitude. There is only so much “change” people can grasp at one time. Otherwise people will start “reacting” to change rather than “acting” to create said change.
Will it happen tomorrow? Inevitably. But not before it gets worse. using the lessons of the music industry war on piracy as a metaphor, leakers, will be lumped in with terrorists, more people will be assumed to be guilty of non-existent crimes, the existing faltering old systems (useless wars, banking system, health insurance system, prison system) will be propped up, with American tax dollars until they crumble under their own weight and we will witness the most profound media campaign against a concept since the war on drugs (and you see how well that worked out). but as a newer (not necessarily younger) generation of connected politicians and officials, gain power- a generation that will have been weaned on social networking and collaboration on a personal scale on up, the obviousness will be converted into verifiable change.
But the experiment for the way forward has already begun. We simply have to carefully look at how the inconsequential audio layer of a movie compression format, brought down an empire and has permanently changed how we interact with music. A similar change is underway with government and it will be a far more profound change but will follow similar vectors.