The Peaceful Solution to Music Piracy Is a Bitcoin Tipping Culture (Op-Ed)

Sorry record labels, music does not need you anymore. ChangeTip arrived on Soundcloud this week. The prolific sound-sharing platform that attracts more than 175 million new listeners a month, according to their own data, is bringing the opportunity for an online tipping culture to the mainstream.

Ever since the Internet's boon into ubiquity, artists and media magnates — at least some of the really wealthy ones with stacks of royalties built on their past successes — have had serious difficulties bringing in expected profits from their art.

Before we were able to copy and paste a song “from here to China” in a matter of seconds, distribution was a much more complicated process. Songs were scarce and tied to hardware, not virtually free to duplicate.

Music labels saw this distribution problem and, throughout the 20th century, rose to the challenge of turning young talent into gold and filling each other's pockets. Record labels supported the marketing and promotion, charging hefty commissions on sales. Over time, fewer profits trickled down to the artists, raising a fair amount of resentment that arguably fuels the age of so-called piracy.

The phenomenon, a byproduct of the industrial revolution that gave us vinyls and music tapes (square CDs), created a market where very few could and would be selected by record labels. But if they were, they became stinking rich and stinking famous.  Limousines, mansions, movies, you name it — the dream of the 20th century rock star was to be immortalized in the memories of international audiences.   

Sort of like these guys:

And then came that pesky Internet, dwindling both profits and the ability to hold copyrights over very expensive and voluntarily created productions. Thanks to Bittorrent, for example, there are no paywalls against information sharing, and this has steadily dwindled the profit margins of music labels, movie production powerhouses like Hollywood, and other pre-Internet, content-distribution industries. (Think e-books.)

Various solutions are being attempted to solve the problem of monetizing art while leveraging the Internet.

Legacy Media's Solution? Policing the Internet 

In an attempt to undo the “damage” done by the Internet, the rich and influential media corporations and their supporters have lobbied and lawyered up, trying to police the Internet and persecute entrepreneurs like Kim Dotcom, effectively waging a war on “piracy.” Doing so, they are waging what has been called the “war on general computing.”

This is a technological attempt to take away your control over your computer, by installing hardware such as Intel AMT chips that can keep you from copying (I mean … pirating) specific copyrighted art.

One of the names for this tech is Digital Rights Management (DRM), and while the legacy media have yet to win, they sure are putting up a fight. If they do win, you'll have to have permission from some hierarchy to copy this or that and share it, effectively breaking the Internet as we know it.

The Solutions of the Innovative

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