Monday, February 12, 2007

Whose digital rights?

The fight over intellectual property rights had another shot fired by Steve Jobs across the bow of the recording industry. Recounted in Stereophile Is This the End of Copy Protection? Jobs argues that DRM coding will ultimately fail, so the music industry should give up on it, and move on.

At this point, I wish people would stop conflating the record distribution industry with the music industry.

Musicians can now produce music more inexpensively than record labels could create advertising. I'd suggest that recorded music has become advertising for performers. Sadly, recording industry giants will wither away, as did steam locomotives and muskets. On the other hand, artists will have more control and about as much income as they did under the ancien regime.Those who fear for the folks in the recording industry should relax- the few good promoters will find employment promoting and organising shows, tours and
concurrent publicity.

A parallel is in the publishing industry, where publishers like Baen make their author's works available for free online. After several years with this experiment, Baen concluded it boosts sales, so they intend to continue.

Since I'm not an economist, I can only speculate that the efficiency of electronic distribution (I could write a book or record a song on this computer, upload it and make it available world-wide for pennies cost to me) off-sets the expensive of big publicity, printing and physical distribution systems that were necessary prior to the rise of the internet. The creator now can publish without requiring the huge distribution infrastruture that was required previously.

This means that you only need to offer premium experiences(paper books, high quality CD's) to those that really want to buy. As a result, the bureacracy, and large physical plant systems previously required to transmit intellectual work are increasingly obsolete. This obsolescence will disconcert those who make a living in the old ways. On the other hand, services, like live performances, and experiences, like reading physical books, cannot be duplicated, and that is where I speculate, the economy is going.

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"If I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friend, I hope I should have the guts to betray my country."
-E.M. Forster