Hello, dear English-speaking readers! My name is Miguel Caetano and I’m from Portugal. I never wrote in English before because I felt that I never had a proper occasion to introduce myself and this blog to you in an appropriate manner. I could just say Remixtures is a blog dedicated to copyright, file sharing, remix culture and new business models for the music industry where I try to explain in Portuguese how the Internet fosters the collective sharing and reappropriation of culture but I thought that wasn’t enough to express my point of view towards a lot of issues that should be cleared up beforehand.
A few months ago I gave an interview to RuaDeBaixo.com, a Portuguese ezine dedicated to urban lifestyle and culture, where I had the chance to answer several questions made from the perspective of a general reader. So I took the opportunity to delve into these issues and to talk about my own experience as a blogger, researcher and music lover. After it was published, I began to think that it could be used as some sort of introduction of myself to my non-Portuguese speaking readers. The final result is quite long, but I think it’s a worthwile read so I opted not to cut it. I only changed the order of a few questions to make it more appealing. I hope you will enjoy it.
So, do I intend to start writing more often in English from now on? It’s really up to you but I think it only makes sense in the case of opinion articles and essays where I feel an urge to pass a personal message or in the case of news articles pertaining to the Portuguese and Brazilian contexts. Additionally, I’m also open to any business proposals such as consultancy services, conferences or freelancing jobs for social media and online music startups or NGOs dedicated to defending Internet users’ rights. Feel free to follow me on LinkedIn, Twitter or FriendFeed.
Tell us a bit about yourself. How did you got interested by this issue (copyright and P2P)?
I’m 33 years old, I have graduated in Media Studies by the Portuguese Catholic University and I have a Master’s degree in Communication, Culture and Information Technologies by ISCTE. My interest in copyright and with the changes brought by digital technology in the music business as well as in cinema and in other creative areas comes from my professional experience as a technology journalist.
When I got my degree and went to do a internship at the Focus news-magazine, Napster – which was the first file sharing network – had become somewhat popular among Internet users and there were already several alternative Peer-to-Peer (P2P) networks and clients such as Gnutella. I had the opportunity of writing several articles about that and I remember getting really excited about being able to watch and participate simultaneously in real time – albeit at a very slow speed because we couldn’t get faster than 56 Kbps modems – in a global revolution that promised to throw up all the boundaries between fans and music. Never before had we saw a technology that was able to give instant access to artist’s discographies.
It was obvious that this would infuriate a recording industry that was used to launch a new media format every new decade with the intent of inducing consumers to update their record collections. That was exactly what happened in the case of the CD: many people didn’t hesitate to pay the equivalent of 16 to 18 euros for CD versions of albums they already had in vinyl just because they believed in the promise of better audio fidelity.
But once MP3 was created and a new decentralized network protocol like P2P was invented, the majors’ monopoly over the right to copy started slowly to disappear. Suddenly, there was a distribution medium for music that had the advantage of being more efficient and having less checkpoints.
Of course, cassette tapes already allowed you to make a copy of the original but most of the time this would mean a significant loss of audio quality. Besides, it was a very slow and expensive process and so it never was a great matter of concern for record labels. So this was why the clash only really happened by the time Napster arrived on the scene. The most symbolic moment of this clash occurred when Metallica showed up in front of Napster’s offices with a list of more than 335,000 users suspected of having downloaded the band’s music. That was when music fans got very upset and the wave of rejection towards the music industry exploded.
In the following years, I had the opportunity to continue to witness the evolution of this issue as well as to write several articles about it already as a professional journalist for news outlets such as Tek – the technology channel of SAPO, the biggest Portuguese Web portal and search engine -, Público – a Portuguese quality daily newspaper. As time went by, I saw the end of Napster’s original model with the bankruptcy and selling of the business and the irruption of other file-sharing clients such as KaZaA, Grokster and Morpheus. Ultimately, everyone of those ended up closing the doors or signing deals with the entertainment industry which lead them to completely change their way of operating.
By 2003-2004 when I started my master’s degree, P2P technology had already gone mainstream and was in such an advanced stage of development – mostly due to the massification of broadband in the Western world – that users were no longer downloading albums but full discographies. Besides majors, Hollywood studios were also starting to feel the pressure as faster and more efficient protocols such as eDonkey/eMule and BitTorrent allowed to download movies encoded in DIVX format with somewhat quality in a few hours. Because they were more decentralized, these protocols were also much safer than the older ones.
