Forum hears two sides of digital divide

Music has always been about the sharing of an artistic expression with others. But not all those involved in Internet-based music, agree with the culture of sampling.

Five panellists spoke at a free public forum Monday night at the St. Lawrence Centre in Toronto. The forum, titled “The Changing Face of Music in a Digital World,” explored such topics as the legalities of file sharing and how that activity affects both the artist and consumer.

Panellists Graham Henderson, president of the Canadian Recording Industry Association and Byron Kent Wong, a Toronto and Los Angeles-based media producer and musician clashed during the forum.

Henderson insists that rules are paramount and that Canada should follow Europe and the United States in terms of file- sharing laws.

“What a market needs is rules . . . predictable rules. If you’re in this box, what you’re doing is legal. If you’re outside, it’s illegal,” Henderson said. “Once that is established you get investment because people feel confident.”

Wong’s focus remained on music as a culture of sharing. He also insisted that there must be listener participation.

“There is a lost art in this sampling of cultures . . . The exchange of culture cannot be replaced by in-person stuff,” he said. “There was an entire culture where people sat down and listened and then got up 22 ½ minutes later to change the record and there was a real investment in that.”

Despite this lost art, Wong believes the digital age has still created excitement and involvement.

“I think the sampling is a good thing because I think people will take a moment to deviate from what they are used to,” Wong said. “Before (Internet downloading), you would invest deeply into that record and in the culture of that record, not to mention the band . . . There isn’t an investment in that anymore.”

Henderson pointed to the film industry’s success in making it illegal to copy movies. He expressed frustration that the same attempt in the music industry had failed.

“Today, all the music available to you is available in a non-rule-spaced format without any digital rights management,” he said. “Who has the right to make that music available? You or the person who created it?”

Wong agreed that programs such as ITunes, which allows a person to preview music and then buy it, are a good idea. He realized, however, that if laws are passed to prohibit people from sharing-that wouldn’t be good either.

“There should definitely be a price attached to music because artists spend thousands, sometimes hundreds of thousands making the music,” he said. “But if it was so strict that we couldn’t share and we didn’t have the availability to share music online . . . Well, I think what we have now is better.”