Little Red Blogger

This blog looks at radical politics(with a libertarian socialist slant), music and culture. Marx to Mises, Girls Aloud to Steve Reich...

Location: Wiltshire, United Kingdom

Saturday, March 05, 2005

The Politics of Scarcity in a Digital Age

As anyone vaguely technically minded from the UK will know the BPI has recently started suing people who partake of filesharing services like Grokster, Kazaa, WinMX etc. This legal action is intended to scare and punish those who share copyrighted music files and those who have been sued have been forced to settle to avoid further legal damage.

This type of legal action seems to me and act born of weakness rather then strength by the record industry. Networked computers with large amounts of storage and processing power pose a big threat to the economics of the traditional record industry. This threat is two pronged, firstly people can produce music cheaply and quickly using freely available or very cheap software in many this is particuarly the case for electronic music. Secondly peer to peer distributed networks cut out the middle man artist no longer need sign up to a record company to distribute or sell their work ergo the record company gets no cut. Combine both of these threats together and you can start to see a future where record companies are redundant.

Now turkey's don't vote for Christmans and record companies most definitely don't vote for peer to peer filesharing. Record companies are a classic example of a government backed oliogopoly. Artists are indebted and legally bound vassals of the record company with advances used to discipline and corral them into marketing campaigns and promotional gimmicks. Record companies see the artist as a farmer sees cattle: just another asset to be milked. Artists after costs and expenses see very little profit from each individual CD, roughly 10p per CD in this country.

So if record companies are such a bad deal for the majority of artists why do they continue to occupy such a key position in the music industry? Put simply they monopolise the means of distribution and promotion of new artists in this country, which then explains why they see filesharing as such a big threat.

Being a Mutualist I wish to see a world where the record companies no longer exist and the artist gets fairly compensated for their work. How then can this be reconciled with the reality of file sharing and that old hacker cliche that 'information wants to be free'? The only possible solution that I can see working is some kind of yearly flat flee for file sharers combined with direct payment to the artists concerned. The record companies at present are trying to enforce an artificial scarcity, this has a market distorting effect and prevents new business and legal solutions being found to the reality that is file sharing