[ On the Napster message boards, a fellow community member posted a note about the concept of music ownership and — knowing I have strong feelings about this issue — invited me to reply. Below is my response. – Adam]
I think the concept of ownership in the Digital Age is both fascinating and frustrating. The real problem facing the RIAA, artists, and consumers isn’t copying; that’s just a symptom. Instead, what concerns me is the public’s current inability to recognize art as EXPERIENCES, not THINGS.
What this means is that, in an optimum world (economically and artistically), music is *NOT* viewed or treated as couches or jelly beans or flashlights or cars.
While physical objects (especially, well, cars), may occasionally elicit strong emotions, they are in and of themselves valuable and functional in their presence. Music (as, I’d suggest, any other form of art as well), is contrastingly interesting / useful / in-mind even when not present.
CDs, as a physical manifestation, evoke and symbolize the traits of art, but (with, again, few exceptions) are not art themselves.
What does all this really MEAN? Well, the sooner corporations, artists and consumers can understand and embrace their relation to Art as experiences and — economically speaking — services, the sooner we’ll reach an equillibrium which respects and supports all parties involved.
Specifically, there will come a day when we value and are willing to pay for music, for instance, based upon how it makes us feel, not what particular form it comes in. In a rudimentary sense, this will still involve paying more for a live concert (understandably) over pre-recorded music, but also pay more for collections of songs customized to OUR personal mood at any given moment (“Napster Mood AutoPlaylists”) and generally for music which touches us in ways it does not affect others due to timing, selection, scope, and other personalized factors. The companies which will be ultimately successful will be those which best facilitate EXPERIENCE with Music — and I don’t just mean the sounds themselves. Exchanges of info and opinions between artists and consumers, insights into the ongoing musical creation process, even the faciliated procurement of physical manifestations of music (signed playlists, old guitars, etc.)… all part of the grand idea of Music.
Music may become the ultimate of in-demand, though ideally not at the expense of serendipetous discovery. And through this — helping people to maximize the EMOTIONAL benefits through music — music and other forms of art will be transformed from things… bits… possessions… something owned… to somethings provided, experienced, felt.
This is why music subscriptions — though still rudimentary today — are the way of the future. And as the transformation progresses, worries about the “intellectual property rights” will become moot, as labels and artists and others serve as creators, providers, connectors, and not merely distributors.
Fat bandwidth pipes are not significant barriers to entry. Licenses to actual music will soon no longer a significant barrier to entry. Nicer GUIs and techie doodads and lower prices — still eventually not significant barriers to entry.
But creating and maintaining trust not only with consumers, but also with artists and their agents… this is built over time, and is not easily or quickly duplicated.
From this trust, the idea of “stealing” art will become foreign, for feelings and experiences are personal and cannot be duplicated en masse.
And when that day comes, the now-oft-separate trajectories of musicians, their facilitators, and consumers will have pointed towards and reached a common goal and common point. And we will all win.