Digitization, the Internet, and the Arts: eBay, Napster, SAG, and e-Books

Document Type


Publication Date



Kluwer Academic Publishers-Plenum Publishers


Via four case studies we explore the extent to which digitization is transforming how people access and engage with the arts. The first case study is the online auction house eBay. We focus on a unique system whereby millions of users rate each other's integrity and reputations in a digital venue via a transparent system open to all users and visitors alike. The second case study examines the Screen Actors Guild strike against the advertising industry, which drew attention to the potential for and limitation of the replacement of human actors by digitized replicas. Third, we focus on e-books in the context of the prediction that most books, music and film entertainment will eventually be distributed electronically to the average household. The fourth case study analyzes the Napster debate over file sharing and duplication of online music. We focus on the ability of Napster to create a huge community of users sharing their “own” copies of digital music. From this point of view Napster represented a uniquely efficient and large-scale dream, a modern form of the cooperation and sharing of property envisaged by classical anarchist philosophers of the nineteenth century. On the other hand, and as always in anarchistic uprisings, another class claimed proprietary ownership in the material being shared and saw in Napster mostly collective theft on the part of ordinary citizens. Three of these four case studies centrally involve ordinary people using the digital media in creative and innovative ways. We conclude by arguing, against those who are skeptical about the transforming power of digitization, that even in the short time that it has been widely available digitization has so increased people's ability to interact creatively with products that this amounts to a qualitative change which, over the next few decades, is likely to develop so far as to justify the label “revolution.”