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The Atlantic: The Heavenly Jukebox

Sep 21, 2000, 07:31 (1 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Charles C. Mann)

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"Rampant music piracy may hurt musicians less than they fear. The real threat -- to listeners and, conceivably, democracy itself -- is the music industry's reaction to it...."

"At stake in the long run is the global agora: the universal library-movie theater-television-concert hall-museum on the Internet. The legal and social precedents set by Metallica v. Napster -- and half a dozen other e-music lawsuits -- are likely to ramify into film and video as these, too, move online. When true electronic books, e-magazines, and e-newspapers become readily available, their rules of operation may well be shaped by the creation of the heavenly jukebox. Music, according to a National Research Council report released last November, is the "canary in the digital coal mine...."

"According to most legal scholars, the writers of the Constitution viewed copyright in utilitarian terms. By granting a temporary monopoly on distribution to creators, the Founders hoped to stimulate the creation of new ideas. "The creator was rewarded for a little while, but then the idea passed into the commons, where people could do what they liked with it," Lessig says. Now, he says, the campaign against piracy is pushing toward "a massive increase in regulation over the distribution of culture, which is inconsistent with the conception of the commons that lies at the root of democracy." In the American tradition artists, writers, musicians, and audiences work together, creating the intellectual ferment that has helped this country adapt to change for more than two centuries. "People hear the cries of the industry about piracy, which are real and justifiable," Lessig says. "But they don't realize that simply giving the industry what it wants will have an impact on the entire public sphere."

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