Sunday, March 9, 2008

The End of File-Sharing

Today Greg Quill reports in the Toronto Star on a CMW seminar in which the consensus seems to be that the days of casual, free file-sharing is limited. Possible alternatives include industry proposed levies like the ones that exist on blank cassettes. Those always pissed me off because I bought blank cassettes for use in four-track recorders in order to record my own music, and royalties were shared (based on sales figures) among popular performers. You're welcome, Bryan Adams and Celine Dion.

Other models include radio, which was also initially charged with ripping off musicians, until royalty programs were put into place. Charging for bandwidth was another proposed solution. As was having download waiting times used to air advertisements. Thankfully litigation was not seen as a viable option.

Most in attendance agreed that whatever method is chosen, free downloading as we now know it will be gone in a few years.
My fear is that, while the Republicans are generally the party that favours big-business, the Democrats (who are out raising them 2 to 1 this year) are going to be so indebted to Hollywood and the Music Business, that they will be forced to bow to all of their demands. David Geffen and Steven Speilberg aren’t throwing multi-million dollar fundraisers for Barack Obama for nothing.

I have approximately 3000 CDs. I don't mind paying for music. What I object to is the music industry exploiting new technology, and then crying foul when consumers do the same. When CDs were introduced, it was well known that they cost less to manufacture than vinyl records. Yet the prices were often two to three times higher. Record companies got fat off the difference (and from re-selling everyone Dark Side of the Moon for the third and fourth times). A decade later, when most people had replaced their existing record and cassette collections with CDs and recordable disks meant reproduction without quality-loss, again the industry bemoaned shrinking profits.

Now iTunes offers songs at one dollar a piece. Often this does not represent a significant savings over buying the actual album (it’s easy enough to compare prices with Amazon). What they have successfully done is offloaded the costs onto the consumer. If I want the content burned to disk, it's my forty cents. If I want the full CD package I have to buy a blank case, use my own colour ink and track down some glossy paper. Previous costs, such as transporting the CDs to malls around the country, are also now my responsibility, as I'm paying the bandwidth to my net provider. And the computer itself didn't come cheap.
When Russian download sites (taking advantage of legal grey areas in the country) began offering songs for ten cents each, I happily signed up. At times I didn't object to paying ten cents only to hear a song once. Sometimes I even happily paid for a track that I had somewhere in my collection, to save me the hassle of hunting it down on the shelf.

I assume many share this notion. That we are not against paying artists for their work, we are just weary seeing new technology used against us.

The same thing happened with Youtube. The creators saw a system by which the audience creates its own content, yet receive none of the advertising revenue. Brilliant. Then the existing industries saw it has a hugely beneficial way to advertise film and television programming (without paying for the airtime). When users then began uploading those same television shows and films, the industry complains about lost revenues and threatens to take legal action.

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