ASA12: Arts and aesthetics in a globalising world

Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India, 3rd-6th April 2012

(P21)

Music, digital media, and ontological politics: from 'piracy' to intellectual property

Location SIS Appadurai Committee Room
Date and Start Time 05 April, 2012 at 15:00

Convenors

Aditi Deo (University of Oxford) email
Georgina Born (University of Oxford ) email
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Short Abstract

In light of debates over the limitations of the paradigm of 'piracy' (Hayden, Larkin, Liang, Sundaram), this panel examines how notions of music as intellectual property are being mediated by digital technologies in a range of locales.

Long Abstract

Digital technologies are rapidly being adopted across the world for the production, distribution, and consumption of music, transforming how music is made and experienced, how it is propertized and commoditized, and how it is affectively imbued. The transposability of musical sounds and bytes of data in the digital age, and its implications for musical creativity and circulation, raise ontological questions about music as expressive culture and inaugurate an ontological politics concerned with how different agents and institutions conceive of and operationalize music as 'intellectual property'.

In light of debates over the limitations of the paradigm of 'piracy' (Hayden, Larkin, Liang, Sundaram), this panel examines how notions of music as intellectual property are being mediated by digital technologies in a range of locales. Papers will focus ethnographically on the role of digital technologies in solidifying, challenging, and/or fracturing existing legal and vernacular conceptions of music as property. Presenters will excavate propertizing impulses in the digital distribution of popular musics, the digital recording and archiving of vernacular musics, and various manifestations of extra-legal music creation and circulation (or 'piracy') in diverse parts of the world, as well as exploring tactical resistance to these developments. Turning to practices embedded in everyday life to understand how music is propertized—as art, commodity, or heritage—will allow us critically to address questions of authorship, ownership, the nature of the musical object and of the musical commons, 'piracy' and the imputation of illegality in transacting music, and other pressing questions as they arise in digital contexts.

Discussant: Ravi Sundarum, Lawrence Liang

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

M-commerce and the (re)making of the music industry in Kenya

Author: Andrew Eisenberg (University of Oxford)  email

Short Abstract

This paper explores emerging m-commerce business models in the Kenyan music industry, how they are being developed and implemented, and the responses they are engendering from those involved in reforming Kenya’s music copyright law and royalty collection protocols.

Long Abstract

There is a growing belief among music entrepreneurs and royalty collection organizations in Kenya that the digital technologies that have allowed music piracy to flourish in the developed world will foster a viable music industry in their country based on the legal exploitation of music as intellectual property. Those who hold this belief often point to the emergence of music m-commerce (mobile phone commerce) in Kenya, which is already generating profits for Kenyan and international mobile phone companies and digital content providers, and (to a lesser degree) providing new income streams for local music producers and artists. In this paper, based on interview data from on-going research in Nairobi, I explore emerging m-commerce business models in the Kenyan music industry, how they are being developed and implemented, and the responses they are engendering from those involved in reforming Kenya's music copyright law and royalty collection protocols. In the process, I approach the broader question of how the translation of music into mobile phone 'content' is challenging local ontologies of the musical work. I take as an illustrative case study those business models that seek to 'cut out the middle man' between music artists and consumers. Typically characterized as for-profit social entrepreneurship aimed at helping struggling artists to receive fair remuneration for their work, such models exemplify the exuberant optimism that surrounds the music m-commerce in Kenya. Their implementations, meanwhile, exemplify how this optimism can be dampened by practical realities, such as the complexities of music copyright in Kenya.

Mobile Media and Piracy in India

Author: Neha Kumar (UC Berkeley)  email

Short Abstract

Our paper discusses the consumption of digital music on the increasingly ubiquitous multimedia-enabled mobile phone platform, largely enabled by a rich infrastructure of media piracy. The users we focus on come from low-income households in three sites located in rural, semi-urban, and urban India.

Long Abstract

The recent Media Piracy in Emerging Economies report (J. Karaganis et al., 2011) claims that global media piracy results from three main factors: high prices for media goods, low incomes, and cheap digital technologies. The proposed paper will discuss an ethnographic engagement with a media ecology where the presence of these forces (among others) has led to escalating rates of piracy. It focuses on low-income consumers of digital music on the increasingly ubiquitous multimedia-enabled mobile phone, in sites belonging to rural, semi-urban, and urban India.

