There's been a few stories over at BoingBoing about the producers of This American Life trying to restrict direct linking to the mp3 files that make up the TAL podcast.
TAL has drawn some very strange defenses from the crowd. There was an intern who defended Ira's character, which I don't think is really in question here. Then a producer of the show Open Source wrote in to provide what I find to be a very sad justification:
I think, though, that by creating your own podcast of TAL content you're assuming that TAL can ONLY ever be a radio show, that is, it can only ever make audio files and distribute them. But a media company is much more than the files of content it makes. The shape of our RSS feed is a part of our content and brand just as much as the mp3 enclosures it delivers. If someone decided to grab our publicly available, CC-licensed mp3 files and re-distribute them in a different way than we'd planned (say, filtering out everything but shows about Iraq) I can imagine we'd have a problem with it.
I love public radio, and will continue to support it with both my ears and my wallet. But this statement, as much as anything I've heard from any proprietary media company, epitomizes what I think people are missing about Internet-distributed culture.
As was pointed out at BoingBoing, the statement is baffling given that the CC license allows for derivative works to be produced. But I'm fixated on the words in a different way than we'd planned.
By stubbornly clinging to this idea that the artist has some absolute right to control the way in which the audience experiences their work (once the work is distributed), and the corollary that the only valuable way in which a work can be enjoyed is the way in which it was intended by the creator, we continue to empower a particular kind of top-down authoritative “exceptional genius” culture at the expense of a potentially more interesting bottom-up participatory one. We do this despite the fact that the method of ownership—copyright—was conceived explicitly to benefit society. We do this despite the fact that it means less works of art overall, and fewer artists. We make sure that the show can only be enjoyed as they planned it, rather than in any of the million creative ways other enterprising artists might repackage it. I don't care how nice the host is, the view of culture they are clinging to is hierarchical and abusive.
This is just one producer on one show, so I won't take it too seriously, other than as an example of an attitude with which I take serious issue. I hope it's not any official position. I need to give more thought to how to talk to artists about this. They need to make a living, and they feel threatened. But when they lash out with their own threats, they are limiting the ability of others to be creative, and there is no good reason I can think of why they should get to be the only artists at the exclusion of others.