Franziska NoriadonnaM.mp3 – File Sharing, the Hidden Revolution in the Internet
“adonnaM.mp3” refers to an episode from the story of the first great music file sharing site, “Napster”. In July 2000, the US Federal Court ruled that the company must install filtering software to prevent the sharing of files protected by copyright. This blocked the exchange of over 100,000 song titles. Napster's million-strong user community, however, got around the problem with a simple and inventive trick. They just moved the first letter of the file's name to the end, so that Metallica, for instance, became etallicaM – and so was born “adonnaM.mp3”.
Peer-to-Peer: the Direct Link
Beginning in the early nineties, the technical development of the data compression standard mp3, continually growing bandwidths and the establishment of peer-to-peer networks (the direct exchange of data by two computers linked over the internet) led to the growth of a new phenomenon, “file sharing”. This takes place within virtual communities, whose members share digital data directly with each other across the whole world.
This trend was symbolised by Napster and above all by the magic formula mp3, which overnight became the new bogeyman of the music industry and recording firms. Originally conceived for use with films, this is a process which enables digital music to be compressed to as little as one twelfth of the file's original size, without an audible loss of quality. This makes it ideal for distribution over the internet. Napster and its successors may be best known for music file sharing, but actually data from every conceivable source can be and is compressed, made available on the web and downloaded, whether it is music, video, software of all sorts, or computer games.
Data is shared, not from a central archive, but directly between one user and another. The idea behind the peer-to-peer model is fundamentally democratic: an unlimited number of users come together voluntarily, each of them making his, or her, own data bank available to the others. This gives rise to a network of linked private archives which functions as a worldwide resource. Such co-operatives are usually organised by known file sharing platforms. They provide the protocols which ensure that the material on offer can be accessed, irrespective of individual users. In no way do file sharing sites store the data of a piece of music ready for downloading (on a huge server, for example), rather, they provide an overview of what the user community of that particular site as a whole currently has to offer. Using the protocols, people looking for a file can choose from what is shown and are then linked to the computer of another user, where that particular data is stored ready for downloading.
The mp3 format and peer-to-peer networks have already had a dramatic effect, but the creation of an inexhaustible virtual archive of music files for millions of users, free of charge, is just the beginning. They are opening up wholly new perspectives for musicians, artists and “digital craftsmen” from all disciplines, whether established or still unknown. The reasons are obvious: never before has it been possible to reach an international audience so directly.
File Sharing Removes Barriers
It is still not possible to predict the extent of the social and economic consequences of file sharing – and of audio file sharing in particular. The effects are being felt throughout society, from the commercial sphere to the legal and social. The hardware and software industries are affected, as are internet service providers and telecommunications companies, the wholesale and retail trades, publishers and the entire entertainment industry, artists (producers in the widest sense) and, not least, millions of users.
By now, the “peer-to-peer” concept is not only evident in file sharing sites such as “Napster”, “Gnutella”, “Freenet”, “KaZaA”, “Grokster”, “Morpheus”, “Madster” and “WinMX”. An increasing number of companies have recognised the benefits of using this type of network. Peer-to-peer enables the direct exchange of data between individual users, joint work on projects and the sharing of computer resources such as processing capacity, memory and bandwidth: features which are increasingly being used to improve business processes.
We are currently witnessing a hard-fought battle between different interest groups. While the music industry, for example, is attacking free file sharing via the courts, the system's users are defending it with technical know-how and extreme flexibility. When “Napster” was finally laid to rest, its successors were already rearing to go. Ultimately, the economic interests involved will always be in conflict. New restrictions are ranged against long-rooted concepts of individual freedom such as the right of access to collective knowledge. The long term effects of this debate should not be underestimated. It puts in question fundamental terms of social existence such as “freedom”, “property”, and “copyright” and these need to be re-defined in accordance with the altered reality of the information society. The challenge lies above all in avoiding hasty conclusions, in understanding the new situation and in experimenting with innovative approaches.
Museums as Platforms for the Future
The rapid growth of the information society is inevitably also changing the demands made of museums.
One factor which has to be taken into consideration is people's increased need for a constant availability of information. In an age of digital data storage and unproblematic transfer of large amounts of data within a few seconds from one place to any other place conceivable, museums too have to make use of these working tools. Only with the help of state-of-the-art technology and progressive networking strategies is it possible to conceive and build up a solidly grounded collection of digital artefacts.
