The Music Industry Giveth and Taketh Away

23 12 2008

Two high profile articles in today’s newsfeeds demonstrate just how the music industry is finally evolving — not in any way that’s going to help them in a year or two, but at least in the near term.

In one development, the RIAA (the Recording Industry Association of America), which has been busy over the last few years, suing the ass off of anyone who they’ve caught downloading pirated music, decided to stop using their own lawyers to fight the dastardly crime of IP piracy, and to count on the ISPs to use their lawyers. As the blog TechnologyExpert describes it, the RIAA will send a note to the ISPs (the “parents”) asking them to send it to their customers (the “errant children”):

Depending on the agreement, the ISP will either forward the note to customers, or alert customers that they appear to be uploading music illegally, and ask them to stop. If the customers continue the file-sharing, they will get one or two more emails, perhaps accompanied by slower service from the provider. Finally, the ISP may cut off their access altogether.

Computerworld describes this as the RIAA “giving up on finding a competitor to iTunes.” Seth Weintraub there says that “they have effectively stopped trying to put up walls around music.”  In general, the press has correctly seen this as the RIAA admitting that their tactic of suing end-users is about as effective as the government trying to stop prostitution or drugs by throwing the johns or pot smokers into jail. In other words — completely useless.

In another development, Warner Music decided to remove all videos on YouTube that have any of their music in them. So, officially created advertising videos, as well as the countless user generated videos of Madonna, Metallica and other Warners acts, will slowly disappear from Google’s massive video site.

It’s hard to know what to make of these two stories except to say that the music industry may finally be coming to its senses.

The background for the Warners story, as reported in the New York Times, is that Warner Music Group, one of the Big Four music companies worldwide, has been negotiating with Google, for some fair licensing arrangement for use of its music and videos. You know this was going to happen as soon as Google started to put their marketing muscle inside of the video service — as discussed on a recent podcast from (if I remember correctly) Daisy Whitney, people who are beginning to get greater and greater downloads (and are Google/YouTube partners) are now seeing ads inserted into their video streams.

So, Google is going to making some money, and a few of their selected partners will be also.  Why not Warner Music, since it’s their music that will be driving some of the content?

Hard to disagree with that.  As someone who creates content for a living (AD!  AD!  AD! — My new book, THE LEAN FORWARD MOMENT, will be out in just a week.  Buy early and buy often.) and who has to pay the rents they charge in Los Angeles, it doesn’t make much sense to continually be creating work and not getting paid for it. So, I’m with Warners up to a certain point.

The really interesting thing for me, however, in the juxtaposition of these two news stories, is that (however slow on the uptake the music companies are) they seem to finally be getting the idea that their core business is distributing content, not lawsuits. If the major music companies decide to stop suing their users (and make no mistake about it, there is no difference between the RIAA and the major music companies) and start experimenting with distribution, this is all going to be for the good of the consumer. If Warner decides that withholding their product is the smarter business move — as opposed to giving it away for publicity — then they’ll let the market decide if that’s a boneheaded move or not. And while I would take the position that it is incredibly boneheaded (I’ve long felt that they’d be much more successful as marketing and distribution companies than as music creation companies), it is a great step in the right direction for them to allow them to test their strategies in the marketplace rather than in the courts.

Today is a good day.

==================  UPDATE ===================

An article in Ars Technica, mentions an ISP that is complaining to the RIAA that, if they want to push P2P enforcement onto the ISPs, then they should be prepared to pay for the privilege of not paying for their own lawsuits. The owner of this particular ISP, Jerry Scroggin of BIC in Louisiana, notes that:

In the case of RIAA notices, however, there is a lack of information to work from, but significant expense is involved when trying to track down a user who may not be doing anything wrong… Spending long hours to stop what may not even be a crime, only to pick up the tab in full, is simply not within a small ISP’s budget.

ISPs aren’t excited about bearing some of the costs of the RIAA’s copyright enforcement efforts, and it may be one reason why Verizon isn’t going along with the labels’ new enforcement initiative.




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