Thursday, March 16, 2006

Canada gives safe harbour to music freebooters

Pay for me music?? Arrr, take that you scurvy CRIA dawg!

Another reason to be proud of Canada. According to the The Canadian Recording Industry Association(CRIA) Canada has the highest per capita rate of illegal MP3 downloads in the world! In light of this, the CRIA has been
bitching and complaining about Canada's lax copyright protection laws. According to the CRIA illegal downloading hasn't just hurt the music industry but also software developers.
Canada's failure to modernize its copyright laws has come at considerable cost to the economy. A recent study conducted for the Canadian Alliance Against Software Theft (CAAST), an industry alliance of software publishers, found that software piracy rates in Canada are significantly higher (36 percent) than those of major trading partners such as the United States (21 percent) and the United Kingdom (27 percent) that have enacted digital copyright reforms. As a result, Canada has lost more than 14,000 jobs and suffers $7 billion in annual economic losses in the software industry alone. For Canada's music industry, the rise of file-swapping coincided with a 41 percent - or $541 million -- decrease in retail sales of pre-recorded CDs and cassettes between 1999 and 2005 and a 20 percent loss in employment.

Waaaah waah. So a number large software and music companies suffer some economic loss. It's likely massively overstated because many of those 'pirates' wouldn't own the software or music if they couldn't get it for free. And just think about all the wealth in digital products gained by the starving masses out there with high-speed connections ;-) However dark clouds are gathering as Canada is looking to 'tightening' up its copyright laws.

OK, even I admit that 'something will have to done' about illegal downloading, but what's going to work is probably something far different than what most in the recording industry think should happen. The reality is that the nature of the medium makes a mockery of strict copyright laws regardless of what the courts decide. Most digital content can ultimately be hacked and cracked. The content providers can make it extremely difficult for the hackers to do their work but someone will eventually find a method for circumventing their barriers. Once these protections have been broken the digital content can then easily be 'shared' via the world wide web. Not to mention there will always be countries like Canada and Sweden which will have less strict interpretations of copyright which will make other countries laws harder to enforce. Given that a strict interpretation of copyright law is virtually impossible to enforce, because of the decentralized nature of the internet and ease of reproducing digital content, a major task of media enterprises of all sorts will be figuring out ways of generating revenue through their using audience. Charging users to own the content isn't the only way producers of the content have to make money. There is also advertising and even donation models that do work for some. A good analogy is the advent of commercial radio or television. The creators of radio or television content didn't start demanding that 'users' pay for their product. Rather they developed an advertising sponsorship model to fund their work.
A pay-to-own model can still work for providers of media content. But it will only work if the price to own that content is low enough to make it worthwhile for the consumer to buy it from a 'legitimate' source. The reality is that, any digital content can be reproduced and spread at virtually no cost. It simply isn't the equivalent of stealing a bunch of CDs or DVDs. On top of that, you can't regulate your way to a monopoly on the internet, digital information is too easily manipulated and spread. Many will probably dispute this and point to the emerging monopoly on MP3s that Apple itunes has. Sure a company like Apple has a growing monopoly on MP3 devices, offering the possibility of a monopoly on the distribution MP3s. This has definitely bolstered the pay-to-own model through itunes. Eventually, I'm sure as the pay-to-own internet distribution models mature there will be a push to eliminate CDs to tighten up their monopoly on distribution. But inevitably there will be someone out there that will find a way to get past the barriers they put up, and much of that protected content will find it's way on the internet and will be distributed for free.

There is now a strong hacking/cracking culture committed to keeping as much content as possible free on the internet. Free content has its advantages, it more readily allows for the free flow of information and ideas. Take public libraries as an example, it can be argued that libraries deprive many authors of a great deal of revenue. But fortunately there is a strong culture of promoting the free flow of ideas amongst authors and in the publishing industry- there has to be free access to books since everyone should have access to the ideas they promote. This idea of knowledge being accessible by all was not always promoted. In various stages knowledge and writing was monopolized by a priestly, scribal, or bureaucratic class, much like trade guilds monopolized the trade and know-how of a specific craft. One of the main things that brought about a literate culture with a free flow of ideas in Europe was the printing press which made producing books much less expensive. Now with the contemporary computing and communications technology, ALL media are reproduced at virtually no cost. Therefore, this content should be much cheaper for the consumer than it was before. Even more important, people who can't afford to buy the content should not be deprived of the right to view it since it costs the producer nothing to allow them access. There will likely be tremendous benefits to society as a whole of allowing free access to all types of media.
In my view, the recording industry should be selling their music for much cheaper prices. If they did, many more people would actually pay for their music online. Why is itunes charging $1 a song?! That's pretty close to the price they charge for a song on a CD, yet the overhead for distributing the music is much lower. Not to mention, with the advent of cheap software for music production, the cost of producing the music should also be far lower, and can now even be done independent of a high-priced studio. The music industry is gouging the consumer because they have a great deal of control over the means of distributing and producing the content- it's as simple as that. How about a dime or a quarter for each song? If they charged 10 cents a song I'd probably get most of my music 'legally'. Why should the price of a song cost roughly the same as it did when the only effective distribution method for music was CDs, tapes, records? I don't have any stats but I'm willing to wager that in the case of many artists the bulk of the recording industries money goes into advertising. Why not throw the music out on the wild world of the web and let the strong songs survive. The good songs will natural reproduce and spread- you don't need to spend as much to hype stuff up in the age of viral marketing and considering how fanatical music fans can be. A devoted horde of music fans will do all the marketing for you. And if the music is unable to garner a devoted fan base on its own than why should some corporation prop it up. It's corporate subsidies for music. Not to mention that much of the music they 'patronize' is watered-down content-free unoriginal garbage that they promote because it's the easiest to spoon-feed to a mass audience. In the digital age, a mass audience isn't required to support the production and distribution of music.

Will the record execs ever get it? Some of them definitely don't; they just don't realize that a new medium often comes with a new business model. Some of them probably do and resist anyways because they realize they're profits are largely a product of the influence they have they have over the means of music distribution. Regardless, the future of music is going to be more decentralized in production, distribution and marketing. This will mean a much greater variety of music- a much wider body of musicians (part and fulltime) being able earn some money by creating music. And yes it will also probably mean fewer millionaire superstars. A wide variety of easily accessible, interesting and good music, versus, popstar hype 'for the masses' churned out by corporate execs. I know what model I prefer.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow. You've wasted about a dozen paragraphs and have said NOTHING that hasn't been said a million times before. Why don't you get an original idea, then come on back and try again?

1:58 PM  
Blogger A. Shah said...

That's the beauty of the blogosphere. Everyone gets to regurgitate what's been said a million times before. But hopefully it comes up slightly different after each time ;-) I was just doing a little speculation and bloviation on the digital content situation.

By the way, not everyone is a tech geek that's spent a significant portion of their lives on slashdot hearing every argument in favour of downloading known to man. Some of these arguments may actually be fresh for some readers.

7:06 PM  

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