Space Ramblings

More Copyright Wars

From a book review of an industry friendly copyright book in the New York Times

That’s what happened with the music industry, which, spooked by the proliferation of pirated file sharing on Napster, struck a bad deal with iTunes that allowed Apple to replace the sale of $15 albums with 99-cent songs. “Even if they continue to grow,” Levine writes, “those 99-cent-song sales won’t come close to making up for the corresponding decline in CD sales.”

The average album had 10-15 songs on it, which comes to about the same thing to 99 cents a song. How much did the industry really want people to pay per song? And if you eliminate the cost of actually packaging and manufacturing the albums, then 99 cents a song may even be a better deal. Apple takes its chunk, but does it really take more than Wal-Mart and K-Mart?

The real deal is that the industry didn’t want to change its business model of packaging whole albums that people had to buy to get a few songs they wanted. That business model helped encourage piracy. Sure manufactures would make more money if they forced people to buy printers with every computer or floor mats with every car. But that business model was killed by the internet.

Similarly, the best TV shows, like “Mad Men,” are produced by cable channels like AMC that hold back their content from Hulu, a network-owned platform for distributing TV over the Internet. The Hulu model has succeeded on the premise that “if someone was going to make their product available online for nothing, it might as well be them,” as Levine says of the networks.

I don’t know that Mad Men qualifies as one of the best shows on TV, but Cable has been sinking more money into developing shows that appeal to a more upscale audience. Hulu distributes shows that are mostly free to watch on TV already.

Levine says, is an open Internet model of free video that, by denying the networks any revenue to invest in shows like “Mad Men,” would instead produce the likes of the viral video “Charlie Bit My Finger.”

I’m not so sure one is that much worse than the other, but networks get revenue from advertising, cable networks get revenue from advertising and from their gated community. But free to watch networks spend money on shows, and can pay for it with advertising too.

Recently, France has begun to revive a business model that thrived in the 19th century: a collective or blanket license that, by adding a fee to Internet connections, would allow the convenient downloading of copyrighted music and divide the money to compensate producers and artists.

The fee based internet thrived in the 19th century? Wow. That is some revisionist Steampunk history right there. Must have been that Babbage based internet.

Anyone praising a media internet tax is a shameless shill for the entertainment industry. It’s completely indefensible, not least because it asks paying consumers to pay twice, once for what they buy and once as a confiscatory tax for the industry.

Let’s say we have a universal internet tax/fine, who should get it? Anyone who makes content that is distributed on the internet? Yeah right. Sorry we’re not going back to taxing cassette tapes for the music industry.

Germany has laws forbidding the aggressive discounting of books in chain stores, which has preserved independent booksellers while making it harder for Amazon to introduce the Kindle.

While keeping books more expensive. I like independent bookstores, but does this law do anything to promote reading or help writers?

But regardless of your position in the business-of-culture wars, it’s hard to resist Levine’s conclusion that the status quo is much better for tech companies and distributors than for cultural creators and producers. That status quo may benefit consumers in the short term. But if it continues, Levine argues, the Internet will increasingly become an artistic wasteland dominated by amateurs — a world where music, TV and journalism are virtually free, and where all of us get what we pay for.

My own position is skeptical toward both sides, which means I am skeptical that industry advocates care about creators. Creators are collateral damage for both sides. I am even more skeptical of the idea that the industry will stop making professional music, books and movies because of internet piracy. They had plenty of time to stop in the last ten years.

What the review and probably the book does not mention is that piracy encourages the industry to target the dumbest consumers even harder because they are less likely to have the know how to pirate. The industry has dumbed down its own product, but that is only one of the reasons.

The specter of amateurs is not all that horrifying, what is horrifying is that the future will belong to Cory Doctorow and Lana Del Rey, people who have nothing of worth to offer but strike a convenient pose that connects with a demographic. Creators who are much better self-promoters than they are artists.

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