Mobile coverage is on the rise in India, including in remote areas. Competitive pricing of voice/data plans and a consistent fall in the prices of mobile phone instruments have led to greater adoption and use. Multimedia-enabled phones are especially popular and affordable at Rs. 1,000 ($20) and are increasingly becoming a universal entertainment device for low-income users, housing varied audio-visual content. Just as cassette culture (P. Manuel, 1993) expanded the music market in India, we study an emerging mobile culture that incorporates copying, sharing, and distributing (pirated) music via mobile chip downloads. We discuss recent measures adopted by the Indian Music Industry (IMI) to address the financial losses of recording companies attributed to mobile chip piracy and how these measures play out in the market to impact distribution practices, also from an enforcement perspective. In addition, we examine perceptions about piracy that result from inadequate levels of understanding and awareness and a historic lack of access to multimedia content.

The 'Pirate' DJ

Author: Vebhuti Duggal (Jawaharlal Nehru University)  email

Short Abstract

This paper shall attempt to look at the figure of the neighbourhood DJs of Delhi. This figure is one that is embedded within the structures of aspiration that 'pirate culture' participates in.

Long Abstract

This paper shall attempt to look at the figure of the neighbourhood DJs of Delhi, a figure inaugurated by the puzzling arrival of the remix as a digital musical practice. This exploration, both discursive and ethnographic, begins by looking at the DJ as participating in a non-legal/extra-legal world, a liminal space filled with multifarious technological objects, as theorised by Bagchi (2006). In the context of Bhopal, Rai (2009) constructs the various assemblages that these DJs form with various objects (trucks, sound equipment, new orders of capital movement etc). Both critics along with the theoretical premises of the Sarai group about pirate cultures (Liang 2009; Sundaram 2010) form the entry-point for me to look at the figure of the DJ.

The story of a lower-middle class, 'neighbourhood/ mohalla DJ' and his studio (or lack thereof) is one that is embedded within the structures of aspiration that this pirate culture participates in. This aspiration carries both a desire for upward mobility and for an urban/e sensibility. Furthermore, it may perhaps be suggested that this aspiration is imbricated upon and entwines with a love for and knowledge of music itself. This places before us, for consideration, the affective and the emotional as well as knowledge structures that these DJs participate in while being 'pirates'. This paper, shall attempt to reconstruct some of these knowledge structures as well as emotional structures, so as to see how these may possibly lie 'outside' the domain of intellectual property that the Law demarcates.

Pirate State: Music circulation in late socialist Cuba

Author: Alexandrine Boudreault-Fournier (University of Victoria)  email

Short Abstract

This paper proposes an original understanding of digital music “piracy” when the state is complicit in practices understood, outside Cuba, as legally problematic.

Long Abstract

Due to health reasons, Fidel Castro resigned as Cuba's head of state in February 2008. His brother, Raul Castro, took the reins of power. Rather than pursuing the dictatorship of his older brother, the new president brought legal changes which confirmed that Cuba had entered a state of rapid transition: a period of late socialism. Among those changes, which considerably affects the everyday lives of Cubans, the Ministry of Work and Social Insurance allows some sectors of the economy to flourish on a private basis (Resolution 32/2010). This means that small companies owned by individual Cubans (with one employee allowed for specific professions) became legal for the first time since the Revolution (1959). This new approach towards small enterprises, effective since late 2010, targeted 178 professions. One of them is "Buyer and seller of CDs." In legalizing this activity, the Cuban state becomes fully complicit in the grassroots distribution of copied music through CDs and other devices - such as memory sticks. This paper proposes an original understanding of "piracy" when the state is complicit in practices understood, outside Cuba, as legally problematic. A historical and economic contextualization of music and film piracy in Cuban mass media will allow us to better grasp how intellectual rights are officially dealt with in this context. Finally, in-depth ethnographic fieldwork in Havana among buyers and sellers of CDs deconstructs the idea of music piracy as illegal in contemporary Cuba and contributes to the theoretical debate on how music piracy should be approached.

What is music? Ontological politics of experimental digital music in the UK

Author: Georgina Born (University of Oxford )  email

Short Abstract

With reference to fieldwork on experimental digital music scenes in Britain, and following Humphrey and Verdery (2004), I address how intellectual property norms are reconceptualized in novel practices across a spate of genres, noting the diverse ontological politics that they entail.