How did you came up with the idea of creating a blog like Remixtures and what’s the blog’s purpose?
I started Remixtures in the beginning of October 2006, a few months after I finished my master’s thesis about online activism and the (re)appropriation of technology for social goals. One of the issues that I wrote about in there was the impact of the free software movement in the society as a whole, as best exemplified by the free operating system Gnu/Linux. At the time, you could already notice that the trends affecting software industry towards openness, transparency, direct participation of the users in the development process, and as a result the collapse of the barriers between developer and user would inevitably spread to other creative sectors like music, cinema, photography and even to publishing. In my thesis, I argue that the Creative Commons licenses are trying to apply to cultural production some of the freedoms that the GPL license created by Richard Stallman grants to free software users and developers. Then as now, I still believe that those two kinds of tools can be seen has tactics to subvert and challenge the foundations of copyright from the inside out without denying intellectual workers right to be remunerated.
Another motivation behind Remixtures was that in my opinion the Portuguese mainstream media – even online and specialized media – was doing a lousy job in covering what was really going on not only in P2P and music but in the intersection between copyright and culture as well. Mashups and other kinds of unorthodox recombinations of culture pieces bring to our memory songs and other artifacts of our common cultural heritage we had long forgotten and yet they are considered illegal according to current Copyright Laws. I don’t think that makes any sense nowadays.
Finally, a whole new music niche made up of artists that deliberately stood apart from the traditional labels’ bureaucratic machine was starting to appear in Portugal and all over the world. These artists were adopting Creative Commons licenses and releasing their records for free with the help of not-for-profit online labels called netlabels who were acting as curators.
So, I came up with the idea for Remixtures from all these inspirations. Its aim was to operate like an advanced listening post or an online think tank for free culture written by myself and with no support whatsoever.
Could you tell us more about Freemium, your most recent initiative?
It’s a business model that has been employed most successfully in the music industry by bands like Nine Inch Nails and Radiohead where the author offers a free product but charges for several added-value services and goods. This freemium system has also been made very popular within free software developers and Web startups but I think it can be easily applied to journalism and more niche-specific information.
Thus, my aim with this proposal is to offer media companies and startups the opportunity to take advantage of my deep knowledge regarding the shifts digital technology is bringing about to the content business – be it music, video, movies, TV or even publishing -, while at the same time to continue to offer to the readers of Remixtures free access to all the content regularly published in the blog. This freemium model can be by way of consultancy sessions, exclusive articles and reports, presentations, etc.
For instance, a company may want to get case-based insights into copyrights, the online music market or the most up-to-date social Web trends: where it should place itself, how it should proceed, on which social networks should bet. In the case of an artist or a band, I can advise them on how to create an online presence that best fits its creative profile: if it makes sense to create its own website, what kind of content should it offer for free and in what way, where to store it and how to sell its songs in online music stores like iTunes and Amazon.
I believe that this proposal is mutually beneficial for me, in as much as it provides me with the financial resources that I need to continue to do what I’ve been doing in a fairly competent way – in my humble opinion- for more than two years, as well as for the readers of Remixtures who will continue to enjoy the quality and regularity of blog posts. I think its a win-win proposition because one of my demands is the right to publish all the resulting articles later in Remixtures under a Creative Commons license.
What’s your relationship with music?
More than anything else it has always been that of a fan, a true fan that can’t survive a day without listening to it because he sees it as an indispensable art in his daily life. It’s more than a hobby. It’s a virtuous vice because it works like a source of spiritual energy. It reinvigorates me. If it wasn’t for music, I wouldn’t have been able to loose a lot of weight. For all my life I had been extremely obese. In the end, I was weighting 164 Kg. All because I couldn’t stop eating. But one day in June 2005, I set as a goal for myself that I would stop eating and would channel all my appetite to music. And that was what happened and this is why today I only weight 80-90 Kg. I guess I can say just like Lou Reed that Rock N’ Roll saved my life
Having said that, I first got more in touch with music because of my brother, which is five years older than me. He started selling second-hand records – this was still during the heyday of vinyl – every Saturday at the local market since he was 14-15. We were never very close but at the time he used to spend his free afternoons listening to very loud music on our father’s hi-fi in the living room with the door closed. This gave me the chance to follow his taste in music: from Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark to Roxy Music and Brian Ferry, as well as to bands associated to Independent Rock Music like Joy Division, New Order, Bauhaus, Sisters of Mercy and The Jesus and Mary Chain.
