31st May 2001

Triumph of the Swill: Another Online Outpost of Freedom Bites the Dust [Napster Series, Part 5]

posted in `Roids |

Those of you who have been losing sleep the last few months worrying about whether or not the major record conglomerates will go out of business because of Internet threats like Napster can rest easy tonight. Vivendi Universal has announced they are purchasing MP3.com, the very company they recently sued for copyright infringement. This combined with Bertelsmann’s majority shareholding in Napster will once again make the Internet a safe place for billion-dollar megaconglomerates and prepackaged, processed boy bands and jail-bait strippers-in-training.

Meanwhile, those of us who believe the Internet is one of the few truly democratic institutions left, a level playing field where independents can compete on an equal footing with the big money corporations…well, we now have another reason for our testicles to shrivel in fear. In my last report from the frontlines of the music wars (found in Part 3 of the “Napster Series”), I predicted that the transformation of Napster to a subscription-based service could sound the death knell for independent musicians. Now it seems that that is precisely what’s happening. The New York Times reported on Tuesday, May 22 that industry analysts now believe “the five major record companies could wind up actually consolidating their power in an Internet age that some analysts thought would shake the labels to their core.”

This isn’t entirely without precedent. The major studios have a history of doing everything in their power to hamstring new technology, fucking it all up so that it works extremely well in their favor but doesn’t benefit the consumer at all. Look back at the early days of video. The studios panicked, fearing international video piracy and the complete and utter abandonment of movie theatres. They refused to release their most sought-after titles, leaving the field wide open for independents like Troma to reap the benefits of their short-sightedness. Once the majors saw that video was a viable, profitable business, they leapt in, swamping the market by encouraging video stores to buy hundreds of copies of one or two big titles, making less shelf space for the smaller companies that had started the ball rolling in the first place. These days, you walk into a video store and you see wall after wall of Tom Hanks’ addled, puffy face staring back at you from a zillion copies of Cast Away but if you ask for Terror Firmer, all you’ll get is a puzzled look.

The Internet was supposed to be different. The Internet held the promise of being a haven of choice, where independent artists of all kinds could get the same worldwide exposure as the ones who’ve sold their souls to AOL Time Warner. Now it seems as though Satan is collecting the rebellious souls one by one. Independent musicians who believed the Internet would make it unnecessary for them to suck corporate dick may soon be logging on only to run into the monopolizing media giants themselves, unzipping their pants and telling the musicians to open wide.

If the World Wide Web succumbs to the controlling interests of Lucifer and his minions at Vivendi, Bertelsmann, Time Warner, and the rest, it will be one of the most significant losses to independent thought and expression the world has ever seen. It’s imperative that anything that can be done to save MP3.com and Napster from their clutches should be done. And if it’s too late for them to be saved, another must rise to take their place. Independent art and thought will survive, but the Internet can allow it to thrive and flourish. That’s a gift worth fighting for.

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