Utopic world of free-for-all content

Hi, my name is Eileen Yu, and I'm a Barry Manilow fan.All right, there, I've said it.
Written by Eileen Yu, Senior Contributing Editor

Hi, my name is Eileen Yu, and I'm a Barry Manilow fan.

All right, there, I've said it. I'm a huge, big, out-of-this-world, mega fan of the guy who dances to the Copacabana in a pink ruffles puffy-sleeved shirt. So what if he has a nose the size of a brinjal and shares the same age as my dad. He writes the songs that make the whole world sing, yep, even now.

A fan of his since I was 13, growing up, it was tough finding friends who were also a Manilow fan, or who'd even admit to being one. So, I sought every chance I could to spread his music and convert skeptics into fans, ripping a medley of his tunes into CDs so my friends could have a listen.

But, I stopped doing that over the years as major music labels grew obsessively protective of their copyrights and began suing violating companies as well as individuals. Even musicians got in on the act.

I don't necessarily agree with the extent of their crusade, and personally, I believe I have the right to share music--or any product, for that matter--that I paid good money to own.

However, as a salaried content provider, some might argue I'm in no position to judge since my company's business also relies on copyright protection. And, they would be right.

Ultimately, though, as much as I believe and support the existence of one, I doubt if there can ever be a world where all content will be accessible to all, for free.

In my post last week, I talked about how content no longer carries the same value it did before the Internet evolution, where digital music is now the rage. It sparked a discussion among friends, one of whom highlighted a May interview in British newspaper Guardian, which featured Japanese composer-musician Ryuichi Sakamoto. A critic of copyright laws, he described how the Internet is reintroducing "tribal attitudes" toward music.

"In the old days, people shared music. They didn't care who made it. A song would be owned by a village and anyone could sing it, change the words, whatever. That is how humans treated music until the late 19th century," Sakamoto said. "There is a lot of bad music on MySpace, but there is also good music. People don't make money from it--that is very strange for me. However, I think it is new and positive, but also a return to more tribal times when music belonged to everybody."

It's a nice village that he describes--a society where people share and experience without asking for anything in return. Unfortunately, villages have grown a lot bigger since the old days and they've spawned generations of people with varying views on what they want from life. Some are willing to give away their creations for free--for example, on MySpace as Sakamoto mentioned--while others want something in return.

Ironically, it is consumer demand that drove, and still drives, the value of content and the price tag it comes with. If the village that Sakamoto reminisced had access to a market comprising billions of potential consumers, some of whom might be willing to pay for its music, would the village be as generous? Especially, if the villagers realized the monies they earned from such sale could be bartered for food and shelter?

As consumer demand for music grew over the last century, record companies realized they could charge an arm and a leg for albums and fans would still pay for them. So, they did what any viable business would do--they started charging an arm and a leg.

Yes, money is the root of all commercial evil, but so what's new? As long as money or any currency of its equivalent exists, and content creators have a right to ask for something in return, I believe a world offering free-for-all content will remain utopia.

What the Internet brings to this equation, however, is that it has forced companies like the major music labels to rethink their business model, especially when CD sales continue to dip.

The Internet has clearly demonstrated that DRM (digital rights management) has no place in the realm of music. It pisses consumers, including me, who believe they have the right to copy music between devices, and there will always be users who'll find ways to circumvent the DRM tool.

The Internet also forces musicians to rethink how they wanna earn their keep. It's no longer enough to hang out in their comfy studios and depend on album sales. As one friend puts it, they'll have to go back out on road tours, sweat it out at gigs and make their living the old-fashion way.

Over time, the Internet will serve primarily as a marketing tool for some content creators, particularly, budding young musicians who are just starting out and need a free platform to get their music heard.

So, rather than pay to listen to music on their PC or stereo, consumers will pay instead for added services like live concerts and stage performances.

As much as I'd like to believe that content like music, is an experience that should be allowed to be freely shared by all, I also believe that creators of content should have the right to decide if they want to allow their work to be part of this "free" world.

The rights of content creators who choose to put a price on their work should then be respected accordingly. Anyone who doesn't agree with such proposition can show their contempt by choosing to listen only to musicians who charge nothing for their work.

If there can't be free content, there can at least be free choice.

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