What seems interesting to me is the anxiety ‘piracy’ and ‘authenticity’ has created. The awareness of new possibilities of creation is bound to inspire such excitement. We have seen similar excitement in case of cloning, atomic energy and other inventions. The debates around piracy and authenticity are deeply connected to the anonymity on cyberspace. We are not yet conditioned to trust people unless we actually hear him/her say something when you can sense the promise in the voice. I think most of the problems related to cyberspace arise because of the lack of this ‘promise’. Baudrillard’s theory which he explains through an example of a ‘gift’ brings us directly to the question of what can be called ‘human’ communication. One crucial part of human interaction depends upon understanding the codes which enable communicating what is unspoken. That is where the pleasure of person to person interaction is situated. The anxiety about ‘authenticity’ of information or of the person giving that information is rooted in this fact. Man seems to have created a monster called internet but he is still struggling quite hard to keep it under his control. It has posed the biggest threat to human kind, of ‘anonymity’ or existential crisis. In times like these, when human knowledge becomes too great for human mind, as Will Durant likes to put it, or the gap between life and knowledge widens; we need to turn to philosophy. In the history of philosophy many a times we have seen philosophy being misused for achieving political objectives. Those times can be called the most unsuitable for creation of philosophy. But as many noted writers and philosophers have often said, it’s ability to see the future is reassuring to human beings. Or rather philosophy inherently bears the ability to update itself according to time and provide some guidance. Therefore philosophy is important for human beings to keep faith and hope intact. Looking at our discussion on the blog I thought that such discussions are helpful in dealing with the anxieties internet tends to create.
Postmodernism rejects ‘grand’ or ‘meta narratives’. It talks about multiple narratives, varied subject positions, multiple identities and so on, a world that seems quite clearly present on the internet. The internet is so fluid, changing continually every minute of the day, constantly updating itself, constantly in flux that everybody that engages with the internet finds themselves having to update their existence on the internet, just like one eventually graduates from a cell phone without a coloured screen to one with a coloured screen. The coloured screen isn’t necessarily enhancing the basic purpose of your cell phone, but it is there, so the screen on your cell phone looks more aesthetically pleasing, more cheerful. Technology in general is changing every day, it’s almost ridiculous to buy yourself a phone with all those extra facilities because one day there’ll be a device that will in fact contain everything that technological perseverance has ever invented. Sounds farfetched, but it does seem like we are heading in that direction. This is not to say that one should not get acquainted with ever changing technologies of course.
However, I believe that we are still a part of what seems to be a postmodern world. Why I say this is that postmodernism in a sense rejects a historical understanding of the world. It rejects an understanding of basic, almost universal principles of the world, suggesting a meaningless world. However the internet though fluid and changing is grounded on very basic principles, principles of communication and expression and so on. And so is everyday technology. They both have a historical past; they have both evolved through time, in various manners, which are directly related to economical, political and socio-cultural trends of different times in reality. They are very much a part of a historical reality.
Linking all of this with identities on the internet, I believe that the problem with multiple identities is that we’re reducing complex human experiences specifically to multiple identities. Aren’t human relationships a little more complex than that? If we’re all such schizoids, then how do we ever manage to have relationships with some sort of depth? As far as I’m concerned not having an ‘authentic’ identity on the internet is a mere fad, a trend. To not be yourself, to play a character that emerges from the depths of your imagination and not from schizophrenic tendencies, is interesting and I think is purely a new and colourful challenge to a bored human mind.
