Monday, April 23, 2012

Anonymous deploys Anontune in war against RIAA

Posted By on 04.23.12 at 04:45 PM

anon.jpg
Over the past few days the geekosphere has been abuzz with news that a subgroup within the anarchic hacktivist community Anonymous has launched a new music venture called Anontune. Anonymous has always been extremely pro-piracy, judging from the propaganda materials and white paper that the group has released so far, it seems that Anontune is a direct response to the RIAA's long-running war on piracy-friendly file-sharing services like Limewire and Megaupload. The kicker? By all appearances Anontune is completely in the clear in terms of legality. If there's anyone at the RIAA with half a clue, they're probably regretting ever picking this fight.

The way Anontune works is elegantly and deviously simple. Instead of hosting music files that users can stream or download, which without rights holders' permission would be illegal, the service simply serves users material scraped from the plethora of free, largely copyright-cleared outlets like YouTube, SoundCloud, and BandCamp. Right now Anontune is in a "very beta" release—and the current requirement that users install a Java applet that, remember, was coded by a hacker group, which many people will be rightly hesitant to do. But even this fairly rough mockup makes it look like Anontune could offer an experience robust enough to make even the slickest freemium services like Spotify look skimpy by comparison. And while YouTube, SoundCloud, and the like might take issue with the diversion of their content into Anontune, it doesn't look like the RIAA has any real legal standing to intervene. It's devilishly brilliant.

And yet I hate it.

Above is the YouTube video that Anonymous released to announce Anontune's launch, and unless you're already solidly on Anonymous's side you'll likely find a lot of it grating. The most obvious irritant is the tone of extreme self-congratulation running throughout all of Anontune's official materials, with Anonymous patting itself heartily on the back for being brave enough to take on the RIAA and prematurely striking a martyr pose in the event that the RIAA follows through on the provocation.

What's galling about the way Anonymous frames Anontune (and most of its other efforts in its battle against the RIAA) is the fact that it makes the platform out to be a heroic effort to "free" music but barely seems to take the people who actually create music into consideration. A public response from Anonymous to Anontune's critics dismisses (see line 56) claims that the service ignores artists' rights and their desire to make money from their work, but if you actually read the white paper that the response cites you'll find that the only real mention of artists in the whole thing is a vague promise to look into options for monetizing Anontunes in an undefined, artist-beneficial way at some point in the future. Which isn't much of a promise.

While Anonymous talks a lot of high-minded talk about how music "wants" to be set free, what it really seems to want is free music, and I'd respect its efforts a lot more if it just came out and said so. If Anonymous actually implements a way for Anontune to benefit artists as much as it does users, I might change my mind, but until then its claims that it's looking out for musicians don't ring any truer than the RIAA's own avowals that they're doing the same thing.

If Anonymous really wants to take the moral high ground in this fight, and prove that this "war" is more than just a tantrum over losing its favorite outlets for pirated material, it will figure out a way to make Anontunes pay musicians better than the major labels and "compromised" platforms it's competing against. (God knows it wouldn't be hard to pay more than Spotify.) Until that happens, it looks like both sides of the fight are equally full of shit.

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