A second factor, in view of the immense flood of data available, is the increase in demand for qualitatively selected knowledge. This is a task for which museums seem ideally suited. The fleeting nature of digital cultural products, however, makes their archiving and presentation by museums more difficult. Digital objects are continually being augmented and updated; their locations (in the web, for example) change and from time to time the objects may even disappear completely. Private data banks and digital collections may well constitute an inexhaustible source of items, but museums can not cope with the rapidly growing amount of information by themselves. It is therefore imperative to develop new strategies and working methods for monitoring and selecting phenomena which are culturally relevant and worth keeping.
Co-operating to this end with existing networks, experts and internet communities is not merely useful, but essential. It is the only way of guaranteeing that short-lived digital cultural objects can be preserved and, consequently, brought together in a networked worldwide archive. In the field of digital artefacts, a museum can only fulfil its purpose as the guardian of collective memory by working in close co-operation with the producers and original users.
In future, this could give museums a new identity as a content provider, offering services and content targeted at particular groups. These would no longer merely contain retrospective studies along traditional museum lines, but would always reflect the current state of knowledge and even include predictions.
Furthermore, a cultural institution that assumes a social role as the cultural memory of a society could function as an open platform for different points of view.
Why mp3 in a Museum?
digitalcraft's experience of working closely with producers and private collectors during the last three years has been consistently positive. Considering that the two areas in which the project has been collecting for longest are web design and computer games, it is hardly surprising that many of the experts who have worked together with us are not established art historians, but web-designers in their twenties and even younger game freaks.
“adonnaM.mp3” is the result of interdisciplinary co-operation between diverse lay people, professionals and institutions who have examined its subject from economic, technological, legal and artistic viewpoints for risks and potential for innovation. This exhibition is the first about mp3 and peer-to-peer networks to be held in the context of a museum.
These diverse themes are reflected in the aims of the exhibition:
“adonnaM.mp3” attempts to give an overview of the subject's different aspects and points of view, within the parameters of a Museum of Applied Arts. Primarily, the exhibition is intended to give visitors a factual background to the sometimes heated controversies involving mp3 and to create a forum for new approaches to be aired. Visitors are provided with tools and knowledge in a multitude of ways to help them reach their own conclusions about this complex contemporary phenomenon. Behind this lies the concept of a museum as an open platform for discussion and presentation.
digitalcraft sees the exhibition's second task as taking an informed, critical look at peer-to-peer networking strategies. By taking the mp3 phenomenon as a subject and concentrating on its musical aspect (to the deliberate exclusion of others such as internet radio /webcasting, video-file sharing and bootlegging), it is possible to determine the extent to which peer-to-peer models are a source of practicable concepts for data archiving and durable long term storage.
Thirdly, “adonnaM.mp3” will enable visitors to acquire the knowledge and skills needed to deal with digital material in the form of mp3 files. This is mainly achieved by using interactive components, which are present throughout the exhibition, and holding workshops on the technical aspects and use of digital tools.
“adonnaM.mp3”: the Exhibition Catalogue
The following authors have contributed essays to the catalogue which accompanies “adonnaM.mp3”:
David Weinberger, co-author of the well-known “Cluetrain Manifesto”, considers the effects of a now unstoppable structural change in the internet in his essay, “The Intimacy of Peer-to-Peer”. His answer to the question, “Can the internet can be controlled?” is a definite “no!”.
[epidemiC] is a network of experts from the fields of art, computing, anthropology, communication, history and economics. Three of its members, Massimo Ferronato, Luca Lampo and Marina Serina, record, analyse and interpret the mp3 phenomenon from a variety of perspectives.
Massimo Ferronato takes us from the definition of sound in physics to Edison's phonograph and on to the complex technical development of data compression in MPEG formats. He leaves us with the unanswered question as to whether the capabilities of the human ear have improved along with technical advances.
In “Save as …”, Luca Lampo goes back to the Benedictine monks of the Middle Ages, who archived a huge number of classical texts. The command to “Save as...” first appeared, in a way, long before the development of modern computers. From this starting point, Lampo outlines a myth of the internet that arises from the seemingly unlimited availability of information in the web.
Florian Cramer throws light on the change in systems of knowledge, under the title “Peer-to-Peer Services: Delimitation of the Archive (and its Evils?)”. He demonstrates how older internet services, such as the worldwide web, simply reproduce the conventional topology of archives and libraries, whereas peer-to-peer services make new parameters and uses both possible and necessary. Cramer tells the history of the internet as a story of archiving topologies, in which the borders between the official and private, even obsessive, aspects have changed.
