Monday, October 14, 2019

Perfectly Preserved and Perfectly Prohibited

I began reading But What If We're Wrong? by Chuck Klosterman today. I was intrigued by this passage:

We live in an age where virtually no content is lost and virtually all content is shared. [p. 10]

I was intrigued because I get what he's saying and why he's saying it, but I completely disagree.

We live in an age where virtually ALL content is lost behind copyright. Last week, I tried showing a video from YouTube to my class. I've been showing this video to students for five years, but now it's gone. Copyright violation. And that would be fine if there were a way for me to contact the copyright holder and pay some money to unlock the video, but there's not. It's just gone, now. I can find transcripts of the video (which are probably also copyright violations), but one of the best parts was pausing the video right when the attorney general's eyebrows crease because he's just been presented with an argument he's never considered. The transcript doesn't reflect this.

A few weeks ago, I read this article about how music from the early era of MP3s is basically gone from popular culture, now. (To someone from the near future who asks, "What article?" because the link is broken because the Internet sucks now and everything is horrible, it was called "A Decade of Music Is Lost on Your iPod. These Are the Deleted Years. Now Let Us Praise Them." by Dave Holmes in Esquire magazine, from Sept. 4, 2019; good luck finding it outside of a paywall.) The point is similar to that made by this article from June 30, 2019 ("Microsoft's Ebook Apocalypse Shows the Dark Side of DRM" by Brian Barrett in Wired magazine), and this article from Sept. 11, 2015 ("Whatever Happened to Google Books?" by Tim Wu in The New Yorker magazine). Stuff disappears, and while that used to happen due to stupidity ("Whatever Happened to Captain Video and the DuMont Programming Library?" by Eric Grundhauser in Atlas Obscura from June 30, 2017), now it happens due to greed.

I think of this every time I hear "Where the Streets Have No Name" by U2. I remember the Super Bowl halftime show from 2002, and I think that was my first time since 9/11 where I interacted with what happened, I didn't just say, "Bad stuff went down but I don't want to think about it." As such, it was an incredibly important moment in my life, and every time I think of it, I get a little angry that this moment is locked away behind copyright. (Can you find it on YouTube? Yeah, for now. Until Fox and the NFL file complaints.)

Maybe there's hope; Congress failed to extend copyright again, and works are entering the public domain for the first time in a generation. But how long do we have to wait to have access to our culturally-defining moments? No content is lost, but almost none is available, either.

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