While I was signing into livejournal I noticed on the front page it said ‘True Community’ under the symbol of the earth with a few figures of people around it. I wondered what they meant by ‘true community?’ are they suggesting that other sites on the internet might have ‘fake communities’ or that it is possible to have a ‘true community’ on the internet as well just like in life outside the internet. If you click on the icon the next page says, ‘LiveJournal has a true sense of community. Join user-created communities centered around your interests to share information and meet new friends. From art to zombies, if you can think of it, there's probably a community about it.’ And since the blog is dedicated to ideas about authenticity and piracy, I thought it might be interesting to deviate a little from my other posts and examine the ideas of identity and communities, their ‘authenticity’, ‘truthfulness’ or ‘fakeness’ in cyberspace. A community is a term in constant flux and there can never really be a suitable definition that includes all possibilities. For example – while walking down a street it is difficult to conceive of yourself as part of the larger community of the nation, you are on the street for a particular reason to perform a certain function and that may be your own. There is no need for you to relate with your fellow pedestrians. But suppose while walking along the street there was a blockade and you were prevented from walking further and a crown began to gather at that end. Then possibly all of a sudden you find yourself as part of a ‘community’, you begin to relate in some small way to your fellow pedestrians stuck at that location. This again may only last for a few minutes and then break up, probably leaving behind no traces at all of the ‘community that was’ for a brief period in history.
In many ways it is this community, one that would have passed unnoticed through the annals of time that the internet gives the potential to preserve. A look at social networking sites such as Orkut.com or facebook.com will immediately give a count of the number of such communities which would otherwise have been considered whimsical and banal. The ‘I love Sundays’, ‘I hate potholes’, ‘I like Dadar station’ or the ‘Chai Ka Katta’ groups are all actually communities that have found expression in the medium of the internet. The form of the internet allows for such communities which are fleeting in the world outside to find expression and staying power. Not to say that such groups did not find expression in forms outside of the internet, but to interact and meet in a world without the internet would have been tedious and unfeasible.
Marilyn Strathern speaks of how it requires just as much imagination to keep a nation together as it requires to keep smaller units such as the family, friendships and even the individual together. Sometimes a bond formed out of friendship may be so strong that it can actually override bonds with the nation and even the family. I think the anxiety regarding the internet is because there is no ‘real’ interaction in the physical world between people and yet individuals who use the web seem to have imagined themselves into a community. They have formed bonds and relations with each other which may at times be stronger than those with people they interact with in the world outside the internet. The actual anxiety begins to show when these instances of ‘imagination’ on the internet then have direct impacts on the lives of people in the ‘real’ world, such as friendship on the net leading to marriage or long term relationships etc that shake our conceptions of relationships and community in our daily life. They challenge our notions of ‘blood relations’ or ‘national unity’ etc which are based on physical and cultural unity of coordinates.
One example of the internet providing its own set of cultural coordinates it that of Second Life where you can choose to be from a particular genealogy and select personality traits which could never have found expression in the world outside the internet. The internet has brought about the realization that the smallest unit in society is not necessarily the individual. The individual itself is not one complete and indivisible unit. Through the medium of the internet many such identities of the ‘di-vidual’ find expression. A look at the number of email ids one single supposed ‘individual’ possesses will reveal as to how the internet has enabled and probably even hastened this schizoid nature of a person (Imagine walking into Citibank and opening an account under funky_cool) Suddenly the pressure to hold on to oneself as one single entity has been released by the forms of the internet. These manifestations completely upset our set notion of identities and characters and call for a complete paradigm shift in understanding human natures.
I don’t think we can ask if these manifestations are ‘true’ or ‘authentic’, there seems to be a discursive understanding where each person decides to what degree he or she might relate to each particular performance of ‘identity’. Whether the internet is causing and hastening these manifestations or is providing a vent for the expression of these latent desires it a matter left for another discussion.
Whether it is a TV or mobile screen or any other screen, do we have any alternative to seeing the world through those square eyed ghosts? (This term is stolen from someone! This is my attempt at being politically correct – I don’t want to steal the credit, yet not conform to copyright laws – therefore this credit to “someone”). I mean you look at web pages within the four corners of a square, you look through the doors and windows of your flat which are squares, and going a little further, you look through your glasses which are squares. Can there be a chance to choose in real sense, or our choice will often be limited to the choice of lenses to look at things?