In “P2P – the collective, liberated memory of sound”, Alessandro Ludovico portrays the current art scene as searching for the “Celestial Jukebox”. He describes compositions and soundscapes by various artists whose work focuses on the liberalisation of music. One of the works mentioned, the project “Minitasking”, is one of the main pieces on display in the exhibition. Minitasking, a visual Gnutella client, produces a visual display of the data flow of the Gnutella network protocol and shows how computing processes and the dynamics of protocols function. The project (www.minitasking.com) was created by Schoenerwissen, Office for Computational Design (Anne Pascual and Marcus Hauer) and received a number of prizes at Ars Electronica 2002 and at Transmediale.03.
Two other works on display in the exhibition are presented in greater depth in this catalogue. The first, of these, “Bootleg Object #1 – ReBraun”, plays with the aesthetic rules of product design for hi-fi equipment – and breaks them. The designers Max Wolf and Markus Bader joined up with the programmer Sebastian Oschatz to carry out the project. “Zirkeltraining.org” is presented in this context as a “virtual design label”.
With “Coverbox”, Sebastian Gregor, Tanja Jesek and Petra Schröder illustrate the networking possible between various musicians, music pieces and titles. At present, the “Coverbox” contains about five hundred cover versions in mp3 format and a wealth of unexpected cross-references which, used interactively, produce an endless variety of new images and network paths.
Chris Montgomery is one of the founders of the legendary company, mp3.com. In his essay, “Prelude, Fugue and Allegro: Harmonious Transformation, or Digital Dissonance? mp3.com and the Epic Changes in the Music Industry”, he prophesies that many new business models have still to be tried out in the digital era of the music industry. His retrospective look at the beginnings of the mp3 revolution paints an exciting and, at the same time, sobering picture.
Ulrich Sieben is the Chief Technical Officer of Micronas, the manufacturer which brought the world's first mp3 decoder chip onto the market. In “A Vegetarian Dog”, he explains the continuous relationship between technical advances, creative opportunities, social changes and legal limits – all revolving around the human individual, who has to learn to live with technology as well as it is possible.
Luigi Mansani examines the legal aspects and consequences of using peer-to-peer networks in “Legal Strategies”. He portrays the difficulty of prosecuting the private users of a peer-to-peer system. Moreover, he considers it impossible to create optimal parameters for open source software within the confines of the law. This makes the idea of “fair use” seem all the more important. This would preclude legal action being taken against the private use of mp3 files.
With their “Chronology” of the history of peer-to-peer and audio file sharing, Luca Lampo and Marina Serina have created a carefully-researched document which provides the lexical basis of the exhibition.
We would like to thank the following people and institutions for their assistance in producing “adonnaM.mp3”.
Our main partner in holding this exhibition is the company Micronas, a pioneer of mp3 technology. In the 1990s, Micronas developed the first ever integrated circuits for the manufacture of portable mp3 players.
Under the umbrella of the “Frankfurter Museumsufer” we are co-operating with the Museum für Kommunikation, on whose premises the "Digital Musicians" series of workshops is being held, as well as a study of the history of audio recording, centred on selected exhibits of historical significance.
The entire digitalcraft team and numerous external associates have contributed their ideas and enthusiasm towards the success of “adonnaM.mp3”. I would like to give a special mention to Luca Lampo and the artists' collective “[epidemiC]” (www.epidemic.ws), without whose precise knowledge of the peer-to-peer world the exhibition would not have been conceivable. I am very grateful to Petra Schröder for the design of the exhibition. The musicians, Jürgen Rutz and Sebastian Wojdino, also receive my thanks for their considerable involvement in holding the workshop series.
Our especial thanks are due to the city of Frankfurt am Main, which, in supporting this project has clearly demonstrated its interest in innovation and its forward-looking attitude.
Franziska Nori, born in Rome in 1968, has been the academic director of the digitalcraft project at the Museum für Angewandte Kunst Frankfurt, since January 2000. She studied history of art, cultural anthropology and literature at the J.W.Goethe University in Frankfurt am Main. Since 1994, she has worked as a freelance curator of modern and contemporary art at, amongst other places, the Schirn Art Hall in Frankfurt, the Museum für Moderne Kunst in Vienna, the Reina Sofia National Museum in Madrid and the La Caixa Foundation in Palma de Majorca. In 1998, she was commissioned by the European Commission, DG XIII, to produce an expert report on future strategies for European museums with regard to new media, as part of the programme, “Multi-Media Access to Europe's Cultural Heritage”.