Digital Music Wars: Ownership and Control of the Celestial Jukebox

Article excerpt

Digital Music Wars: Ownership and Control of the Celestial Jukebox. Patrick Burkart and Tom McCourt. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2006. 163 pp. $27.95 pbk.

To borrow Bob Woodward's term, there's a certain "state of denial" that today's music recording industry shares in common with our leaders in Washington-a sense that no matter what the cost, no matter what the effort, the industry will prevail in its war with the "axis of evil" file sharers of music on Web.

That the metaphor of a "war" is applied is no mistake. The recording industry, if Burkart and McCourt are right, is engaged in a multiple-front offensive with file-sharing consumers, using a combination of costly and sophisticated technological, legal, and public relations tactics to prevail against the black market guerilla tactics of digital thieves.

At stake in the battle is no less than the promise of the "celestial jukebox" itself: that "heavenly," vast collection of instantaneously available cultural content, combining all the best of our televisions, radios, DVDs, telephones, faxes, and computers. As one of the oldest providers of cultural content, the recording industry is perhaps best positioned to substantially influence the outcome of the digital jukebox, whatever form it ultimately takes-and at a time when such content is more easily copied and shared than ever before.

Burkart, an assistant professor of communication at Texas A&M University, and McCourt, an assistant professor of communication and media studies at Fordham University, argue against the industry's consumer offensive, concerned that the multi-prong effort "significantly interferes with (a citizen's) ability to enjoy the benefits of culture and of a 'knowledge-based' economy." The authors address the social problem that they describe as a movement from "copyright minimalism to copyright maximalism, which deprives consumers of the benefits of knowledge and culture without offering new rights, access, or empowering technologies in return."

The argument is not new and is part of the growing (in some cases burgeoning) scholarship on the development and effects of copyright policy since the 1976 Copyright Act. Increasingly, copyright owners have gained more rights since the main text of copyright law was recast. Concurrent advances in technology have only enhanced those rights and, in many cases, arguably diminished the original purpose of the copyright act to "promote the progress of science and the useful arts."

What is new in Burkhart and McCourt's contribution to this discussion is their painstaking analysis and discussion of the last decade of the recording industry's recognition of the file-sharing movement and the decisions it has made to deal with it. …