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Matney: The Freedom of Information: How creative content became complementary with an online connection

Lucas Matney, Columnist

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You wouldn’t steal a car, and you wouldn’t steal a handbag, but would you steal a society’s creativity?

There has been an explosion of online piracy ever since the floodgates opened in 1999 when Napster was released. Since then, record companies and other major players have blamed torrents from The Pirate Bay and direct downloads from MegaUpload for the large restructuring the entertainment industry has had to undergo. These evolutions are being driven by something far more nefarious than downloads, however. The fact is today’s consumers are growing increasingly wary of paying for any digital creative content on the Internet.

In 2004, when the Motion Picture Association of America launched its “Piracy, it’s a crime” advertisements, Netflix was three years away from adding online streaming to its services. The introduction of the subscription model has been the latest evolution in the monetization of creative content.

The dangers of this model were brought up last week by Taylor Swift when she pulled her entire music library from Spotify, adding weight to the argument she put forth in a July guest editorial in The Wall Street Journal in which she argued, “The value of an album is, and will continue to be, based on the amount of heart and soul an artist has bled into a body of work.”

The music industry has had a head start in going down the digital path to destruction, or reconstruction, but as society digitizes itself and download speeds increase, very few mediums of creative expression will lie untouched.

What will unite these trends is the misrepresented ideal that views, clicks and page views are the Internet’s currency.

Out of the blessings of the Internet’s democratization, there has grown an incalculable mass of creative content that vies for web users’ attention. We “spend” with our attention. When artists are rewarded with enough bouts of our gaze and achieve critical popularity, they have generally been thrust onto the more traditional path to success such as record labels, where they earn livelihoods and then some. As the Internet invades this path to stardom, the creative artist is being forced into playing for exposure to the point where the only thing people will pay for is a concert ticket.

The introduction of the Internet has been nothing if not disruptive to the industries that thrive on the commodification of ideas and creative persons. It seems that digitization is ripe to re-engineer each one of these fields, but only after it first destroys their existing structures for making money and rewarding artists. Our culture thrives on the creativity of its people and the ideal that talent and unique skill should be rewarded monetarily, but it seems the newly birthed web culture may be a bit slow in its adoption of these concepts.

Lucas Matney is a Medill junior. He can be reached at lucasmatney2016@u.northwestern.edu. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to opinion@dailynorthwestern.com.

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