Thursday, May 31, 2007


Digital wrongs, digital rights

Over at the NewsQuake blog, I just posted a piece about EMI's plunge into non-DRM music sales--a move that will either save the traditional recording industry or noisily hammer the last nails into its coffin. The topic took me back to my salad days of music duplication, when the humble audiocassette was king:
Readers of a certain age will recall the pure joy of cracking open a ten-pack of cassettes. With their miniaturized spools and narrow ribbons of tape, they were relatively flimsy objects. The plastic shells cracked, the screws came loose, the metallic oxides flaked off the tape itself. But for males (and females) with nerdish propensities, they had a futuristic allure. You could fit two LPs on each 90-minute cassette. If you paused the record mechanism during the needle drop, and experimented with the antediluvian Dolby switches, you got a very decent facsimile of the vinyl product. Everybody won--with the possible exception of the artist and the record company. Predictably, it was the industry that tried to stamp out the plague of cassette duplication. The British Phonographic Industry sponsored an infamous "Home Taping Is Killing Music" campaign in the mid-1980s. The BPI campaign made few inroads against copyright violation, but it did spawn innumerable parodies--including the one further below.
Later on there's a brief conversation with Joanna Demmers, author of Steal This Music: How Intellectual Property Law Affects Musical Creativity. Here's a sample exchange:
Netscape: Finally, how will these changes impact the performers, as opposed to the music industry?

Demers: Again, my sense is that artists have long ago realized that the age of the multi-platinum, multi-million-dollar-earning artist is drawing to a close. If you look at Michael Jackson, David Bowie, Madonna, etc., they were all aberrations. At no other time in world history have musicians made such incredibly large fortunes. Superstar performers like those mentioned above were able to make money because the music industry was calibrated for a very specific historical moment--a thriving middle-class population with children who had money to burn, and recording media (records, tapes) that were difficult to pirate with any fidelity. It was great while it lasted. But for every Madonna, you had hundreds of other artists who had been signed onto major labels, but lost money out of their own pockets because they didn't make enough to offset their label's original investment.
Again, you can read the whole thing here.

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