Monday, May 18, 2009

Capitalism and the Alcoholism of the Music Industry.

UPDATED: Imagine, if you will, the digital music environment as a person. The body, by analogy, is the music industry. The brain is controlled by the directors of the four major record labels with a small space for independents. The speech and actions of this person are therefore predominantly made and influenced by those in the majority who themselves are ‘under the influence’ of capitalism. Indeed this greed is an illness which well equates to alcoholism.

Reflect a little on what this person says and does. The expression is predominantly of one type – it talks about love, it talks about pain, personal struggle, and it entertains. It is often repetitive, reminiscing about times past and sometimes abusive. Much like a real person heavily intoxicated by alcohol it cannot rationalise the world’s events, it focuses on things that are subjective and is incapable of holding a sustained conversation about critical issues that face society.

It is unstable, it is obsessed with getting more of the substance which keeps it feeling this way. It is constantly reaching for the bottle – drinking every last drop of musician’s talent and then discarding them for another over and over again. Its behaviour fractures communities and it offers itself as a poor example to the young people around it who, through ongoing exposure, see this as the normal, as the acceptable and as the example by which others should live.

But it cannot see itself in the mirror. It is blind drunk and beyond being able to help itself. It has a poor memory of the events that have taken place in the past and has not learnt from its mistakes.

Capitalism is the music industry’s alcohol. Its dependency drives the need for it to get more all the time – so why does it act in such a destructive way? The answer lies within the structure of the brain.

The directors of the four major record labels owe a fiduciary duty to their corporations. This duty compels them to act in a way that ensures the greatest profits are produced. In the process of securing more and more money they seek to influence others to create freer (liquor licensing) conditions. Public choice theory describes the cycle by which major corporations threaten and pressure governments to enact new laws which work in their favour and this person, this drunk, exerts its irrationality on those that should be more concerned with helping society.

Indeed it stands on the precipice of self destruction. Despite its addiction, despite its nonsensical speech, despite its influence over governments, it is failing at an ever increasing rate to get enough money into its system. Each year the revenue of the major labels drops. Some of this money is channelled into independent artists who are now able to take more control over the body to create new expression. But on the whole, the industry is getting sicker and sicker.

Furthermore, while the industry explores the new veins and arteries of its recently evolved limb - the digital environment - network neutrality and the contamination of this new part of the body by capitalist priorities threatens its adaptation forever.

So what can we do to help stop this illness?

One approach would be to take this person aside and speak to them about their problems. Explain to them that what they are doing and why it is so destructive. This has already been tried. Academics such as Professor Lawrence Lessig, Professor Terry Fisher and Professor Neil Netanel and many others in the mainstream media and on the internet have tried to ‘intervene’ by writing about these issues. There have been open arguments with representatives of the record labels. They are aware of our concerns and yet they still do nothing.

Another approach is to cut of its supply altogether. File sharing networks are, in essence, the means by which others try to ‘steal’ the alcohol away from this person. But the illegality of these actions only enrage it more and help to perpetuate the discord between the industry and the world leading it to demand more protection and support for its habit. Indeed, the music industry needs some money to function otherwise it will suffer from withdrawal symptoms and be incapable of functioning at all.

Another approach is to wait for capitalism to take its course. The Corporations law and the fiduciary responsibilities of the directors should, at some point, create a tipping point – an acquired brain injury. They should arrive at an equilibrium whereby these companies have lost so much money and are so desperate that they eventually help themselves by introducing a collective licensing regime. But I do not trust them to do this in a way that will be inclusive.

What we actually need is for the government to step in.

This body needs a new brain – there needs to be a shift in control of the industry itself to ensure a democratic governance structure is in place with the capacity to think and act rationally. This will enable the industry to be healthy with enough money to support a professional sector of creators that are free to express themselves to the best of their ability. We need the internal controls to be in place to ensure that in the future, adaptation to new technologies is quick and effective.

More Information
Wikipedia, Alcoholism (17 May 2009)
<> at 17 May 2009

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