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When we consider the implications of the world wide web as a platform for personal expression - particularly as a tool for the creation and distribution of music - it's hard to avoid rather abstract notions of revolutionary change.
I think this is partly because, despite the hurtling speed at which the technology has developed, the web has remained a remarkably level playing field. The potential for huge change (the reshaping or disappearance of the current music industry) is still in fluid form and we're yet to see whether corporations or artists will become the true benefactors.
With technology now available that enables artists to produce and distribute records without the support of a label, it would seem as though irrevocable change is inevitable. Ironically, the challenge that the independent artist faces in launching a career via the web is also the main problem for companies - the world wide web as it stands is a free-for-all where music can be reproduced and exchanged unpoliced by commercial interests.
Due to questions of digital rights management and the seeming impossibility of distributing music without it being copied and redistributed, attempts to monopolise the web have been handicapped. Indeed, it seems unprecedented in its democratic nature. The web is a highly accessible medium to which anyone can contribute whatever they wish with few restraints. So is it immune to the limitations and ideology imposed by corporate ownership?
Well, take a deep breath! Human Lobotomy, a short documentary on the phenomenon of net neutrality reveals how this free-for-all is shortly to be well and truly crashed by the usual suspects.
However commonplace it already seems in our daily lives, the film highlights the fact that the web is a young medium, essentially still in a developmental stage. Speculating on what may soon be its fate, Human Lobotomy draws chilling comparisons to the early stages of newspapers and radio. Both mediums began life as highly accessible carriers of information and opinion which individuals, unaffiliated to any company, could afford to produce. Both forms were quickly transformed into "one directional mediums" when commercial interests took over and the cost of production became exorbitant.
It now seems bizarre that in the 1920s radio was "common technology" by means of which anybody could broadcast their ideas. The fact that this concept seems so alien suggests to me the extent to which we have become accustomed to corporate domination of radio and all that implies for its content. Is it possible that our current use of the web (people spreading music they have just produced, discussing current events, or recounting their daily life) will also come to seem like an antiquated moment when people temporarily possessed an open platform to share opinions and art unhindered by questions of profits?
This film proposes that telephone companies are seeking means to act as "traffic controllers" and take a hand in the regulation of the internet. It suggests that they plan to introduce a system of fees for varying levels of service, a move which would have very negative repercussions for independent media. Essentially, it seems as though the long-term vision is to transform the internet into pay-per-view television. In the US, five bills that would have prevented the introduction of fee structures have been defeated by Congress leaving possibilities for this monopolisation wide open.
Whatever your opinion of the calibre of a lot of the music, film or reportage being distributed on the web, approximately 60% of it is currently being produced by individuals rather than corporations. While the web may not guarantee independent artists a living, it does allow them an extraordinary opportunity to distribute what they are producing without affiliating themselves to corporations and bending to their demands. And as things stand financial concerns are not sufficient to exclude anyone from contributing.
This technology has already brought significant changes in the production and consumption of music and I believe it could lead to changes that have not as yet been envisaged. If we allow it to suffer the same fate as radio we will never see any of the potential come to fruition, and we will have been robbed along with future generations.
© Words – Alan McGee (Original article appeared in The Guardian – Used by Kind permission)