At a certain point, music became to him not only a way of making money by selling second-hand records but also a real obsession. He started ordering records directly from a mail order company based in UK called GEMA Records, if I’m not mistaken. Besides that, pirate radios where at the time very active in Portugal and my brother was invited to host a show in a radio station that used to exist in a Shopping Center nearby his High School. It was obvious that this passion for music would end up passing to me and that was what happened.
Then I started listening to local college radios and regularly buying Portuguese music newspapers like Blitz and LP as well as British newspapers like New Musical Express, Melody Maker and magazines like ID. It was by way of this magazine that I got in touch with what I call the first musical “revolution” of my age: House Music. The Club culture and the Rave scene that followed it put the DJ in charge of the wheel. The DJ was the shaman behind the parties that lasted until the sun had risen. That was the moment when remix culture in its incipient form started to get popular. House and Techno represented a radical shift from the age when the music was all about the rock star, and specially the guitar player, to the age when the DJ took that role by cutting samples from several tracks and mixing them with sound effects and some beats.
At the same time, I got to know more about the history of Rock and Pop music, specially the 60s classics such as The Rolling Stones, The Velvet Underground, The Doors, Jimi Hendrix and several others. Meanwhile, my brother decided to sell most of his vinyl record collection in order to get enough money to attend an English course in the USA. And then when he came back he enrolled at university to take a degree on Pharmaceutical Sciences. Since then, his interest in music has decayed a lot.
I have been wanting to learn to play a musical instrument – specially drums – since my childhood – but unfortunately this hasn’t been possible yet
How do you analyze the current situation of copyright both in Portugal and abroad?
It’s a very distressing situation due to the fact that in the last 35 years the entertainment industries have managed to successively extend the term of both mechanical copyright and public performance copyright. Still now the European Union is trying to extend mechanical copyright form 50 to 70 years after the first commercial release of the record. And because Portugal is a EU Member State, sooner or later our legal framework ends up incorporating all the changes made at the European level. You don’t have to be very smart to see that these legislative changes are totally backwards in the face of technological advancement.
Copyright has always been an exclusive right to copy, a monopoly granted by the State to the author and to the publisher representing him – when the author lacked the sufficient financial resources to publish by himself his work – as a way of promoting the progress of the arts and sciences. As a matter of fact, that is the etymological meaning of the 17th century word copyright. With the birth of digital technology and the Internet, the reproduction costs have decreased substantially along with the decline of the recording and production costs. As a result, the moral justification for copyright has loosen most of its relevance.
But as I’m used to insist on Remixtures, record sales where always just a small percentage of the revenues of an average artist. Only close to ten per cent of the sale price of a CD or an iTunes download goes to the artist. The rest goes to the retailer, the label and the distributor. Only a small minority of stars has ever managed to earn a lot of money from record sales. A typical artist has always made his livelihood from live concerts. This was true 20 years ago and it still is true.
What can be done to adapt the laws to the technological advancements we have come to get used to?
First, copyright laws should as soon as possible legalize the copying of intellectual works over the Internet exclusively for personal non-commercial use.
Some courts – particularly in our neighbor country Spain – have already issued sentences in that direction but this principle still needs to be integrated in the law and specially in the European directives that rule the sector. Due to the heavy pressure of the entertainment industries lobby over Brussels and the other European institutions, we are still very far from that.
Nevertheless, I believe that this small change would be powerful enough to bring back once and for all a peaceful environment between music fans and the culture industry.
Next, copyright term of protection should be established to a maximum of 14 years. By saying this, I’m following the conclusions of the Cambridge University economist Rufus Pollock about the optimal copyright length. Notwithstanding, I don’t think that this rules out the option of adapting the term according to different kinds of cultural production. For instance, maybe in the case of movies we should stipulate a five years length-only since most consumers never see the same movie twice. The opposite occurs with music where fans happen to return to the same records decades after they listened them for the first time.
Do you believe we are heading towards a so-called “free culture”?
