>> Monday, May 23, 2011

I do not think I am capable of ceasing to be amazed by what's floating around out there these days, out on there on the Internet. This has to be the greatest era-to-date to be a music fan: I can remember a time, not so long ago, when the best a fan could ever hope for might be, might be a grainy videotape, maybe. An audio-only cassette taped from somebody who taped an LP somebody had found in a sort of iffy-none-too-scrupulous music store on a dodgy back shelf, a recording pressed from someone's third-row reel-to-reel or surreptitious line off the soundboard. I remember when you counted yourself blessed to hear about rumors: "A friend of mine says there's a recording of a 1973 show that's unbelievable, he didn't hear it himself but a friend of his heard it."

Now? Now I get onto YouTube looking for filler because I don't have anything to write about, and here's a shockingly high-quality clip of Pink Floyd performing "Cymbaline" (from the More soundtrack) at Abbaye de Royaumont in 1971. This is the kind of thing, when I was in high school, nobody knew it existed.

It's the kind of thing where I don't know if the band knew there was still a clip floating around--I'm not kidding, I can't even count the number of times I've seen an interview with a member of Pink Floyd in which someone said something along the lines of, "There was a camera crew, but I don't know what happened to the footage."

Of course, one reason now is a golden age and then was a time when being a fan could frequently feel like crawling through the desert with a sandpaper tongue towards desultory shadows of imaginary waters is that the Internet fosters violations of intellectual property. A friend, Steve Buchheit, linked today to a blog post by an unhappy writer complaining about how piracy hurts artists; that's not entirely a whole 'nother topic, is the thing: while David Coe is focused on the distribution of illegal copies of officially-released work, the same intellectual property issues apply to the illegal copies of never-released work or out-of-print works. Different rock bands have different attitudes towards bootlegged concert recordings (the long career of The Grateful Dead is probably due almost entirely to fostering a fan culture built in large part around trading ROIOs), of course, but the legal default is that unauthorized recordings are illegal and winked-at recordings are, at best, a grey area.

I'm not bringing this up because there's an obvious parallel between sharing a YouTube video of a 40-year-old Pink Floyd show and distributing a copy of somebody's novel they published yesterday, although they're technically the same thing as far as the legalities are concerned. But it seems inoffensive, cool even, to be able to say, "I love this band and here they are as they were close to their prime and as they can't ever be seen again," while uploading somebody's Brand New Novel seems pretty damn wrong at a gut level. The point being, part of what's a mess about the intersection of law and technology we're in is that these things are technically exactly alike and yet they're completely different in terms of how they feel, the effects they have, the intent of the people involved in the illicit acts, etc.

I don't really have anything here, I'm just riffing. And I don't know if there's an actual answer to any of this. I don't know how you come up with a regime that allows fans to share their love of a creative force while keeping those same fans from sort-of-accidentally cheating it.


Going back to the video: it's pretty cool to see Pink Floyd doing a show in a medieval church. Two years later, Dark Side Of The Moon would come out and ruin everything--I kid, sort of, but one of the unfortunate consequences of DSM's success was that the band would end up playing coliseums and stadiums, which had all sorts of ill effects on the way they worked, their relationships with the fans and their relationships with each other, plus, they were always struggling to scale the technology to the venues--adapting a lightshow that works in a civic auditorium so that it can be seen by nosebleeders in a football stadium is a real bitch, and most arenas built prior to the '80s or '90s had sports in mind, not acoustics, so there was that problem. Things would fall apart by 1979, but here's the Floyd when they were still a team.

A further note for those of you who aren't familiar with live versions of "Cymbaline" from, errr, all those illegalway ootlegs-bay, ahem, floating around online: this is a truncated version of "Cymbaline"; the person who posted it (or someone) did a nice job of fading out in the middle chunk of sound effects, but the song proper picks up and repeats after that and was normally around ten or twelve minutes when played live (I'd say offhand). I wouldn't say a casual listener is missing a darn thing--it's just another run-through of the last couple of verses--but I thought I'd acknowledge it's (not) there.


Steve Buchheit Monday, May 23, 2011 at 9:58:00 PM EDT  

It just seems so surreal that people talk about piracy like it's a brand new thing. The scale of it is really only slightly larger, but now it's easier to track. In general, music is very different than books (such as you state, some of the major early piracy was about collecting live performances, which doesn't work for books). And then they ignore the whole ecosystem of economic activity, of which black and grey markets are a part, only looking at it through the lens of "that pirated copy is a lost sale." Especially now that we have a decade of data from the music business, a little over 5 years for the movie industry, and twenty five years form the software industry. And all those industries are doing okay (especially in good financial times).

Phiala Tuesday, May 24, 2011 at 4:49:00 PM EDT  

It's not so much that piracy is new, it's that the attitude and effort involved has changed dramatically. Once upon a time, most piracy was about being a True Fan (tm). The Dead bootlegs that circulated among their core audience? You had to work to get them, they made you feel special and connected.

Now it's all about cheap error-filled OCR of the latest novel that you can find and download for free and probably never read. It's ridiculously easy to do, it doesn't increase your connection to the artist, it doesn't make anyone happy.

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