Tom Zeller, Jr. has written an eye-opening account of Hilary Rosen’s perspective on the music industry’s recent Supreme Court victory on file-sharing. She is the former RIAA chief (and as such chief strategist for the music industry legal campaign against file-sharing). Turns out that Rosen doesn’t think much of the legal campaign and doesn’t give it much chance of success. Say what? Yes, it’s a remarkable piece of candor and would deserve some kind of forthrightness award if she hadn’t already muddied up the works enough by prosecuting this war to begin with when she ran RIAA.
Zeller begins by noting Rosen’s blog piece at HuffingtonPost.com. Here’s an excerpt:
…We won big…
But knowing we were right legally really still isn’t the same thing as being right in the real world. We had that euphoria with the first Napster decision. The result was…a great service shut down to make room for less great services. And more legal victories didn’t bring more more market control no matter how many times it was hoped it would.
The euphoria of this decision does not and should not change the need for the entertainment industry to push foward and embrace these new distribution systems.
Zeller continues his account of the history of Rosen’s views on how the music industry should confront file-sharing. He reveals that her position when she was at RIAA was somewhat more nuanced and realistic than we gave her credit for:
Even the most ardent supporters of Big Entertainment concede that, in the long run, copyright holders are no match for the ability of file-sharing technology to adapt, mutate, evolve and expand. In fairness to Ms. Rosen, it is a stark reality she noted early on.
“As a practical matter going forward,” she told Salon.com in early 2000, “lawsuits get a lot of headlines and they raise a lot of passion – I understand that. But ultimately the future of music on the Internet is not going to be about legalities and litigation, it’s going to be about how are we bringing music to fans.”
Or, perhaps more accurately, it’s about how fans are demanding that music be brought to them.
“I have always thought that people were just putting their finger in the dam with litigation and other kinds of enforcement,” Ms. Rosen said in a phone call last week.
Zeller presents the two stark options the industry faces now: either sue the pants off file-sharing companies and individual downloaders until it’s too risky to engage in the behavior (an unlikely proposition) or change their business model and embrace the new music distribution system.
The likelihood that the industry can put the file-sharing genie back in the bottle is nil according to Zeller:
each new court victory arrives years behind the next digital innovation, born in some college dorm where an abiding geekiness is the motivator and earning profits means little. However valid the industry’s desire to protect its products, trying to stop file sharing has become a Sisyphean exercise.
He quotes Ian Clarke, founder of Freenet.org about what the next generation of file-sharing software may look like. Developers:
“will continue to work on new, faster, and more powerful file-sharing applications, for as long as there is a public demand.” And in the borderless, largely ungovernable world of the Internet, it’s that public demand that ultimately dictates the future.
In fact, Zeller envisions “a day when music and film content flows freely over the Internet, as it does now in radio and television broadcasts over the airwaves.”
He notes that Eric Garland of Big Champagne, which measures usage of p2p file-sharing networks envisions a file-sharing future
that might mean charging all users a flat media fee, paid through their Internet service providers, which in turn would pay the studios. In return, copyrighted media files would be unleashed for unrestricted swapping, sharing, sampling and saving – which is, after all, what millions of people all over the world are already doing.
The problem, Mr. Garland said, is that even law-abiding citizens now expect to be able to exchange content freely on the Internet. “It really may one day have to become a utility,” he said, “like water from a tap.”
Ah, I like the sound of cool clear free-flowing water!
Zeller lets Hilary Rosen have the last laugh here and her concluding comment is a doozy and not too helpful to her former record-honcho bosses:
So where does that leave the entertainment industry’s victory in the Supreme Court last week? “While I think it has legal value,” Ms. Rosen said, “it will be meaningless.”
There you have it–one of the record industry’s former power mavens who readily admits that its current strategy “will be meaningless.” If there’s a more damning piece of evidence than this one that the industry is on the wrong course, I don’t know what it is.
Leave a Reply