Oct.19 Readings-Burkart

Patrick Burkart teaches telecommunications and media studies at Texas A&M University. His research explores emergent and convergent markets for communication that divulge underlying structural transformations, power shifts, and political reforms, together with the risks and opportunities that come with them. Burkart uses international political economy, media economics, and legal studies approaches in most of his published research.
Burkart is coauthor of Digital Music Wars:Ownership and Control of the Celestial Jukebox with Tom McCourt.

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 addresses issues such as this as well as the advantages and disadvantages of the technological movement of music sharing, and discusses the ways in which such sharing affects our lives.

In discussions and readings from previous weeks (e.g. Jones), we discussed the tripartite model of music industry/technology studies: production, distribution, and consumption. As research on distribution and consumption tends to focus on networks of information flow, record companies, and media outlets, we've rarely addressed the hardware behind these practices and producers of such systems (e.g. iPods/iPhones) as major players affecting the practices of producers, distributors, and consumers of musical experiences.

Musicians and music fans are at the forefront of cyberliberties activism, a movement that has tried to correct the imbalances that imperil the communal and ritualistic sharing and distribution of music. In Music and Cyberliberties, Patrick Burkart tracks the migration of music advocacy and anti-major label activism since the court defeat of Napster and the ascendancy of the so-called Celestial Jukebox model of music electronic commerce, which sells licensed access to music.
Music and Cyberliberties identifies the groups -alternative and radical media activists, culture jammers, hackers, netlabels, and critical legal scholars- who are pushing back against the "copyright grab" by major labels for the rights and privileges that were once enjoyed by artists and fans. These are people who are trying to save a place for "free culture" and broad participation in music making and music scenes, people advocating for music sharing and not just music using. Music and cyberliberties is categorized as "an incipient social movement opposed to technological lockdowns on music, online surveillance, crackdowns on copy-protection research, restrictions on fair-use rights and their chilling effects on speech" (p.2).

In the introduction Burkart highlights the four ways in which musicians and fans are challenging the Celestial Jukebox and big business model of music distribution. These are
1) Bypassing copy protections on music files,
2) facilitating anonymous file sharing,
3) developing commercial alternatives to doing business with the major labels, and
4) creating software innovations that provide open and multipurpose alternatives to closed systems.


  • Burkart uses Jürgen Habermas’s “lifeworld” concept “as the background knowledge, or ‘worldview knowledge,’ that provides a ‘context-forming horizon’ in which ‘participants in communication come to an understanding with one another about something” (p. 3).
  • Using Habermas allows Burkart to describe how external powers invade this music lifeworld, and continue to define the power relations with the listener as “client” and “consumer” (3).
  • Theory of Communicative Action (Habermas, 1987):
    • the theory distinguishes between “emancipative communicative reason” and “strategic and instrumental reason.”
    • rationality is not objective, but created through interpersonal interaction with others; our identities are also constructed in relation to others with whom we interact.
    • the theory is famous for challenging Marx’s idea that economics is the determining factor of oppression. Habermas argues that deliberative discourse between equal citizens can emancipate them from oppressive powers.
    • communicative action (1) transmits and renews cultural knowledge (Innis Time/Space bias) in order to achieve mutual understandings between people, (2) coordinates action toward social integration and solidarity, and (3) is the process through which people form their identities (Habermas, T.C.A. Vol. 2, p. 140).
    • Lifeworlds become colonized when (T.C.A. Vol. 2, 356):
      1. Traditional forms of life are dismantled.
      2. Social roles are sufficiently differentiated.
      3. There are adequate rewards of leisure and money for the alienated labour.
      4. Hopes and dreams become individuated by state canalization of welfare and culture.
    • uses a sociological, social-systems approach to this music lifeworld (3).
    • critical theory can reveal how online music social groups “promote a more just social order” [but, in the end, Burkart does not think these groups are effective] (p. 6)
    • Burkart’s focus on political economy shows how the new digital distribution of music has had effects on “people’s cultures, societies, and personalities—the structures of the lifeworld” (11).

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.

  • “The intrusion of technocratic controls into the activities of collecting and enjoying music with friends and family reflects a colonization of the lifeworld” (15).
  • ‘steering medium’ (Habermas 1987, 365): “works independently of the lifeworld, colonizes it, and converts its cultural communications into formal, instrumentalist, market-based transactions” (15).
    • an example is Copyright Law, which defines not only who gets paid for a specific reproduced work, but also how fans and music cultures may use those reproductions.

The music industry has attempted to artificially introduce scarcity, largely as a means of bottle necking and instituting points of control, into digital distribution with the intent to shift music fans and consumers into 'users', and subsequently lack any property rights or consumer protections to recordings. Cyberlibertarians see a place in music and music research for cultural sharing that should be outside of governmental and corporate control. These activists want to reclaim sharing as "normatively grounded, legitimate, and culturally protected activity for both democratic culture and the technoculture" (p. 33).

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,” which is understood as music fans voluntarily giving up their musical rights for conveniences thereby shifting them to 'users' of a musical service. This is especially in relation to 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 along with a reflection on the resistance practices that are highly creative and inspired by the hippies and other subcultures.

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.  The author is reflecting on the implications that these collectors played and the social and cultural roles performed by record collectors. In this chapter, he attempts a cost-benefit analysis of the conversion of music from hard copy to digital copies, especially for records. 

Finally, the Conclusion shows the author’s reflections upon the topics of the book and speculates on the theorization of music and cyberliberties. He found elements of opposition to the Celestial Jukebox worldwide, but has not found strong evidence for an offensive and strategically oriented movement, or for a convergence of the modes of activism discussed in the book. The book serves to shed light on the movements against the Celestial Jukebox and also to call for a more organized and unified movement overall. The book includes an appendix, reproducing in its entirety the June 1, 2000 “Future of Music Coalition Manifesto.”

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