Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Why Lily Allen is Wrong About Filesharing

At first I was distressed to see the first shots fired in the latest battle of the Filesharing Wars. The British government is considering laws requiring ISPs to disconnect persistent filesharers. And some artists are making supportive sounds. There are two worrying things here: firstly, the feeling that the party might be over... governments and the industry will stop us getting free music. Secondly, it raises the disturbing prospect of musicians colluding with the government to ban music. The penalty for ignoring the ban, is to have the whole internet banned as well... so no Facebook, no email, no web research for your school assignment and no photos of your new baby cousin, you naughty filesharer you!

But after a bit more clear thinking, I wasn't distressed any more. Even if the government did go through with this ridiculous ban, it would be doomed to fail. Alternative technologies are already available to keep the music flowing. There's web-based Bittorrent, currently free for limited though still generous bandwidth, and most likely immune to government detection; there are darknets, sharing among smaller groups closed to prying eyes; there are proxy servers, so it looks like your internet address is in Tonga or Sealand or somewhere equally obscure; there's music blogging, where inividuals source their own hosting to make music available on the web; and there's good old-fashioned face-to-face sharing, like getting your friend to tape an album for you... except instead of a blank C90 cassette, you'll give them a 500GB USB drive and get them to give you 10 thousand albums. Many other marvellous new filesharing technologies are doubtless just around the corner.

Actually I feel a bit silly for thinking even for a moment that the party would end. There have been countless other false alarms: the demise of Napster and Audiogalay, the loss of the Grokster case, the US lawsuits, the Piratebay raid. They've all come to naught. In this aspect of the war, we have superior firepower. The industry has been reduced to guerrilla tactics.

In fact, it might just be resorting to suicide bombing. By calling on artists to join her in condemning filesharing, Lily Allen is lining up with the police and the politicians. She's no longer one of us, an ordinary girl made good. She's a musician calling for the banning of music, a member of the powerful, moneyed elite telling us what to do. She's not your mate who formed a band, she's your music teacher who said it was just a load of noise.

The new model offered by filesharing has a good selling point... we are giving away all music ever recorded, for free... and we delivered upfront, in advance, and there were no conditions placed on it. Lily Allen believes - mistakenly - that this will stop new artists getting a look in. Having every single masterpiece, every piece of pop and rock ecstasy ever recorded in the past, absolutely free, is pretty good compensation. I think with that as a hypothetical election promise, people would vote for a Filesharing Party, and not Lily's music-banning party. The voters would be pleased to have a system which would dump the likes of Lily, who have allied themselves with our jailers.

But really I am also convinced that the election promise will include the artists of the future, who benefit from having their work exposed globally to an unlimited audience for free. And it will also benefit the artists of the present. The voters might be happy to swap Lily for free music, but in fact they can have Lily too. I guarantee that those great songs Fuck You, Smile, and The Fear will continue to be available on filesharing networks. Given Lily's attack on my tribe, that's pretty generous.

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