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10 March 2005

Global Free Trade Under Threat From Corporate Greed

On 28th February The Register reported that: "The market for downloaded music is strong enough to take a price rise, according to the major music labels." This might lead people to believe that all is going well in the corporate music world. Apparently, not so.

Less than two weeks later, and under the banner of 'Music industry 'nails UK pirates', the results of the British Phonographic Industry's first round of threatening to sue peer-to-peer users are announced as 23 people pay up for file-sharing.

As the BPI follow the lead of the RIAA, and more recently, the MPAA and the actions of a number of other slightly lower profile cases in Denmark, Germany, Italy and Canada, the global media Mafia step-up their campaign to ensure the music download market will sustain the same sort of cartel-inspired, artificially inflated prices that the media industries have always managed to impose on their captive audience.

The use of the word 'pirate' to describe a range of people who include a student, the director of an IT company, and a local councilor, who range in age from 22 to 58, strikes me as rather strange for a 'pirate' is one who preys on others.

Picture, if you will, groups of cocaine-snorting, cross media-industry representatives at a lavish industry gathering, quaffing bottles of champagne that cost more than most music consumers pay to keep a roof over their heads each month, rejoicing at how well music sales are going and how nicely online sales are now they've finally got round to figuring out a little bit about how this new Internet thing works, and wondering still how maybe they can make themselves all just that little bit richer, even if it is at the expense of the very people that gave them all their money in the first place.

Then picture a 22 year old student sat at home with a PC and an Internet connection. Their favourite band has released a new single. She's bought all their previous albums and singles and even a couple of solo efforts by various members of the band, and now the papers, the magazines and just about everyone else is raving about how good the new single is. But, the last thing that the budget will stretch to is a new CD, no matter how desirable it might be. After searching the Internet for a while the student manages to find the new song for download and, after waiting for it to download, she finally gets to listen to the much hyped song.

Now picture the former threatening the latter with legal proceedings and fines of thousands of pounds on the basis that she is a pirate.

In any case where the former, a group of incredibly wealthy media organisations with billions of pounds/dollars/euros/etc at their disposal, are threatening and intimidating the latter, an impoverished, student trying to scrape her way through college, or indeed any other individual with less material wealth than say, whatever a reasonable, current value for habitable accommodation to suit their circumstance might be, the only possible discernible 'piracy', or 'preying on others' occurring is that which is being orchestrated by the media corporations, en masse, against comparatively defenseless individuals.

The sad irony of the music business suing their customers is that artists create to share their passions with others and any artist will willingly admit that their art is nothing without an audience to appreciate it. The more people that have an opportunity to experience and appreciate an artist's work, by whatever means available, so much greater will the success of the artist be. Conversely, if you've never heard of an artist, you're never likely to buy their CD, or tell your friends about them and buy a bunch of tickets to their concert.

The media industry versus peer-to-peer file-sharing battle has nothing to do with piracy.

The industry openly admits that business is booming and getting better all the time, whether this be despite the existence of peer-to-peer networks, or as a direct result of artists obtaining increased exposure via them.

The media industry versus peer-to-peer file-sharing battle is one of control.

Control the supply in a market driven economy and you control the market. What anyone with a passing interest in peer-to-peer developments is witnessing now is a frantic and desperate attempt by the media conglomerates to maintain control of the artificial marketplace they created and which was, until very recently, beyond the bounds of any serious threat.

Technologies like peer-to-peer file-sharing are the ultimate in capitalist, free-market fantasies - international and operating without let or hindrance the world over in the true sense of the word free. If the multi-million dollar entertainment industry is too bloated to keep up with this and other media revolutions without dictating what the world can and can't do online, and has to die as a result, so be it.

By liberating the media marketplace, file-sharing has opened up a whole new world of direct-to-audience opportunities for artists everywhere for it is after all 'audiences' that true artists seek, not the 'demographics' media oligopolies seek to control with their every action.

The transition to this new media age may not be smooth but when anyone with access to camcorder, a computer and an Internet connection can make and distribute films and music of equal and better quality to that available elsewhere at artificially inflated prices, we are all assured a far more diverse and interesting media future.

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