Piracy really gives you a wide option of those lenses. I completely agree with what Shaira is saying. The books we read or the music we hear everything ties you up with one or the other system of creating hierarchy. It is only the way we choose to mix and match the lenses that we acquire that gives you your ‘uniqueness’. Looking at the history of art or poetry, you often find a period named ‘new…’ or ‘neo…’. I wonder that new was ever entirely new. This need to break away from that square gives birth to creation of new options. Yet that ‘new’ often experiences a resistance from getting popular. It has happened so often that a pattern has developed for that ‘new’. Within any system, we are conditioned to expect radically opposite of what is established under a tag of ‘new’. So in poetry you find non narrative poetry and so on. I somehow feel technology cannot substitute human interaction ever and I am sure this is a shared feeling of millions of people. And as long as this feeling is held by a collection of people, the threats of technology to ‘human’ will not lead to extinction of ‘human-ness’.
Sometimes I find that it’s difficult to be anti-corporate in such a corporate world. It is really easy to support piracy when it isn’t harming you. It would be difficult as filmmaker or a writer to be fine with your work being reproduced without any credit being given to it. Sitting at home downloading stuff off the net is one form of piracy, it’s easy to do, and it’s free of charge. If I was a writer and copyright laws didn’t exist it would be terribly easy for somebody to pick up my work and call it their own. Thoughts and ideas on a certain level, ideas because they are a series of thoughts cannot be owned, however a certain kind of language skill, the manner in which one chooses to engage with a particular narrative, I think we can agree that there’s a certain amount of universality in narratives. At least core narratives will never ever change; I’m talking about beginning, middle and end here, certain kinds of styles and language use, all of these things can be owned.
However, it seems impossible today for artists and writers and poets and musicians and painters to detach themselves from some sort of corporate tie-up. It seems like a writer stands where he stands in the ‘hierarchy of writers’ much to my dismay, depending on which publishing house he is associated with and how well he is advertised by that publishing house and so on. The publishing house on its own has its own reputation, so what we read so often has a lot to do with titles such as Bestseller or Booker Prize Winner, or Shortlisted for the Booker Prize or Pulitzer Prize or whatever. We never seem to ask who makes these decisions, who gives out these prizes and does it really matter? When such tie ups happen I feel like the janta is in a sense denied a whole lot of possibly better literature and music and so on, one could never really know. So if large companies like Virgin Records and Universal Records and Bloomsbury Publications and Random House in India continue to make such decisions for us how do we know what kind of work gets rejected? Or how good it might’ve been?
Everything we listen to or watch or read even if we access it on the internet is so greatly connected with big companies and corporations that it becomes so difficult for us to look beyond labels and particular company-artist tie ups. We’ve been brainwashed on an infinitesimally subliminal level, nonetheless powerful level that we never really seem to take matter into our own hands even when we claim to be. Capitalistic tendencies seem to have flooded our minds and have become so much a part of us that the whole piracy ‘revolution’ in a sense has also taken a somewhat corporate route. I guess it seems like the only way to really battle the corporate is not to be anti-corporate, but to be corporate while being anti-corporate.
‘Piracy’ as a tool
I think whether advertisers or any other community of people benefit from piracy or not, piracy is assumed on internet. The way one uses ‘piracy’ makes all the difference. Advertisers may upload their ads and benefit from popularity, consumers may use the ads with some other unsponsored videos to make new meaning out of it or make a political statement and so on. Recently there has been a case where entirely wrong content was published in the name of a scholar in a widely read magazine. The scholar uploaded her original write up on the net and expressed her hope that it will be more widely read than the publication. Similarly, as Nikhil has pointed out in his earlier post that piracy can serve as a tool for advertisement of films, music albums etc. I can’t say I was born into the internet generation. So I remember when I actively started looking for music or films I liked, I had no other option but to go to a music store and ask if there were any new albums by my favorite artist. Now finding out about the new albums has become easier and in fact I can also listen to a part of the music tracks. One might think that this precisely causes less sale of ‘authentic’ material since pirated versions are available for free. But artists are not really dependent on the sale of authentic material for income or even for fame.
Coming back to my initial point that piracy is assumed on internet, one has to decide for oneself whether ‘piracy’ carries negative connotation or positive. So a smart artist will in fact allow piracy. I also think that having access to pirated material has a pleasure of subverting the structure of power. That way, whether a film or music or anything else is good or bad, being able to acquire a pirated copy gives you certain amount of ‘cyber capital’. An artist who understands this psychology may take ‘piracy’ for its positive connotation. But we media students if ever get into publishing or production where revenue is dependent on the sale of authentic material; will we still continue to see piracy as a good thing?
