Save A Copy

Luca Lampo [epidemiC]

It was just thirty years ago that a digital network began to be used by a human language. 75% of ARPANET traffic was e-mail and the language belonged to a few thousand people, the same who imagined and built up the pieces of the system we call Internet. The messages exchanged in those simple e-mails were the design for a future revolution and today the language of hundreds of millions of people populates the net and has moulded it to its own likeness. If Internet once belonged to the history of informatics, now it is simply history.

At this point, our laziness might ask a question: "Excuse me, Mr. Digital, where can I find the last 25,000 years of human language?". The obvious answer would be: "I’m sorry but I’ve just arrived... have you ever heard of dusty archives like libraries, art galleries, etc. etc.?".

The program command "Save As..." did not start with computers. In the Middle Ages, Benedictine monks saved a redundantly large number of writings from the ancient world and almost all the statues from Ancient Greece are copies saved centuries later by the craftsmen of Ancient Rome. Although it may seem overimaginative, I think this is an interesting point of view to understand the phenomenon called "song-swapping", which in just three years has made available to people with an Internet connection, a rich an efficient system for filing the language of music and more.

Leaving aside Internet itself, let us try and imagine the factors which have made possible or facilitated the creation and development of this phenomenon.
1)The MP3 audio compression format has on one hand guaranteed the quality of the sound filed and on the other has facilitated its transfer via the net.
2)The compatibility between the audio CD support, (made widely available for purchase by the record market), and CD-ROM readers present in computers has facilitated the conversion/compression of musical content.
3)Peer-to-Peer networks have made it extremely easy for individuals to make their own music file public.
4)The will of millions of individuals who have, for no payment, worked to enrich their own shared file, compressing MP3 content.
While the first three factors are technological in nature, the fourth is a human attitude difficult to measure. This behaviour does not stop at the cry of joy or terror: "Music for free!", because the use of Peer-to-Peer systems does not force one to give in order to have. It seems a paradox, but if everyone had simply taken music free without giving music, the whole system would have died out due to a dearth of contents and today we would not be talking about either MP3 or Peer-to-Peer.

So are swappers neo-Benedictines with a mania for excess? I wouldn’t rule it out. Informatics often considers excess data as a useless waste of resources, but if a thousand neo-Benedictines share the same song, that song is unlikely to be lost. If I were the musician in question, I think I’d be grateful to them.
The geographical spread of music CD and book megastores does not guarantee we will find what we are looking for: a product that is "out of stock" or "out of print" is a prelude to long wanderings around libraries or second-hand stalls.
The myth of the speed and availability of information on Internet is easily deceptive: the large amount of content/language from the pre-Internet era still lies in library cellars, in drawers, cupboards and refrigerators. The costs and the times expected for digitisation and subsequent publication are enormous.

Thanks to the MP3 format and Peer-to-Peer systems, the language of music is the leading light of a spontaneous collective saving, but what about the other forms of language? Writing, images, moving images ... This is the final question: "Can the lesson of song-swapping, with its models, methods and systems, help to save and publish contents from the Pre-Digital Era?" I wouldn’t rule it out.

I have intentionally avoided the word "knowledge" and equally intentionally not dwelt on the legal conflicts which have accompanied the phenomenon of song-swapping from the very beginning. While copyright is suffering from the aches and pains that come from a hundred years of life, music has been enjoying excellent health for 25,000 years.

Copyright (C) November 2002 Luca Lampo [epidemiC]
Under GNU Free Documentation License (GFDL) -