Long Abstract

One aim of this panel is to blast open the discussion of digital music's creation, circulation and consumption beyond the normative assumptions of the 'piracy' paradigm. Generative here is the anthropological perspective on intellectual and cultural property given by Caroline Humphrey and Katherine Verdery's Introduction to Property in Question (2004) in which they urge anthropologists to deconstruct the ontological categories enshrined in law that underpin property relations: notions of rights, the nature of 'person' and 'thing' or of the subject and object of property rights 'inherent in a view of property as relations among persons by means of, or with respect to, things', and even the 'relations' that pertain (6). In this paper I follow the lead given by Humphrey and Verdery with reference to current fieldwork on heterogeneous digital music scenes in Britain, addressing how intellectual property norms are being reconceptualized and reimagined in novel practices scattered across a spate of new genres. Palpable in these practices, but marked and conscious to varying degrees, are a range of ontological politics (Law, Mol, Verran) enacted with respect to the aforementioned terms. I first note the radical diversity of forms of author-'subject', musical 'object' (or practice, event or site) and relations between them evident today, relating these to institutional conditions. I then argue that the (ontological) politics immanent in some of them in can only be grasped through an analysis of the contested genealogies envisaged by practitioners: a performative politics that both produces history and intervenes in it.

Folk Music in the Digital Realm: Shared Commons or Cultural Property

Author: Aditi Deo (University of Oxford)  email

Short Abstract

Drawing upon ethnographic research of audio-visual archiving and commercial publication of folk music in India, this paper explores how digital technologies are mediating the ontology of "folk music" as part of public commons, and as cultural commodity.

Long Abstract

Folk music—traditional vernacular music forms associated with oral transmission, undefined authorship, and shared ownership—is increasingly being drawn into the digital realm across the world. New modes of storage, circulation, and creativity opened by digital technologies have invigorated drives to document, archive, and disseminate folk music, as well as its commercial circulation (e.g. heritage record labels), and creative deployments (e.g. sampling in popular music). Crucially, they have transformed the extent—both geographic and demographic—to which the music can now be disseminated.

Drawing upon ethnographic research of audio-visual archiving and commercial publication of folk music in India, this paper explores how digital technologies are mediating the ontology of "folk music." Institutional projects for audio-visual documentation and preservation increasingly integrate dissemination through digital archives and online exhibits. In rural and semi-rural areas, the availability and affordability of digital devices has given rise to decentralized documentation projects, undertaken locally by traditional practitioners and patrons. Linked to these archiving endeavors are burgeoning local industries for vernacular language music and media, and urban record labels directed to global audiences. Underlying the range of activities are, on the one hand, ideologies about folk music as part of public commons—heritage—and the obligation to provide wide (if not global) access to it, and on the other hand, its potential as commodity for both vernacular and cosmopolitan populations. This paper traces conflicting notions about folk music as cultural/intellectual property, as communally owned, and as heritage, which emerge as it traverses the digital terrain.

Music in protest, music as property

Author: Arjun Ghosh (Indian Institute of Technology Delhi)  email

Short Abstract

Music for protest is often collectively created and shared and reused freely. This paper studies the implications of the cultures of protest music for the practice of intellectual property.

Long Abstract

Music being a spontaneous and collective expression of protest and discontent has held a special position in the history of social and political movements. Protest music may originate through acts of individual creativity, but are very often produced through artistic collectives and through joint effort. But, no matter what be the mode of creation, music in protest invariably enjoys a long after-life, with songs being reconceived, translated, and retuned to permeate a variety of protest environments and cultures. Protest music is seldom, if at all,motivated by profit. So what are the implications of these contexts of creation on the intellectual property of protest and political music? Would the writers and composers of the patriotic music of the Indian independence movement have sought to vigorously protect their copyright? This paper would take a close look at practices of distribution and sharing of protest music in various political movements to form a conception of the intellectual property implications of revolutionary art forms. It would try to explore if there are any distinctions between the ways moral and commercial rights are exercised by politically motivated musicians and artists. Also, whether there have been any changes in such conceptualisation with the strengthening of the intellectual property rights regimen and with the advent of the internet and the social media.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.