Since piracy is assumed on internet, the question is then how we use ‘piracy’? It needs to be seen as a ‘tool’ rather than as a disease that comes along with internet.
Maybe if advertisers made ads that were worth watching then they wouldn’t have a problem with people wanting to watch their ads. Is it not possible for advertisers to come up with something worthwhile for a change? Maybe people would care enough to watch their ads and then tune into television to watch their shows because of the ads between shows. I mean advertising is an industry that has such a large amount of creative potential, but nothing great seems to come out of the Indian advertising world, except for a few stray ads. I mean there is a possibility for bright minds to produce ads that have depth and character and truth to them, rather than creating a bunch of superficial ads selling superficial products to people they think are superficial, assuming they aren’t superficial. Then maybe they could put their brilliant ads onto the internet as well, your idea sounds pretty good and people will watch television and use the internet and download ads with music and films and T.V shows. They can then create the illusion of watching television on their computers.
I think people that bought CDs, the ‘original’ CDs continue to buy them. People that download music are just glad they have access to it somehow because they probably never could afford to buy the CD in the first place.
When I say that television is having a tough time keeping up with the internet I am referring to the TV set that seems to be lying around in every living room. The shows made for television though seem to attract young urban audiences through various other mediums. This age seems to be the age where instead of carrying around different devices for different purposes you acquire one single ‘smart’ device that can potentially function in the place of many others. I remember a few advertisements which said that the TV set had become ‘smart’ and was now a little computer. Those features may have been a beginning, with some very basic games and interactive options, but I feel it is much easier for the television to get into the computer than for the computer to get into the television.
The question of piracy on the internet now seems to be ‘How will the advertisers and producers get their dues?’ My point is, most of the advertisers and producers are hoping the youngsters will watch their shows. The problem seems to be that most youth with access to the internet and who have discovered pirated copies prefer to watch those without time restrictions such as on television. One step was to bridge the space-time divide between different regions of the world, which piracy and the internet have managed to do over the past few years. For instance many of the Hollywood and even Bollywood movies or even television serials and music would be released in Europe and the USA much before they were released in India. Through the internet many of these productions would reach Indian viewers much before the official release date and this began to result in huge losses for the marketers. Today that gap seems to be reducing constantly and Instead of regional releases there are worldwide releases organized. One option for most of the producers and advertisers is to delay the gaps in screening between the ‘developed’ and ‘developing’ worlds. Which means those who are really interested would head for the theatres or watch the TV series on TV. The rest will anyway pirate.
So here are a few other suggestions I could think of about how advertisers and producers could still make money while delivering content online.
What do advertisers care if people are watching their ads on TV or online so long as they are watching it? If the youth are downloading shows then the advertisers should pay producers to put up their shows online with their ads in it. The producer gets paid and the advertiser gets the eyeballs. Sure there are problems with this model about the ads being relevant to the region and also of people fast-forwarding the ads while watching them. The ads being relevant to the region perhaps can be solved with some sort of faster download servers for the regions which he AD is relevant to. So for instance if you are downloading from India, you would get a much faster speed if you downloaded from a particular site where the show would be catered to Indian audiences (but I’m not sure how these things work so I won’t say much more regarding this). But so far as fast-forwarding the ads go so long as the ads are novel and interesting people are generally interested in watching them, once they get used to it people switch channels on TV anyway, so it is not really that much of a loss. Another way is to create ads much shorter in duration so that it’s not worth moving the scroll bar for. Yet another way may be to put the Ad in a corner or bottom portion of the screen while the show is playing, in this manner the audience can watch the show and would have seen the ad without much disturbance. This way the producer need not be completely reliant on the television channel to broadcast the show and deliver revenues. There will always continue to be people who rely on television for their daily dose of entertainment and so the overall reach of the show actually may increase along with the revenue for the producers by adopting both these mediums of distribution.
