The Piracy Crusade (UMass Press, 2013)
In the decade and a half since Napster first emerged, forever changing the face of digital culture, the claim that "internet pirates killed the music industry" has become so ubiquitous that it is treated as common knowledge. Piracy is a scourge on legitimate businesses and hard-working artists, we are told, a "cybercrime" similar to identity fraud or even terrorism.
In The Piracy Crusade, I critique the notion of "piracy" as a myth perpetuated by today's cultural cartels -- the handful of companies that dominate the film, software, and especially music industries. As digital networks have permeated our social environment, they have offered vast numbers of people the opportunity to experiment with innovative cultural and entrepreneurial ideas predicated on the belief that information should be shared widely. This has left the media cartels, whose power has historically resided in their ability to restrict the flow of cultural information, with difficult choices: adapt to this new environment, fight the changes tooth and nail, or accept obsolescence. Their decision to fight has resulted in ever stronger copyright laws and the aggressive pursuit of accused infringers.
Yet the most dangerous legacy of this "piracy crusade" is not the damage inflicted on promising start-ups or on well-intentioned civilians caught in the crosshairs of file-sharing litigation. Far more troubling, Sinnreich argues, are the broader implications of copyright laws and global treaties that sacrifice free speech and privacy in the name of combating the phantom of piracy -- policies that threaten to undermine the foundations of democratic society.
Mashed Up (UMass Press, 2010)
Mashed Up chronicles the rise of "configurability," an emerging musical and cultural moment rooted in today's global, networked communications infrastructure. Based on interviews with dozens of prominent DJs, attorneys, and music industry executives, the book argues that today's battles over sampling, file sharing, and the marketability of new styles such as "mash-ups" and "techno" presage social change on a far broader scale.
Music has always been regulated in societies around the globe. Institutional authorities ranging from dynastic China's "Office to Harmonize Sounds" to today's copyright collecting societies like BMI and ASCAP leverage the rule of law and the power of the market to make sure that some musical forms and practices are allowed and others are prohibited.
Yet, despite the efforts of these powerful regulators, musical cultures consistently devise new and innovative ways to work around institutional regulations. These workarounds often generate new styles and traditions in turn, with effects far beyond the cultural sphere.
This book suggests some new twists in this age-old story: the emergence of a new ethic of configurable collectivism; an economic reunion of labor; a renegotiation of the line between public and private; a shift from linear to recursive logic; and a new "DJ consciousness," in which the margins are becoming the new mainstream. Whether these changes are sudden or gradual, violent or peaceful, will depend on whether we heed the lessons of configurability, or continue to police and punish the growing ranks of the mashed up.