Doom For Whom? The Anthropocene as Opportunity

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“Ever since the world ended, I face the future with a smile” – Mose Allison

Might the next extinct species be our own? We can’t say we haven’t been warned. For at least seventy years the world’s leading scientists have tried to awaken us to the danger of annihilation, and one, furthermore, that is self-inflicted. After the dropping of the atomic bombs in 1945, Linus Pauling and Albert Einstein led the campaign for nuclear disarmament. Shortly thereafter, Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring alerted us to the devastation being wrought by pesticides and environmental pollution. In 1988 James Hansen’s testimony before Congress announced the threat posed by carbon-emissions and the advent of anthropogenic climate change. In 1995 Richard Leakey published his Sixth Extinction providing proof of both the epochal scale and immediate urgency with which we had to act to prevent an otherwise inevitable outcome. These are but a few famous examples of an ongoing, concerted effort to bring unimpeachable evidence to the attention of the public in the hope that, thus enlightened, the public might demand legislative action to alter the course of history. At present, however, this effort has failed to impede our headlong rush to armageddon. The forthcoming decision to, perhaps, rename the current geological epoch, the Anthropocene, is just one more reminder of the howling contradiction between what we know and what we do.

15 Years Since Napster and What Have We Learned?

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2013 began with the suicide of Aaron Swartz, hounded to death by the government for “stealing” scientific articles to distribute them for free. The year proceeded with the imprisonment of Chelsea Manning for revealing evidence of US government war crimes. Next came Edward Snowden, narrowly escaping prosecution for exposing a vast network of government surveillance and the subsequent scandals which have yet to subside. Curiously then, as the year drew to a close, a flurry stirred when several well-known musicians expressed misgivings about Spotify. Thom Yorke made the statement: “it’s the last fart of a dying corpse” in reference to Spotify and the music industry it serves. This view was attacked by Dave Stewart who said songwriters should welcome Spotify because it promised something rather than nothing and would eventually restore the earnings, lost due to the decline in sales of recorded music, that copyright provides songwriters.

Music and Historical Memory

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Music and memory have always been inseparable.  After all, Memory is the name of the Goddess who was Mother of the Muses.  The Muses, according to the poet Hesiod, “were nine like-minded daughters, whose one thought is singing, and whose hearts are free from care…who delight with song… telling of things that are, that will be and that were with voices joined in harmony.”  They called on Hesiod to sing their praises but they did so with a challenge: “You rustic shepherd, shame: bellies you are, not men!  We know enough to make up lies which are convincing, but we also have the skill, when we’ve a mind, to speak the truth.”

Virtual Piracy vs. Licensed Fraud

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Will file sharing be the death of copyright? Will the internet be the graveyard of Intellectual Property? Will the “leaks” of whistleblowers become a flood, ending forever the monopoly of information held by governments and industry? Software designers, legal scholars, musicians and writers have joined with political activists to make these questions vitally relevant in the 21st Century. This is due not only to the technological innovations involved, but to the crisis of legitimacy facing capitalism and the growing opposition to its depredations. The absurdity of children being accused of “piracy” while bankers loot the public treasury undermines any reasonable hope that government will ensure justice. Claims that peer-topeer would kill music have not only proven to be utterly false but have exposed the motives of those making them. Why else would a moral panic be sewn if not to divert attention from the fraud being carried out by the industries controlling Intellectual Property?

Making Music A Racket

Talk presented at Conference on Copyright in the Global South organized by The Copy South Research Group
Rio de Janeiro, June 2010

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The criminalization of file sharing spearheaded by groups such as the Recording Industry Association of America has been underway for more than a decade. While this strategy has failed to halt the decline in the sales of recorded music or the increase in the sharing of music via the internet it has nonetheless sown a great deal of confusion. In particular it has succeeded in pitting musicians against each other and their audiences. In a climate of fear and mutual recrimination the real culprits get off scot-free. To shed some light on this situation it is useful to examine how the music industry in the United States took shape, how copyright law evolved to serve it and how music has been affected by this process. While specific to one country, this experience is valuable to people in the Global South as a negative example that should not be followed. Most important, this history reveals characteristics of music and music-making that militate against its being turned into property and furthermore indicate possible solutions to our current dilemmas. To begin, we have to go back a hundred years.

The Matter of Appearance

Text published in the book “bernsehen” – bilder & texte, 2010

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> Schein und Wirklichkeit (dt. Übersetzung)

We are looking at a painting.

Sunlight dances off a glass partition at a tram stop. Reflections turn a window into a mirror, solid objects into apparitions, a simple picture into a puzzle. A conspiracy of photons disguises as much as it illuminates, inviting us to unravel a mystery. When our eyes deceive us, Reason has work to do. What is and what is not? This light, this paint, these surfaces, are the matter of these appearances. They are elements from which it is made. But in the matter of appearances – and, yes, the pun is intended – we have the error and the correction, the illusion and the actual, the genuine and the fake, the false and the true. There are monsters and there are messiahs, demagogues and liberators, snake oil salesmen and philosophers-each wears a mask, things are not what they appear to be. Besides, as Lenny Bruce once said, „Just because I’m paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get me.“