In another thread, now closed, somebody was saying something about how ones and zeros on a disk are nothing but another form of writing, like words on paper.
I wanted to expand on that a bit. Certain factions today seem to be of the opinion that digital data is ephemeral, not concrete and that that somehow makes things recorded digitally of less substance than those recorded physically.
They say that a work recorded in writing (print, etc.) is permanent and that is what gives it value. That reminds me of the palimpsest. A long time ago, before the advent of cheap mass produced pulp paper written works were recorded on parchment or vellum. Since parchment and vellum are expensive, difficult to produce, and highly durable it was common practice to re-use these materials by washing or scraping off the old ink and writing over it.
Ephemeral data? How is this any different than data on a hard drive?
And in both cases the data is often recoverable by employing forensic technology.
Not really another form, an evolution of the form.
The ideal that humanity seems to be striving toward: permanent (1) existence and (2) recall of anything to engage the senses. One small example: first there were books, then there were books on tape... now there are either books or books on tape on demand, stream-wise, format of your choice.
The problem has arisen that the leaps and bounds of technology have completely short-circuited the delivery methods that have evolved over the millenia. That's why are in the pickle we are in.
John Perry Barlow asserted that "Intellectual property law cannot be patched, retrofitted, or expanded to contain digitized expression... We will need to develop an entirely new set of methods as befits this entirely new set of circumstances." Is Barlow right? Is copyright law hopelessly outdated? We think not.
"Bitlegging" can't be ignored: there's no doubt that it can be a significant drag on profits.
Bitleggers have the same problem that any other sellers of contraband material have: they have to pet potential customers know how to find them. But if they advertise their location to potential customers, they also advertise their location to law enforcement authorities. In the contraband business it pays to advertise... but not too much.
This puts a natural limit on the size of for-profit illegal activities: the bigger they get, the more likely they are to get caught. Digital piracy can't be eliminated, any more than any other kind of illegal activity, but it can be kept under control. All that is required is the political will to enforce intellectual property rights.
I'm not sure that 1s and 0s are any more ephemeral than other media; even a broken hard drive contains platters which store data for years (it costs a lot to get the data off, perhaps, but it's doable).
I've argued elsewhere that the lesser value of mp3s and other small, easily downloadable music files is that free and non-free examples are structurally identical (it's just an icon pointing to a file), the physical experience of interacting with mp3 files or aac files is no different if the content was legally or illegally downloaded, and that physical experience (point-click) is the same as that used to access more mundane data. Add to that the ubiquity of freely-accessible (and legally freely accessible) music, and the entire experience of accessing compressed audio is cheapened to a near zero-value. I don't state this as a moral position - it's not what I believe should be the case - but as the result of studying music and non-music related computer-use amongst college students (I've been administering surveys and interviews for 5 years now, probably will publish this material soon).
I'm arguing for the importance of there being a psychological difference between the experience of playing back music and all other activities (think of the rituals required to play vinyl records, or even more involved, multi-track reel-to-reel tape), since I think it's only with that difference that recorded music is perceived as having not just value but exceptional value.