Music industry needs to adapt to the Net culture

Recently on TV1's Backch@t programme we were treated to the spectacle of recording industry folk complaining about the way in which recordable CDs and MP3 make music piracy easy.

Recently on TV1’s Backch@t programme we were treated to the spectacle of recording industry folk complaining about the way in which recordable CDs and MP3 make music piracy easy. A specialist overseas lawyer laid into our government for not taking certain steps to toughen up our anti-piracy laws. One commentator pointed to the lack of resources within our police force, for the targeting of intellectual property right abuse. Unfortunately, neither the voice of the consumer nor of any artists was heard. Let’s not kid ourselves. Copying a CD is not in the same league as murder, or even beating someone up. In that light alone it’s tempting to tell the large record companies where to shove it. This country has real problems to focus on. That said, copying CDs is, and downloading ripped-off music tracks will be, a right pain to the person or company that owns the original. They’re trying to make some money from their creation and the pirate is cutting into that. We can all sympathise with that and most of us are happy to pay for the things we enjoy. Where things start to get crazy is when record companies bemoan the very existence of recordable CDs and MP3 and over-react against these extremely popular technological changes. There is an assumption left unchallenged that intellectual property rights are God-given and when they’re undermined this goes against some natural law. However, recording and playing recorded music are not natural phenomena, the process could hardly be more unnatural, especially when you’re listening to dead people. Intellectual property laws are a strikingly artificial structure whose purpose is to ensure a profitable supply and marketing chain from artist to consumer. Recent technological changes mean the CD industry approach to music looks rather crude. The method of collecting together songs on a CD, adding a dose of TV advertising and pushing the product through stores can now be seen as just one simplistic way to receive income from music. Let’s take a step back and consider what the public might ultimately want. I suggest this would be to play any track, anywhere, instantly without having to buy every CD in the world. In the future the income for musicians will come through music download sites either as subscriber dollars, pay-per-song or through associated advertising revenue. Artists who are disenchanted with record companies are already embracing these approaches to reach their listeners directly. This may explain why record companies are panicking even though searching and downloading from the Internet is still quite time-consuming. The music industry will need to restructure itself to make its money, just like every other industry entering the online world. It will have to embrace a culture of freeware and shareware to break new artists, and make its money on hot new releases in new and innovative ways. It will have to become an Internet-based industry with perhaps a sideline in CD manufacture. In the meantime, our government does not need to be pushed into any action to protect the old-style CD business. Sensible copyright protection already exists in our laws, with tough financial penalties for those who break it. We can sit back and see where technology takes us. Your opinion counts. Don’t hesitate, email me at richard_wood@idg.co.nz. Email your thoughts for publication to cw_letters@idg.co.nz.

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