In response to…. EFF

In response to


I remember this kind of idea coming from the utopian folks on the mailing lists a few years back – the kind of “it’ll all be alright if we just co-operate” scenario. Unfortunately, and I’m cynical having spent time embedded in the commercial side, I think it’s well off the mark. But…

Is a subscription-model an industry solution? I don’t think so. It’s part of the landscape.

Is it an excellent business-model for companies? Certainly.

We need to create structure around all that exists, stop suing people and just focus on being constructive. These things are not going away, but neither will CD sales for a long time.

We need to build more bridges between the online and offline worlds.

I wouldn’t be at all surprised if we just give the “music” away and charge for a product associated with it (which, after all is what we do with CD licensing already). The associated product might be a CD or a memory stick, but it will have a picture on it,
and some perceivable creative and unique value beyond a “device” that carries a signal. Your CD covers are more valuable to you than you might have thought….

What I think the current EFF is missing:

1) Intellectual Property-based commerce relies on geographic boundaries

Getting a commercial collection agencies to work with “the whole web” on behalf of “the whole industry” seems really naive. Why, or how, would a Chinese record label use or trust a US collection agency to get a chunk of its $5. It’s akin to creating a global tax for music, a tax that is paid to lots of profit-driven labels.

I don’t know of good examples where some company in such a situation wouldn’t try and do everything humanly possible to “win” over the rest. Never mind trying to create some kind of international tax-tracking to pay the import and export duties…

In the same light, *any* analogy to radio or broadcasting does not apply because broadcasting is limited by the technology to physical demographics. It is not a good model for any internet commerce.

Broadcast licensing is already a complete mess -profit and business growth is *engineered* around selling rights in different territories. This is an economic cat that does not want to be put back in its bag, so there will be massive opposition to it. The rights organisations hardly ever agree and thank god they don’t otherwise Europe would have followed America’s “lead” a long time ago – PPL in the UK is *still* trying to sue Virgin Radio for webcasting its on-air output…. that’s 8 years.

2) Distribution is an industry

“No CDs to ship”. This is a perfect example – there is a huge industry out there which is based on CD distribution, not just licensing. They also sell DVDs and merchandise. They heavily promote artists. They are not going anywhere soon. HMV/etc. have ‘essential’ commercial relationships as part of the economic ecosystem on which the music industry is based.

3) Computers are good at counting

“divvy up based on popularity” – measuring the charts is hard enough. It might be technically possible to have some trusted measurement network, but, well, do you believe the top10? In the UK they will start to count Digital Downloads in the UK charts later this year – but they are still part of an ecosystem. Never mind the tax issues mentioned above.

Although it’s arguable that every time a track is played it could be measured, but over what timescale? Every form of playback device would need to be internet-enabled. So what do we do for the next few decades?

4) If we build it they will pay

“The vast majority of file sharers are willing to pay a reasonable fee for the freedom to download whatever they like” is completely unknown. I hear it all the time and we all want to believe it. If this is the way we wanted to consume music, we’d have all signed up to Time-Life.

There is a real point here – we like to own things. We’ve like to own the physical product that accompanies our music as well as the convenience of portable playback. I favour models that combine the physical product we can own and the digital product that gives us the connivance.

I know someone who has 200GB of MP3’s and has stopped buying CDs altogether. If they *really* think someone deserves it, they just **buy the CD**. It’s neat, simple and fits the existing commercial models. Personally I’d rather be evangelising the message: “If your MP3 player registers you’ve played a track more than 5 times, show some respect and buy the album from the shops”

5) The Movie and Software guys are getting there faster

(“The movie industry, in contrast, is having its most profitable years in history”). Movies and software are a great examples, but not in the right context. Movies have turned on the head of a pin and created the “slightly too much data to make it worthwhile ripping” DVD format, and you get a nice box.

ADSL just isn’t quite fast enough to treat movies like music – this is just a quirk of physics. We needed 256Kbps to get to good music sharing speed. We’d need 2Mbps for movies and that’s some way off for home use. The movie industry needs to look out for when we have 100BaseT to the home. Oh, and software is still based on a “proprietary hardware solution”.

V1.2 1st March, adding related links
V1.1 29th Feb, after feedback from Danny
V1.0 Gavin Starks, 28th Feb 2004

Related Links

29 Feb 04 ZDnet “the Copyright Board of Canada imposed a government fee of as much as $19.20 on iPod-like MP3 players, putting the devices in the same category as audio tapes and blank CDs. The money collected from levies on ‘recording mediums’ goes into a fund to pay musicians and songwriters for revenues lost from consumers’ personal copying.”

USA bodies: RIAA (targeting individuals in a high profile campaign)

International IFPI RIAJ

UK licensing bodies: MCPS
(e.g. PPL still does not license internet-only radio broadcasts)

Misc: DRM watch