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The LAist Interview: Aram Sinnreich, Stand-Up Philosopher

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In an environment so focused on creation of media content, there are also those who take a step back to critically evaluate it. Nor do we mean straight-up critics, but rather thinkers whose fields of knowledge are honed in the halls of the academy and other types of research institutions. Aram Sinnreich is a media analyst and Ph.D. candidate at the Annenberg School for Communication at USC. While not blogging his qualifying exams prep, reading up and lecturing on communications theory, social networking analysis, copyright law, and other media issues, he's generating his own content with his band, Dubistry.

Occupation:

Generally, I say "Stand-up Philosopher" because it's clever-adjacent and easier than explaining the whole truth. If you ask the IRS, they'll say I'm a media analyst, journalist, musician and doctoral candidate.

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How long have you lived in Los Angeles?

Almost three years.

Where are you from?

Brooklyn, baby. Although I've lived in three boroughs, as well as
(gasp!) Jersey.

You've developed a unique niche of expertise in the world of digital music. So, readers wanna know: is it "wrong" to swap media files online? As a musician and communications theorist, what's your take on the ethics of the issue?

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When I was a witness in this file-sharing court case once, record industry lawyers asked me the same thing. I told them I didn't think file sharing was immoral. They asked me what was immoral. I said "barbecuing infant children." Matt Oppenheimer of the RIAA responded: "that you could even conceive of that disgusts me." But at least now the Supreme Court knows where I stand on the divisive barbecuing-infant-children issue that's tearing our country apart.

Morality aside, there is the question of ethics - that is to say, "right" and "wrong" not in absolute terms, but within a social context. In my opinion, there is no ethical violation in file sharing. Markets, like governments, are ruled by implicit contracts between the people and the powers that be. The record industry violated their end of the contract for decades - illegally inflating the price of their products, failing to adequately compensate musicians, and leveraging their power to artificially limit the diversity of the music marketplace. Now that music listeners finally have a bit of leverage of their own, they are being called criminals and forced to pay absurd settlement charges or face the wrath of multinational media conglomerates. So who's the unethical party in this equation?