8 minute read

Back in the late 90s, as Napster was being circled by vultures, I dreamt of starting a consulting group which would seek out clients needing help and place dead fish on their doorstep as an introduction, to point out that they were out of water and needing guidance. I never did this (perhaps I should have), but I did use the conceit to spew some venom towards the RIAA and the MPAA.

This past week reminded me of some of my earlier complaints against the media industry, with Sony declaring that ripping your own, legally-bought CDs onto your computer to play them on your iPod was stealing, the RIAA winning a court case against a single mom, who now owes $222k for sharing 24 files, and Yahoo! Music pushing back against all forms of DRM.

Back in 99 or so, I wrote:

[T]he simple fact of the matter is that once a user has the media, the user has the media. DIVX died, I predict all such methods will die similarly. Users are like children. If you treat them fairly and give them responsibilities, in general they will not double-cross you. There are always bad apples. There always will be. People were recording movies with camcorders at the theaters and will continue. There is NOTHING that can be done to truly block a person’s access to media which they have bought or can view at least once. Accept this and continue on with business–there are other ways around the problem.

That still stands today, and is increasingly obvious. Sony, which you might remember for their rootkit fracas, has announced:

Pariser [The head of litigation for Sony BMG] replied, “When an individual makes a copy of a song for himself, I suppose we can say he stole a song.” Making “a copy” of a purchased song is just “a nice way of saying ‘steals just one copy’,” she said.

See, Sony (and the rest of the RIAA companies), we want music, and you have music. This should be an obvious supply/demand market situation. To the extent that you want to sell music to us, but don't want us to have the music itself, and play it how we choose, is not even wrong.

Ian Rogers, Yahoo! Music's General Manager gets it, too. After Amazon came out with legally-restricted (no copying, no mixtape) MP3 downloads, Yahoo's Music department saw an opening:

I’m here to tell you today that I for one am no longer going to fall into this trap. If the licensing labels offer their content to Yahoo! put more barriers in front of the users, I’m not interested. Do what you feel you need to do for your business, I’ll be polite, say thank you, and decline to sign. I won’t let Yahoo! invest any more money in consumer inconvenience. I will tell Yahoo! to give the money they were going to give me to build awesome media applications to Yahoo! Mail or Answers or some other deserving endeavor. I personally don’t have any more time to give and can’t bear to see any more money spent on pathetic attempts for control instead of building consumer value. Life’s too short. I want to delight consumers, not bum them out.

If, on the other hand, you’ve seen the light too, there’s a very fun road ahead for us all. Lets get beyond talking about how you get the music and into building context: reasons and ways to experience the music. The opportunity is in the chasm between the way we experience the content and the incredible user-created context of the Web.

Ian had ranted earlier about the complete lack of progress:

8 years. How much opportunity have we lost in those 8 years? How much naivety and hubris did we have when we said, “if we build it they will come�? What did we spend? And what did we gain? We certainly didn’t gain mass user adoption or trust, two prerequisites to success on the Internet.

I'm not yet hopeful that the tide is turning. Fans and technophiles have been a broken record about the broken record industry since the fall of Napster, and new failures and falling profits may not change the RIAA's path either. With any luck, we can make some important changes over the next few years and move to a more normal market, not one where the sellers hate the buyers, and vice-versa. In the meantime, more and more artists are available independently of the RIAA companies (you can always check using RIAA RADAR); NIN and Radiohead both just announced that their music would be available, DRM-free, with a pay-what-you-wish download. RIAA RADAR's Indie 100 Chart lists the top RIAA-free Amazon purchases, and is a good list of artists anyhow, from Iron and Wine to Manu Chao.