Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Music Laswuits: The Great Ownership Debate

The title of this post is what I know is about to happen: this is a subject on which the geek and the suit that Bill and I are do not entirely agree. When he reads this post, I can safely predict, he will have a response or two.

We usually have these discussions standing around in our kitchen. Today, I thought I'd do it here instead. :-)

The news is that the music industry is suing 8,000 more people for sharing files online. When he heard about it, Bill used a word I won't reprint here. Insisting on copyright ownership is wrong; demanding payment for shared files is wrong...

I'm not so sure it is.

The open source software movement, in which Bill is an enthusiastic participant, has a catchphrase its proponents love to use: "Free as in free speech, not free beer." But what Bill and the file sharers want from the Internet is free as in free beer. They never want to have to pay for anything they download under any circumstances. They rail against corporate greed.

I agree that insisting users in economically challenged countries pay $200 for word processing software is pretty reprehensible, but...$0.99 for a song? Gather up 15 of them, and you'd have a $14.85 CD that no one would consider overpriced. Is it really so unreasonable to ask people to pay less than a dollar to download a song?

Remember that the free-as-in-beer Internet came to us courtesy of the dotcom bubble: What really paid for all those free services were VC investments, followed by absurdly inflated stock prices, all of which led inexorably to the dotcom bust. No one wants to see that happen again. So the bottom line is, Web sites have to make money. So do the people who record and publish music, and the Internet is now their main distribution venue. I can understand why they object to having their product handed around willy-nilly.

On the other hand, suing everyone in sight just doesn't seem practical. The world is changing and it doesn't matter how many people they sue, they can't stop it. The old model where you sell a set of songs on a piece of plastic are coming to an end and new models are needed. iTunes is one way to go about this. Perhaps some form of advertising-supported free file sharing is another.

No matter how many people they sue, they're not going to put an end to file sharing. I doubt they'll even make much of a dent. The music industry itself seems to recognize this by its choice of defendents: heavy uploaders, not downloaders. Perhaps because there are so many casual downloaders that suing them might lead to public outcry?

Suing file sharing users seems to me a big expenditure of time and effort and, most of all good will that will likely yield dubious results. Wouldn't it be better to spend that time and effort finding a new model that can make money in the world that is, instead of trying to go back to the world that was?


Blogger Bill Pfleging said...

Not to disappoint, but I actually agree. The RIAA thugs should certainly find better ways to spend their time than sueing 14-yr-olds out of their college savings. But the big fact that the fat-cats in the music industry are conveniently ignoring is that downloading MP3's SELLS music, it doesn't hurt it. MP3's are imperfect, not the cleanest form of a recording, and as such make it desireable to go to the store, Amazon, or iTunes and buy the better version if you like the MP3. And that's exactly what people do.

I imagine old fart music weasels demanding that their lawyers "Sue them all!" I do understand that there are plenty of not necessarily old greedy pigs out there that will sue anyone if they think they can scrape a penny off the lawsuit (See: SCO vs. Real Linux companies). But really, is it right to steal a kids future just because they understand how to use current technology, and the entire music industry hasn't even made it to the 1990's yet? Lame.

But hey, if you're looking for music out there, well, there's plenty. I have one word for you: Bittorrent.

1:43 AM  

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