I think the policy about music downloads proposed by Provost Charles Phelps is a good idea. If it is possible for students to download music files off the Internet legally and without the threat of prosecution, then it should be implemented. Unfortunately, there still are a number of questions that need to be answered – for example, should the fee be charged to those who don’t wish to download music?
It was a fairly stupid error on the university’s part to schedule a discussion on the topic on Halloween. It was almost as if the administration didn’t want anyone to attend, especially when you take into account it was announced to the student body the day before in the CT, which, unfortunately, not all students read, or at least read the day it comes out. I would suggest having another discussion about this issue, preferably in Wilson Commons and not on a holiday, so that more students can attend.
While the policy is sound, it does not address a number of key issues that are at the heart of why people wish to circumvent the law in the first place. For example, CDs are generally still overpriced, and the degree of selection has greatly decreased. In addition, what is being ignored is how the music industry has evolved over the past two decades. To put it simply, there is no more competition within the industry. The Recording Industry Association of America embodies the strongly centralized nature of the music business, which once had dozens of different recording companies, all of which specialized in a certain brand of music. In some cases, they were centered around a small handful of artists. This allowed for a wide variety of musical tastes, and for individual musicians to exercise greater control over their music.
Now that the industry is dominated by a small number of companies, there is no more real competition, and the standardization of music has become the norm. The RIAA is in actuality a trust, nothing more. As a result, it seems to me that everything being produced today is essentially the same. Of course there are differences between each artist, but they are, in general, much smaller than they were ten years ago.
I think the change in the record industry is most embodied by the career of one of my favorite artists, Weird Al Yankovic. For those of you who don’t know him, he is a musician who parodies others. Since his own independent label Scotti Bros. was bought out, he no longer has the freedom to parody. It is difficult to make fun of Eminem, for example, when you’re both employed by the same company.
The music industry has become too standardized, generic, and secure. Since they are now the only source of music, their fear of the Internet and music downloads is not simply lost profits, but the risk to their system of control. While it would be a good idea for students to stay away from the possibility of legal action against them, the system proposed by Phelps would cease the challenge to the music industry, and they will continue their policies of standardization. I long for the days when musicians varied greatly in their music, and within a single genre you could find immense variation.
It seems that now there are rules for music – how they must sound in order to be accepted. This acceptance has not been created by the people, but by the few chairmen at the top who claim to represent all our tastes. All I ask is for the right to choose what I wish to hear, and not what some bigwig decides I should hear.
Newmark can be reached at email@example.com.