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Rethink Music - Per Tradition · Monday March 28, 2011 by Crosbie Fitch

There is a conference called Rethink Music – held 25-27th April 2011 at the Hynes Convention Center in Boston by the Berkman Center for Internet & Society, Harvard University.

I’ve now realised they are using the newspeak definition of ‘rethink’: To repeat the traditional thinking upon a controversial subject or problem area, as if expecting a different conclusion or solution – but in the knowledge that the outcome will be at most a refinement of that on each previous occasion.

This is distinct from the naive definition of ‘rethink’: To discard all preconceptions and address an apparently intractable problem from first principles, thinking about it afresh.

Obviously, if you keep thinking the same way about something, you’re going to keep reaching the same conclusions. It would be insane to expect anything else.

Anecdotally, I was recently about to argue copyright with someone and the example was to be a book. When I gently insisted that we distinguish between the intellectual work of the novel (by the author) and the material work of the printed copy (by the printer) the other person point blank refused to continue any further. They weren’t yet ready to separate the traditional conflation of book with novel. To them they were one and the same, and so ‘Paradigm shift ahead!’ alarm bells were evidently sounding in their mind. For some, this comfort of thinking of things in the traditional way is preferable to thinking of things in a new and radical, if more accurate way – even if they have an interest in understanding the problems that arise when anachronistic tradition becomes undone by information technology.

I suspect a similar reaction on the part of the Rethink Music conference persuaded them to reject my submission to present the Contingency Market as a facility to enable artists to exchange their intellectual work for the money of their enthusiastic audience (instead of via the sale of monopoly protected copies via traditional publishers). Similarly, my submission of a paper that proposed copyright’s abolition to best remedy law in this area was also rejected. Somehow, I think they’re only interested in minor tweaks. They don’t want anyone to actually do the unthinkable and rethink copyright, that great American tradition that abrogates the people’s liberty to sing each other’s songs or tell each other’s stories.

What will Rethink Music conclude? Will it propose yet again the compulsory licensing of file-sharing on the Internet? I have a hunch there won’t be any proposals to abolish copyright. The most to hope for is that Kickstarter.com gets a mention, but that is perilously close to disintermediating publishers, by exchanging intellectual work (not copies) for money. Let us see…



 

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