Music and Cyberliberties.
By Patrick Burkart.

Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, March 2010.  Cloth: ISBN 978-0819569172, $70; paper: ISBN 978-0-8195-6918-9, $24.95.  200 pages.

Review by Reba Wissner, Brandeis University

The digitizing and sharing of music is now a part of daily life. Wherever we go, we encounter music. But nowadays, unlike ten years ago when CDs would play throughout the sound system of retail stores, now there is a good chance that the sounds that we hear come from MP3s, which were ripped from CDs or purchased on the internet, and were downloaded onto an MP3 player that is hooked up to a dock in a speaker system and is distributed aurally. Whereas in the era of CDs, only one electronic device is necessary for the playing of music—a CD player—now, we need as many as three—a computer to convert the CD to MP3, the MP3 player itself, and the dock sound system used to play the music that is on the MP3 player.  Patrick Burkart, in his book Music and Cyberliberties, addresses issues such as this. Burkart addresses both the advantages and disadvantages of the technological movement of music sharing, and discusses the ways in which such sharing affects our lives.
Although a relatively thin volume, Burkart’s book manages to address the most important issues related to music copyright and rightful ownership of recorded sound. While this study does build upon the author’s previous published collaboration with Thomas McCourt, this volume takes this work one step further by using the economic and legal implications of music digitalization and explores the impact that this has on music and its rightful place in society. While the recorded object itself is explored in detail, the social agency of the fans and their relationship to political and legal orientation is also a topic of discussion.
Burkart’s study relies heavily on the Theory of Communication by which the distribution of digital music clarifies the concurrent political and cultural conflict surrounding its dissemination. While the book’s introduction prefaces the study as a whole, in it the author proposes that the Theory of Communicative Action can allow us to get a clearer picture of the ways in music participates in the lifeworld. Chapter 1 introduces the principal organizations involved in the regulation of the dissemination of digital music, such as the American Civil Liberties Union and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, as well as the role that they play in the legalization of electronic distribution. Burkart establishes the terminology for the remainder of the book, including the concept of the music lifeworld in which music exists and participates in daily life both on and off the internet. Chapter 2 lays the groundwork for the exploration of music’s social agency, and explores music and cyberliberties as a social movement, linking music and Internet Provider law and its concurrent policy changes within the music industry. Here, Burkart introduces four categories of music and cyberliberties activists: the alternative-media activists, the radical media activists, the culture jammers, and the hacktivist-cyberwarriors. Chapter 3 discusses the institutional mode of regulation, and the concept of “clientelization,” especially what the author terms as “The Napster Watershed.” The main focus of this chapter is the legal actions record companies and various social agencies have taken in these matters. Chapter 4 traces the transition to digital media, citing the organic decomposition and recomposition of music, showing how this may lead to a music and cyberliberties movement. The chapter focuses on the action and implications of hacking and its formation of the “hacktivism” movement. The discussion focuses on what Burkart terms the “Celestial Jukebox,” or the dominant system of music, and the ways that collective action in the music and cyberliberties movement creates what he terms an “Alternative Jukebox.” Chapter 5 focuses on the record collector and the ways in which this has created, and to an extent continues to create, music fetishists.  In this most economic of the chapters, he attempts a cost-benefit analysis of the conversion of music from hard copy to digital copies, especially for records.  Finally, Chapter 6 offers the author’s reflections upon the topics of the book and speculates on the theorization of music and cyberliberties.  The book includes an invaluable appendix, reproducing in its entirety the June 1, 2000 “Future of Music Coalition Manifesto.”
Burkart’s overall aim was to call into question the idea of a social movement sparked by the rise of the digitization of music and its inherent rights, and to show that while it may seem that regulation of the downloading of music may seem like it is highly supported, in actuality, it is actually highly contested.  While Burkart succeeds in his aims of the book, I do think that he could have offered a little more of his own suggestions for ways in which music activism and music law could be improved based upon his astute observations.
Music and Cyberliberties, hands-down is the most socially relevant study I have read in a long time. This book was not only informational, but the author’s style was also entertaining, grabbing my attention at every corner.  Burkart not only discusses these policies, but he also critiques them in a way that is thought-provoking. This book would be of interest not only to those in the fields of music, music technology, law, and policymaking, but also to the average lay person and music fan who should know just what lies behind the sharing of music, an everyday activity that, like breathing, many of us seem to take for granted.

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