01/20/12

Frankensteinin’

SOPA winds up being pretty close-to-home-hitting. If you haven’t heard, there is a bill before Congress to give additional law enforcement powers in order to police intellectual property piracy on the internet. Think going to jail for your beach trip YouTube slide show set to Billy Joel’s “These Are the Times to Remember.” On Wednesday, various online sites protested the bill by going black for the day.

But, long before mp3 players and Napster and digital music were ever a twinkle in the panicking public’s eye, hip hop had been wrestling with the ethical and legal issues of digital and intellectual property rights for decades. A culture built on the sonic lifting of data bits, called sampling, understood the beauty and the bravado of attempting to take the work of another and make it your own. Whether the same disco break juggled between two turntable record players or the electronic database of drum hits on a Dr. Sample or the rubbery touch pads of an MPC60, growing up, hip-hop was always taught to share.

So when the rest of the world finally got around to sampling in rock ‘n roll and country western and sharing music files and video over the worldwide web and between their personal electronic devices, without permission, rappers had long been building a kind of collective and borrowed digital art museum for generations, about which no one had ever previously given a flying flip.

Of course, with the proliferation of ways to boost and jack and replicate others’ hard work, record companies and television stations and movie houses and book publishers and the like got sort of cranky about it all. That crankiness has apparently resulted in a pretty serious piece of proposed legislation that threatens the way we’ve grown accustomed to enjoying the internet.

The internet works mostly because it is a free-for-all. It’s like information capitalism. Wikipedia is a shining example. How could an online encyclopedia, which J.D. Wackadoo from your son’s little league team might have contributed to, be more accurate than World Book? Well World Book may have had, let’s be generous, an editorial team of 50 people. Wikipedia has a team of millions. And, for every proffered opinion of Johnny Screwup, Wikipedia enjoys 10 pair of expert eyes trained on that same entry. Or, maybe it’s the other way around. Either way, thousands and thousands of really smart people are the payoff for also allowing us doofuses to participate too.

Anyway, it is the culture of collaboration and shared information which makes the internet maybe the most powerful tool ever created (that actually feels an understatement). Where the potter in Nepal and the potter in Appalachia can Skype Raku jokes.

The issue also implicates a philosophical divide. How one sees him or herself. Are you the cumulative, frankensteined product of your family and friends and influences or are you some a priori, self-made island? Do you deflect or claim credit for your success, in whatever measure enjoyed? When we become convinced that we have “made” this or “invented” that or “composed” these, we are confessing an obliviousness to the shoulders of work upon which we actually stand.

Stealing is wrong. In most cases, illegal.

But, when we share ourselves over the internet or otherwise in life, we are celebrating, in the best way, our derivative and common selves. It’s certainly a choice to call such conduct “piracy” and ourselves “thieves” and “robbers.” I suspect, though, doing so will feel something like pirates walking their our own gangplank.

Flip the javascript on ’em, Bonita Applet Bottom . . .

Performed by the ipoetlaureate. Music produced by djclutch.

(Little piece of trivia — the beat for today is a remix, by djclutch, of a song I did called Ad Infinitum off my debut solo record Simple Moves (available on itunes). It’s part of a group of remixes djclutch imagined entitled Similar Moves. Appropriate to today’s entry, therefore, I suppose it is a kind of sample of a sample of a sample. Like stealing the same thing three times . . . from yourself. I wouldn’t last a day in jail. I look great in orange. I mean great.)

Today’s song blog here:

Walk the Plank