Monday, September 15, 2003


Over at Alas, a discussion on the music industry and copyright:

My point is not to be anti-copyright - I actually agree with Tyler Cowan, who (if I'm reading him correctly) approves of the general idea of copyright law but disagrees with how they're currently implemented. My point, rather, is that when two negotiating parties are enormously unequal, then copyright (and all the protections copyright entails) will inevitably wind up in the hands of the stronger party - and that party is usually not the artist.

Until the vast inequality in bargaining position between musician and 'the industry' is resolved, this (deal memos and bands getting a pittance in the end, etc.) is never going to change.

So. What is the source of this inequality, and what can be done about it?

The true source is centralization of music distribution in the hands of 5 or 6 companies, giving them control over *access* to music listeners, which is what bands need in order to have any success whatsoever.

Can it be circumvented? How? Well, the Internet permits persons to interact with transparancy regarding their physical location, and congregate and share data (in its literal sense - data, binary or text) on a shared interest with no oversight of any kind. This is grass-roots self-control of audience access, circumventing the centralized control exerted by these larger corporate entities. A band that attempts to plug in to *that* needs strong word of mouth, a website, and good music*.

Well, there you have it. In two short steps, why the RIAA hates technologies like Napster.

[*] One might also note that the success a band will have from online exposure instead of a major record deal is a very different entity -- and some bands may not want to pursue that. The likelihood of screaming groupies, jetting about world tours, and cult of cool that the industry promotes as 'music promotion' is much smaller. Want your face on the cover of Rolling Stone when you break up? Self-publishing online may not be the road for you. The current standard of success is a major record deal. Maybe that needs to change.

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