As a teenager I collected records, big black vinyl round things in those days. When I met Mrs W42 she was building a quite similar collection of music so when we got together for the long term we merged those collections, then spent the following 40 years collecting more albums, latterly on CD.
Over the years I bought some, she bought some, with our similar musical tastes and much having been bought during joint and family activities and at events they all form part of one music library that we both enjoy. In many ways music is up there with the diary and photo collection, an equally potent reminder of attending concerts, shows, festivals, holidays etc. We don’t know the future but I know that whichever of us falls off the perch first, our music collection will be valuable to the other.
This was brought home to me last year following the death of a very long standing friend, another avid music collector with whom we shared many gigs, holidays and musical tastes. Much of his music collection means little to his children, they weren’t born when it impacted his (and my) life, but some of it means a tremendous amount to me. Thanks to his children I now have a selection of CDs from his collection. Such memories are priceless.
I was therefore drawn to the story some weeks ago that claimed that Bruce Willis was to try and sue iTunes because he had spent thousands of dollars on film and music downloads to create a family library then been told that he couldn’t pass them on to his family in his will. It seems the story was somewhat over-hyped but the principle is correct. Anyone who downloads music doesn’t have any ownership, transfer or resale rights. Of course with music, and film, you never own the music or film on them, you only ever buy the right to listen or watch at home, but if there is a physical medium, like an album, CD or DVD, to which the rights are tied, you can pass on those rights by giving away or selling the physical album.
One might argue that with some pop culture, like this week’s top 20, that it’s irrelevant, it’s only transitory culture anyhow and it’s always available on Spotify or at Amazon. But as time goes on and more and more material is downloaded without a physical medium we as consumers will realise that we have been neatly mugged by the media companies and publishers.
Of course with books being downloaded there is a similar situation. You download onto your book reader and when you die the rights go away. There is no legal way to leave a collection of your favourite authors for your kids or surviving spouse to read. So digital downloads are the death knell of household libraries. We might be able to go round a National Trust property and gasp at the library the owner had collected, but downloaders won’t be leaving anything like it behind in the future. Literature too is becoming transitory.
Unfortunately that is only one aspect of the situation. Another aspect of the way downloading and copyright works is rather more subtle but quite pernicious: It isolates people within the family group. It does this by reducing the sharing of music, art and culture within the family and between partners or spouses by enforcing the ownership and all rights onto just one member. It encourages people to be more remote and individual rather than encouraging a sharing of experience which strengthens a relationship. No longer is the family or couple the centre of the household, couples are forced to choose individual responsibility and ownership of what are essentially, and should be, joint belongings.
The scariest aspect has not quite arrived, but it’s on the way. In Orwell’s 1984 Winston’s job at the Ministry of Truth was to update and change books, newspaper archives and the like to reflect the latest reality as defined by the ruling elite. In Orwell’s book he had quite a job because things were printed. Once everything becomes digital and virtual his job is frighteningly easy. In the digital age all books, papers, films and even personal photos are on line. All your ‘libraries’ and documents are held on devices that can be accessed remotely or reside somewhere on the ‘cloud’. All the news comes on web pages that can be edited silently at any time, indeed they already are, although as yet only by the authors to correct mistakes.
In the future however I can forsee a time, not far into the future, when all our digital Winston has to do for the Ministry of Truth is a global (literally) edit. At the press of one button every reference to an event or person can be changed on every news page, in every online reference, in every electronic book, and in every document everywhere in the ‘cloud’ and on personal devices. We truly will wake up and find we are now at war with Eastasia, always were, always have been, and nowhere on Earth will there be a written record to gainsay the new truth.