I find it very hard to answer this question in a precise fashion since unlike other self-proclaimed gurus I don’t pretend to be a futurist. What I can say is that right now the access to several cultural products like records, movies and TV shows is already free – albeit only free as free beer and not as in speech – in one way or another. With each day that passes a great part of our audiovisual legacy is being digitalized and made freely available – although illegally – on file sharing networks and file-hosting sites. The same is starting to happening with books, as people tend to become accustomed to reading on mobile devices like the iPhone, Amazon’s Kindle ebook reader or even netbooks like the Asus EeePC.
But the major obstacle for the free and unobstructed access to these cultural goods is still the rigid and obsolete structure of intellectual property laws. From the culture industry’s point of view, the issue is not so much about access as it is about the transfer of control to citizens. Several film and video on demand services already give access up to a certain point in exchange of a certain amount of money. Some music subscription services also give the user access to millions of tracks - although he’s only renting them because they are DRM-attached. What I suspect is that this kind of access will end up being very similar to the model predicted by Jeremy Rifkin in its book The Age of Access: only those who possess the required financial resources will be admitted in these clubs. Because these are really private clubs that demand eternal allegiance and exclude the less sizable agents like independente bands and labels.
We should distrust any of these backdoor deals and propose in its place the adoption of a global licence allowing every citizen to download an unlimited amount of content – music, movies, TV shows, videogames, software, and even ebooks – which could be transfered to whatever device he wants to. But in order to be fair, this license must be voluntary and must include all content producers, both small and large, for everyone to receive a share of the total amount collected according to the number of times their contents are played. Ideally this task should be carried out by an independent entity, preferably with the state’s intervention.
What will happen to music after the death of the CD?
I think that the CD will never die. Indeed, the CD is still the best selling music medium in the world. We are always going to have CD buyers, even if we fast forward to two or decades ahead. Right now, people are still buying and sharing audio tapes. Most importantly, vinyl is resurging which is very interesting because it shows there is a kind of fetichism towards those big black wax records. It’s not only a matter of sound quality – some say it has a better bass sound than the CD – or of being able to appreciate the album cover art in its full glory. I think it has something to do with our almost “erotic” attachment to music. Vinyl enables an aesthetic and sensory enjoyment that neither a MP3 file or even a gadget like the iPhone will ever be able to provide.
On the other hand, this attraction to vinyl has also something to do with the fact that several 60s and 70s bands have been back in fashion – if they ever went away. I’m talking about Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, AC/DC and other bands whose best albums were originally released in vinyl. Several parents of those kids who just recently started listening to these bands still have these records so this trend has much to do with the passing of a family legacy.
You can’t sum up the effects of a technology in a given culture to mere technological determinism. It’s plain clear that MP3 isn’t going to kill the CD, as well as the CD hasn’t killed vinyl. And you can even guess that FLAC – a digital format offering the same audio quality of a CD – isn’t going to kill MP3. These technologies complement themselves because their cost/benefits relation tends to change from user to user. Some DJs will always prefer vinyl to digital formats. But others will be attracted by digital’s flexibility and mobility.
Can you imagine how is it going to be in ten years? What do you foresee?
It’s very risky to forecast the future without going into generalizations or platitudes. Who ever dares to make long-term forecasts ends up being ridicularized sooner or later. What I can say is that access to music is going to be more and more mobile and ubiquitous, through multifunction devices like the iPhone. Social networks such as MySpace, Facebook and Last.fm will replace radio and TV as the most important agents for new music discovery. This is already true to some extent, but the number of people who actively use those so-called Web 2.0 or Social Web tools to search and find new music is still relatively small. This behavior is going to spread to the bulk of the population in the coming years.
The same goes for music recommendation engines, which will tend to become more accurate and personalized – both the computer algorithm-based ones and those that rely on the decisions of human agents, according to each user’s preferences. Due to the increasingly overwhelming supply of music, we will need to choose from all this amount of songs the ones that are more meaningful to us. To the extent that composition, recording and production costs for music tend to be lower, we will face the danger of being drowned in music.
One thing is certain: the technologies of massive reproduction and distribution of digital content will become increasingly fast, efficient, secure and able to circumvent any attempt to filter and block the free flow of information tried out by industries dependent on copyright. Hence, I end with this advice: convince yourself that it’s impossible to prevent everyone of making copies of copies of copies and admit that your business is no longer a product but a service where those who best meet its customers needs will be successful.
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