Zac Shaw of Mediapocalypse has just written one of the best explanations — and justifications — of the Free Culture movement we’ve yet seen: In Defense of Free Music: A Generational, Ethical High Road Over the Industry’s Corruption and Exploitation.
To understand what he’s responding to, you’ll need a bit of background…
Last week, a 20-year-old intern at NPR named Emily White wrote a post for NPR’s “All Songs Considered” blog, entitled “I Never Owned Any Music To Begin With“. She described, quite eloquently, how her relationship to recorded music was the same as the rest of her generation’s, namely that they don’t see the point of owning physical media like CDs. She gets her music on iTunes and other online services, and stores it in the cloud and on her playback devices. She doesn’t see anything wrong with this.
From the point of view of someone steeped in the Free Culture movement, nothing Emily White said is controversial. Indeed, it was if anything surprisingly tame: she took care to say that she rarely downloads songs illegally, but rather uses state-approved distribution channels, in part because she wants artists to get more money than they do under the old album-based model:
…I honestly don’t think my peers and I will ever pay for albums. I do think we will pay for convenience.
What I want is one massive Spotify-like catalog of music that will sync to my phone and various home entertainment devices. With this new universal database, everyone would have convenient access to everything that has ever been recorded, and performance royalties would be distributed based on play counts (hopefully with more money going back to the artist than the present model). All I require is the ability to listen to what I want, when I want and how I want it. Is that too much to ask?
Then David Lowery at The Trichordist (“Artists for an Ethical Internet”) wrote an impassioned response, “Letter to Emily White at NPR All Songs Considered“, that was really aimed at the Free Culture movement, using White as a proxy. Lowery’s letter is worth reading: he’s clearly sincere, and is willing to pull out every rhetorical trick in his bag to make his case (including, unfortunately, some unfair ones). I don’t think he makes a very good case, but he certainly put his heart into it. His response got a huge amount of circulation, and the coverage appears to be still expanding.
Zac Shaw didn’t think Lowery made a good case either, but instead of just picking apart Lowery’s argument, Shaw constructed a convincing positive argument for the ethical solidity of the Free Culture movement’s position (which Emily White herself did not articulate, but it was Lowery’s real target, and Shaw was right to focus on it).
Enough introduction. Read Zac Shaw’s article — it’s really, really good: