"Dame dame dame, que te voy a dar ... una guayabita de mi guayabal."


The Political Economy of Music, Technology, and Intellectual Property

The link between political economy, technology, intellectual property and music is as old as Edison. We still feel the impact of that today - much of our access to our own musical history (a concept, like Art and Culture, from which the market is supposed to be purged) is totally wrapped up in the market. (link, and another one). So is the actual format and formal logic of music, apparently.

Gilberto Gil wants to get over it all by just letting it all flow, but will that work? Aside from the digital divide problems that, Bill Gates or no Bill Gates, this "free" flow of digital used-to-be-commodities implies, and although ignoring intellectual property is great for creative mash-ups, alternate distribution systems (which have less decommoditized music than informalized its economy), and education, the idea of indigenous and small-scale societies' intellectual property rights often gets overlooked in all the techno-optimism. Projects like the MuDoc digital archive of ethnographic recordings are great, but somewhat lax on intellectual property, or more accurately, assume the person who has the recordings rather than the people featured on the recordings (this is US copyright law) has the right to sign off on their free distribution. This might be the de facto way of things when "cultural groups" (an anthropological chesnut of a notion) are into promoting themselves politically and in terms of cultural tourism through their music and therefore willing to let it flow, but what if they actually want to sell it? After all, even the most backwoods groups are part of the global cash economy, but in order to make money and keep doing things the way they want to (or "preserve their culture" as this is frequently called), the only thing they have to sell is their culture, and assuming that they're happy just to be on YouTube is not always true.

I say all of this not to advocate for draconian intellectual property regimes, but merely to suggest that things like the mp3 are not a frictionless evanescence that simply circulates without engaging ethical, economic, and cultural (see Sterne) issues that a simplistic "let it flow" policy cannot address...

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