Another method is the one tried out by the artiste Prince who last year decided to give away his album free along with a national daily (http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2007/jun/29/business.pop), which of course got him scathing criticism from record companies and music stores. Some went so far as to say “The Artist Formerly Known as Prince should know that with behaviour like this he will soon be the Artist Formerly Available in Record Stores. And I say that to all the other artists who may be tempted to dally with the Mail on Sunday." This tactic may seem to displease record labels but in looking at the long run it seems to be a sensible move. The newspaper pays to carry the CD, this way the newspaper which spends millions to attract readers in order to attract advertisers get what they are looking for. The artiste gets his due in the process along with the distribution of his/her work among the fans and the advertisers get their monies worth. Prince might just be an exception and perhaps it doesn’t seem likely that big artistes might be tempted to do this every time. But the actual cost of recording a CD and delivering it to households seems to be negligible in this case, when compared to all the marketing and advertising required to get people to walk into a store and buy an album or series especially in this age of the internet. How feasible are these ideas mentioned above?, I don’t know and I cannot really judge right now but it is high time that such a system evolved that gives the people freedom to choose how, where and when they get access to their entertainment.
I think the only real use of television today is to catch the news and perhaps if you are a media student, to study it. So I do agree with you when you say that television is declining, for a certain class of people, yes I seem to be making the same argument over again, but it is true. The internet has taken over in terms of television drama shows like Prison Break, Desperate Housewives and Lost. Lifestyle channels seems to have larger potential on television today, like Travel and Living and VH1 to a certain extent, I would rather watch those channels on television than download them off the internet. But if we talk about the Indian context I think most part of the population relies on television, I am unaware of the names of Hindi drama shows and soaps on Indian television, but can you download them as well? Television to me seems to have caught a far greater audience in India and had a much greater influence, not just Doordharshan anymore, but cable television. So I would be wary of comparing it with the internet, whose potential is definitely massive, if it were carried out on a large scale, but unfortunately not a reality yet.
I also find that the reason I knew about shows such a Prison Break and Lost is because I watched them on television first, and then attempted to download later seasons off the internet, so in a sense television seems to jumpstart piracy and free downloading. Shows like Entourage that haven’t made it to Indian television yet, but are being watched by a large young audience in India I think would’ve been heard about vaguely on television or maybe relatives abroad. However as far as movies and music is concerned the internet has seemed to break far more barriers, I would willingly participate in free downloading of a movie or a song that I’ve been wanting to see or hear for long time. Music especially is of great quality in the internet. However I do listen to a lot of trance music and trance music is not made for a commercial market. Although there are a few Djs like Infected Mushroom and Goa Gil who do sell their music commercially through a record company, most of them trade music ‘underground’. Trance is also known as ‘underground’ music. Why I bring this up is even though I do find lesser known Djs on the internet through Limewire, the music that is available is limited and generally very outdated. In a way I suppose that this is the purpose of trance music, to be traded underground, to thrive as far away as possible from the internet and other sources of mass dissemination. It’s a strange sort of barter system like market and the irony is that trance Djs ‘borrow’ heavily from classical music or from rock bands such as Nirvana and Dire Straits and even from Cartoons, there are trance versions of the Popeye the Sailor man song. So they do believe in piracy and they do not believe in copyright laws, their music is not subjected to copyright laws, since they do not produce commercially. It functions almost as a community, the way they share music is by creating a CD or DVD containing their music, then trading and sometimes sharing it with one or two people. They trade music for music. If one Dj wants to play around with another’s music and tweak it a little bit here and there, it is allowed because there are no rules. It is an interesting community that works very much on principles of piracy, virtually without the internet.
Of course piracy is a brilliant tool for upcoming artists, electronic, house, progressive house Djs and one can most definitely learn from each other through the internet and build as an artist. Also it has created space for new kinds of artists to evolve, such as digital artists, digital poets, internet gaming designers and so on. So I agree, it is definitely important to evolve with technology. When poetry gets on to internet, it would be good for the poet because poetry as a form of art is read by such few people, that if a poem were put onto the internet, the poet would be glad to know that he is being read by somebody. But if his poem were published in a written anthology without his or her consent, he would be unhappy for not being told so, and not having been paid an adequate amount. Somehow the internet seems to have been established by most artists as a means to get recognized and so they don’t mind their work being posted for free. The publisher of poetry would hardly be harmed by it, because he or she wouldn’t sell much to begin with.
