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2007 Rapp-Up

 

Itís been a tumultuous year in the world of information; the world is changing so fast and so intractably that itís hard to keep up. Hereís what I think are the biggest changes and phenomena:

1) The iPhone: The Internet, your stereo, your TV, and (oh yeah) your phone in your pocket. Everybodyís been saying this was coming, and once again it took Steve Jobs to bring it home. Like Appleís done before with portable music and the iPod, the iPhone revolutionizes personal communications in a package thatís sleek, breathtaking, and lovable. No, I donít have oneóyet. But friends that do say itís changed their lives, and like the ad says, they donít know how they got along without it all these years.

2) Voluntary payment for music: I was at the Future of Music conference this fall, and one of the speakers said, ďLetís face it, payment for music these days is entirely voluntary.Ē And she was pretty much right. Thirty thousand lawsuits by the music industry against its core customers notwithstanding, you can find whatever you want for free on the Internet, or just cop a file from a friend, or, if youíre in a real pinch, you can buy the damn song. Music wants to be free, and music gets what it wants. And no amount of huffing, puffing, or litigating or legislating is going to change that. The era of Big Music is just about over. And you know what? More music is being made now than ever before in the history of the human race. And, like always, some of it is real good.

3) Social networking rules: Itís exploded and itís here to stay, one way or the other. Facebook, Bebo, MySpace, LinkedIn, Twitter, and all the rest have revolutionized how we communicate with each other. If youíre my age you might not get it. If youíre half my age youíre going, like ďduh!Ē At NYU this year they had special orientation classes for incoming freshmen, teaching them the ins and outs of face-to-face communication. Everybody already ďknewĒ each other through Facebook, but nobody was quite sure how to actually talk to one another.

4) You have no privacy: Unless you live in the boonies, most of your time outside is on camera. If you have a cell-phone in your pocket, you can be tracked. Unless youíre a geek that knows something about encryption, most of your online activities are being stored somewhere by someone you donít know. And the government thinks itís perfectly OK to listen in on your telephone calls without a warrant, or at least to sweep your conversations for bad words. And the telephone companies seem to think itís OK to help the government do it. Even though itís clearly illegal to do so, nobody seems to care! And Congress looks like itís gonna grant the phone companies that broke the laws a get-out-of-jail-free card in the name of, what, national security or something? And of course, nobody seems to want to bother with the governmentís illegal acts; why, it would be distracting attention away from other, more pressing matters, like not reforming health care, or not passing real environmental legislation. And if you think these privacy issues are going to get fixed when the Democrats take control in a year, donít hold your breath. The Democrats donít care about your privacy because privacy issues donít show up in the polls, and even if they did, it wouldnít matter because we now have a young, entrenched neo-con Supreme Court that doesnít give a ratís ass about you.

5) Activism works: Maybe. A whole lot of activist work went into getting the FCC to loosen up its LPFM (low-power FM) radio station rules, against the cries of the huge companies that didnít want home-grown competition. Now it looks like tons of communities will have opportunities to start local radio stations. If all the frequencies donít get gobbled up by Jesused-up whack-job organizations, maybe you (yes you!) could have your own radio show. Get involved in this, if you believe in the power of community and fun. Itís worth it on about six different levels. I am witness to it. Go start a radio station. And it looks like the same sorts of activists are putting the breaks on FCC Commissioner Martinís attempts to commandeer the ownership rules for mainstream TV and radio frequencies. The public owns the damn airwaves, and the Clear Channels of the world are supposed to be the stewards of the public trust. Do they sound that way to you?

Have a terrific holiday season, and donít forget to boogie.

óPaul Rapp

 

Paul Rapp is an intellectual-property lawyer with offices in Albany and Housatonic, Mass. He teaches art-and-entertainment law at Albany Law School, and regularly appears as part of the Copyright Forum on WAMCís Vox Pop. Contact info can be found at www.paul rapp.com. Comments about this article can be posted at rapponthis .blogspot.com.


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