Strategies for a discontinuous future.

Friday, February 11, 2005

Copyrights & Copywrongs

You know, there's a lot of spurious debate flying around the b-sphere these days. Case in point, this post at BoingBoing about a very small number of composers being able to earn a living from copyright. This is irrelevant for at least two reasons:

1) Sample selection. One of my fav artists are Monolake, who in fact were succesful enough to found Ableton. Clearly, copyright is pretty irrelevant to the entire category of artists that's represented by Monolake - and this category (largely German) has pushed musical innovation hard in the last few years. But they've also made a nice living at it.

2) Other revenue streams. Most musicians don't make a living from copyright because analysing things that way simply reflects the power-law distribution of sales in media markets. But, as the paper referenced notes, many do make livings from all kinds of project work, whose rights is often held by other folks, or which doesn't have clearly defined rights assigned to it at all (pirate radio, etc).

In fact, if you think about it, the logical endpoint of this argument is for stricter rights (under a more loosely controlled distribution regime - enabling more music/media to get distributed cheaper to more people). This is exactly what the paper concludes. But this argument does not support the free-culture position.

This is all a long way of saying that Cory's asking the wrong question - we know copyright's broken - but fixing it requires deeper thinking. Take the counterfactual: would the music industry would still be pushing Britney (would TV networks still be pushing bad reality shows and Joey) in a copyrightless world? Would most artists still be poor and starving? I think it's pretty likely.

If you think that's off, then consider whether, in the absence of copyright, you could rip off your favorite CD's and become a viable competitor to the big labels by selling them. You couldn't: you'd still have to push them through the standard distribution channels, whose economics naturally favor scale, scope, and marketing. The same applies all the way down the value chain.

Copyright's just a way of formalizing an economic theory which is out of sync with the digital world (see license). It's a product of industry economics, not the other way around - especially these days, when barriers to evading copyright are effectively zero.

To make this explicit, consider a world with a strict copyright regime, but full of Web 2.0 goodies - we'd likely see a strong LT effect, with more gains flowing to more artists. But this is a product of technology, marketing, distribution, etc - not copyright regimes.

-- umair // 5:52 PM //


I find it fascinating that the possibilities confronting the music industry -- either they do not want to recognize these facts, or they do understand them, but are clinging to an old regime which is dying.

Regardless, they are so far behind the curve with adapting to digital distribution that its prima facie evidence of inept management.

The industry is 2nd only to airlines as the worst run enterprises . . .
// Barry Ritholtz // 5:43 PM
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