In regards to the previous post on ‘bootlegger’s and advertiser's’, I agree on the point that piracy can’t really be beneficial for everyone involved, all the time. But I also think it is because of the rigid forms of media they have gotten attached to instead of evolving with the technology. For instance in my personal experience I think that television is one medium that is suffering or can expect to suffer a great deal in the future due to piracy. In my earlier post I have tried to explain why I think piracy is actually a form of free advertising whose potential is now being recognized by various artistes worldwide. When it comes to music and movies much of the rarest material is downloaded through the internet and acquires popularity through the various file sharing networks. No doubt the long term benefits of this phenomenon seem to far outweigh the short term loses that most companies seem to be concerned about.
But there is one tendency I have noted in myself and many individuals my age who seem to be using the internet to download various television series. In comparison to the internet especially with the kind of file sharing facilities that are available, the medium of television seems to be extremely rigid and lacking in the options that are made available to users of the web. The internet has proved itself to be a more liberating medium almost literally when it comes to viewing content. The problem with television, in my opinion, is that it seems to be a constant flow where if you missed one segment then the chances of you catching it again are slim. Even with all the audience research and field work that the TV industry claims to do, it still seems as if we the viewers should mould our schedule around the TV and the vice versa is not always true.
The problem or unique characteristic of television is that TV watching is an activity we practice while simultaneously performing many other jobs. So when you watch a movie that you downloaded from the net and if it were a movie with plenty of special effects like Star Wars there is always the feeling that perhaps you would have enjoyed it better on a bigger screen or with a set of friends in the darkness of a theatre. With music there is this desire to hold the product in one’s hands, so may be many people tend to purchase CD’s or even attend a live concert because the experience is very different from listening to it on your iPod or computer. So it may in fact prove to be an advertisement for the various other forms of the art in these mediums. In the case of television there is no such product. The chances are that once you miss a season of a show then you are left in a lurch. Whereas if the season has been downloaded then you can watch it at your own leisure with as many or as few breaks as you wish. Many people would counter that if you miss the season of show on TV then you can catch up with the missed shows online and then join up with the rest of the crowd during the normal TV schedule. Perhaps this is true for audiences abroad, but in India the chances are that the pirated versions get here much before television begins to show it legally. In my personal experience not many people would prefer watching a TV series on television over downloading it.
(The following narration is not something I have spent time researching formally but something I experienced within my friend circle, so I can’t really provide hard figures to support my statements)
Let us take the example of a few TV shows such as Prison Break and Heroes. Complete seasons of these shows were available in India much before Star World started screening them. The show gained tremendous popularity here in Mumbai mostly through pirated DVD’s exchanged between friends. Most of the people I have met who have been religiously following these series are not people who watch it on television but instead those who have downloaded it or got pirated DVD’s. This is not merely a story about numbers, the key here is that most people I interact with who have watched downloaded series actually find it very difficult to follow the same series on television because it then feels like a tedious task. First of all you must find out when the channel will screen the show, next make sure you are free at that time and then ensure that a TV is free at the same time, then you have to sit through all the painful advertising which you can easily skip through on a computer and also hope your cable doesn’t go off around then. Compare this to downloading a TV series, where if you have a high speed connection or even a friend with a high speed connection or one copy of a pirated DVD all you have to do is switch on your computer and then watch as you wish. Sure, there are plenty of people in India who have no access to high speed internet connection or may not know where to purchase a pirated DVD, but it is important to consider the fact that large portions of the urban youth are constantly getting connected for various reasons. Many spend hours online for college projects, social networking, email etc. if they were given a choice to stay on the same medium and watch their favourite shows I think most would accept and give up television. The era of rushing home to catch a television show is coming to an end; it is high time content started waiting for the viewer to be free and ready to play it.