Free music, free love

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By: John Shi <jshi@hilite.org>

Radiohead’s new album, “In Rainbows”, will be offered free of charge. And it’s not that bands haven’t done this before, it’s that Radiohead (one of the biggest bands around) is doing it. The band with one of the largest cult followings around, and with critically lauded albums such as Kid A and OK Computer in a dramatic departure from regular protocol has moved to tell fans that “it’s up to you” when it comes to paying for the album.

The anti-establishment mentality that Radiohead projects sends a strong message to record labels: we don’t need you. But more importantly, the move recognizes something that many in the music industry have denied for years; that is, that the open-source mindset of this age has fueled a consumer attitude demanding and expecting free media. Digital Rights Management and cracking down on peer-to-peer sharing of music is the technological manifestation of anti-sexual repression attitudes in the 1960s. But it’s not free love anymore. In the age of the Internet, the cause is free music.

Let’s be real, we’ve all watched a piece of free media that is technically owned by a copyrighted establishment. Music videos uploaded by you or me on YouTube? Movie clips on Facebook? Downloading a song off Limewire? These are activities that have been cracked down upon by media moguls and copyright lawyers in the last decade. And yet, instead of decreasing, usage of peer-to-peer programs and sites has skyrocketed to the dismay of policy-setters.

And the trend of free media is no longer just an increasing mentality among teens that can be condemned and prosecuted; it’s a society-wide conception so pervasive that even policymakers and those who police the copyright laws break them from time to time. It’s time to face the truth about DRM, Amazon.com certainly has by offering an online music store sans the restrictive copyright protection. And now, anyone in the world can go to www.inrainbows.com, pre-order the downloadable album (you can also purchase a box-set), and get Radiohead’s next album free of charge.

Free music isn’t about a couple of youths subverting the law, although there have been several highly public court cases based on that outdated misconception in which disgruntled teens have been fined hundreds of thousands of dollars for downloading songs. It’s about a national mentality of technological liberation and free media that isn’t going away. It’s time for record labels and media execs to get it and to adapt to reality.

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