My latest Locus colum, “Music: The Internet’s Original Sin,” asks why music copyright is such a hot potato on the Internet, even in the post-DRM age, when most tunes are $0.99 on Amazon in MP3. The short answer: music’s ancient compact is not entirely compatible with contemporary commerce, and the industry has tried to “fix” this by just telling us that everything we know about the legitimate way to enjoy, produce and share music is wrong.
Let’s start with music’s age. Movies are still in their infancy. Books are in their middle age. Stories themselves are ancient. But music is primal. Books may predate commerce, but music predates language. Our relationship with music, and our social contracts around it, are woven into many other parts of our culture, parts that are considered more important than mere laws or businesses. The idea that music is something that you hear and then sing may even be inherent to our biology. I know that when I hear a catchy tune, I find myself humming it or singing it, and it takes a serious effort of will to stop myself. It doesn’t really matter what the law says about whether I am ‘‘authorized’’ to ‘‘perform’’ a song. Once it’s in my head, I’m singing it, and often singing it with my friends. If my friends and I sing together by means of video-sharing on YouTube, well, you’re going to have a hard time convincing us that this is somehow wrong.