I once wrote a play set in the near future, when a one world government decrees that musicians must play "the song." No other music is allowed. Everything else has been destroyed, except for the memories of certain musicians. In this petrified, angst ridden nether land, improvisation is banned and bebop is forbiddenany musician who disobeys is either shot on sight, or sent to a government re-education camp. In 1992, when I wrote this for a Jazz Theatre Workshop project I was doing at the New School Jazz program, the premise seemed intriguing but unlikely. Today, I just don't know.
Is there an unspoken conspiracy amongst the Supreme Court, the Recording Industry Association of America, the Politburo of the Chinese Communist Party and members of the US Congress to censor content on the Internet?
In the past several years, there's been a not so subtle erosion of civil liberties here in the Kingdom of Fear, all in the name of fighting terrorism. It started with Patriot Act I, which few people have read, and continues with Patriot Act II, which most people don't even know about.
On Tuesday, there will be a Supreme Court hearing which will decide whether P2P filesharing services are liable for what users do with the software. At this point, though the percentage of Internet users who share files online remains at 24 percent, fewer are using P2P systems. Twenty-one percent of current music downloaders say they still use P2P systems, compared with 31 percent in February 2004, according to the Pew Internet and American Life Project. The study also reports that usage of paid services like iTunes has increased to 34 percent of current music downloaders, compared with 17 percent last year.
What those numbers don't say is how many people are doing this. At last count, there are 605 million people using the Net, globally. If twenty five percent are filesharing, that's more than 150 million people. If twenty percent use P2P services, that's 30 million people. Whoa!
Given those numbers, it's no surprise that Kazaa and Grokster have been sued by the recording industry for copyright infringement. Although the RIAA's campaign of intimidation has put a couple of thousand people in court, the other thirty million who are sharing their content don't seem to feel threatened.
When this whole filesharing exploded, three years ago, there were some Congressional Hearings. Hey, a nice investigation always makes news and puts our officials center stage. For a couple of seconds, people's attention is diverted from Celebrity Breast Awards and dialogue about Donald Trump's hair to something more important, like steroid hungry baseballers. Those sorts of hearings always end up on daytime tv, much to the disappointment of Dr. Phil, Judge Hatchet and Kimora Lee Simmons.
At the hearing regarding filesharing a few years ago, at the height of the Napster "scare," Senator Diane Feinstein of California called filesharing "our greatest threat to national security." And no doubt a nuisance to her largest base of contributors, the entertainment industry.
Is this threat real?
There are malicious individuals who attach viruses to seemingly normal files. So that if computer users at research and government facilities were downloading files while at work (my goodness, can you imagine such a thing even happens), and one of these files contained a virus that ran amok and blew up a power plant, or sent everyone in the US a check for a million dollars, there would be trouble in River City, my friends, no doubt about that.
It's easy to imagine a scenario whereby the bad guys use file sharing to wreak some havoc on the American dream. It's possible. Probable? Enough to shut down filesharing? The Supremes will be pondering that, very seriously, very soon. Although I doubt any one of these nine men and women have ever downloaded an MP3 file.
That's one side of the threat, perpetrated by the malicious. The other side involves the arbiters of good taste. That growing group of fools who wants the government to restrict our content, the old "Big Brother" crowd, anxious to tell us what to see, hear, read, breathe and think.
These are the people who are turning America into a theocracy, a wholly owned subsidiary of the church. This is the same crew that's censoring content all over the place, in the movies, on television, and coming to your monitor soon, on the Net as well.
The censors have succeeded in homogenizing broadcast television and now, there's a bill in Congress to give our legislators the same FCC power over cable and satellite broadcasts. HBO, what broadcast television should have been, is being targeted by an Evangelical Congressman Mississipi Congressmen because of "the absolute filth it exposes our children to."
As for this new medium, we need to look only to the supplier of most of our products, especially at Walmart, the People's Republic of China, and how they are censoring the Net. They started with email, scanning millions of millions of messages daily for keywords and algorhythms that were a "danger to the Communist Party and the freedom of our people." Then the Chinese government worked with Google, to eliminate the ability to search for certain words, and block designated websites from search engine results. The boys at Google and the Chinese Communists make a rather odd couple, no?
Now the Chinese are organzing censorship down to the provider level, scanning user logs for offending addresses. As reported by the New York Time, the amount of information about individuals collected by the Chinese government is "nearly Orwellian."
With this model firmly in place, other countries running on fear will no doubt adopt their own version of these techniques. We may look back on the early years of the Net as the only time information could be shared freely. These past ten years, will soon be known as the good old days on the Internet.
And pretty soon, in a decade or two, those of us who aren't imprisioned for filesharing, will all be singing the same song, over and over. Or else.