Grey Tuesday, if you haven’t heard of it, is the first major act of purely electronic civil disobedience I’ve ever heard of. It is the mass mirroring (against the wishes of record companies) of The Grey Album, a remix of Jay-Z’s Black Album and The Beatles’ White Album. The artist behind it is named DJ Danger Mouse, and only pressed 3000 copies of the album before he was told to stop — most of which were given to friends and family. The remix has become a phenomenon, with rave reviews in Rolling Stone and The New York Times.
EMI, the copyright holders of The Beatles’ works, were, predictably, upset by this.
They issued cease-and-desist orders to Danger Mouse, an act that was met with great hostility by informed netizens everywhere. So they organized mass hosting of the Grey Album for free download. Almost every site was issued cease-and-desist orders by EMI, but kept it up anyways.
Now. Let’s think about this.
The shape of the future is being decided at this very moment. Consider, if you will, the infrastructure of the internet. Everyone’s identity is determined by their IP address, a simple number with no additional information attached to it. It is easily spoofed, and more easily hidden. It is because of this that it is nigh-impossible to tell who is who on the internet. The closest equivalent that has been established is “cookies,” which are user-optional.
Now, large corporations want user accountability. They want to know who is using what and when. To this end, they are implementing a new infrastructure whereby all their content will be fed through a meta-internet, where one is assigned a sort of user ID, a super-IP address. I don’t know what sort of information will be attached to your super-IP, and I’d bet that the architects of the metanet are not going to be forthcoming about it. While this would be an optional usage of your internet capability, it would be the one most people would use — as movies, television, and phone services, at least, would be served only through it.
This would mean that you would only be able to use Digitally Copyrighted media files supplied through the metanet, and thus unable to, say, remix copyrighted material into a fan music video, or use a soundtrack in your student film, or create the Grey Album. It means that large corporations would know what music you listen to, and how often, and be able to hoist compatible bands at you, and just you. With the next generation of computers, they would even be able to dial into your computer and turn it off remotely, were they to, say, find cracked software.
Of course, the implications of the current internet TCP/IP scheme thus becoming the seedy underground of the online world (with usenet, IRC, and newsgroups becoming the dark alleys) are also fascinating.
There is a great fight brewing for control of the online world, and this is the first firm stand I’ve seen by the informed netizens. It will be extremely interesting to see how this plays out. The more I learn about this, the more I believe that this will be one of the major battles of my generation.