A Detailed Look At How Prince Embraces New Music Distribution Strategies

from the keep-it-up dept

Last month, we wrote about how the musician Prince had been pissing off a bunch of music retailers in the UK by having a newspaper give away a free copy of his latest album with every issue. The New York Times has a great article looking at this, and giving a more detailed explanation of Prince's strategy for music distribution that supports a lot of what we talk about here. Basically, Prince produces a ton of new music and is constantly in the studio coming up with more music, but he then uses that music in a variety of ways to generate revenue from all different areas -- often recognizing that the music helps make a ton of other aspects of his business more valuable. He also seems to realize a key point in understanding the difference between music that hasn't yet been created (which is scarce) and music that has been created (which is abundant). As such, he has done a number of deals that getting someone to pay him upfront to create music (you can get people to pay for something that's scarce) but then giving that content away for free. In the latest case, the newspaper is paying for the album, because it's going to help get them a lot more attention for their newspaper. This is the same thing that's actually happening in China as well, where piracy is rampant, but there's plenty of new music -- because sponsors are willing to pay to have it created. Either way, Prince continues to provide evidence that nearly everything the recording industry insists must be true isn't actually true -- and he's doing quite well from the sound of things. The continued publicity is helping him sell out a ton of really expensive concert venues according to the article.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 23rd, 2007 @ 7:26am

    Prince is a badass. Plain and simple.

     

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  2.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 23rd, 2007 @ 7:27am

    That would be funny to get the latest rap artist's cd in my newspaper.

    Parental Advisory Newspapers?

     

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  3.  
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    ScytheNoire, Jul 23rd, 2007 @ 7:29am

    The music industry wrong?

    My god, it's shocking, the concept that the music industry is wrong and has been lying this entire time. I personally am shocked by this. What a crazy concept.

    Sarcasm in full effect above.

    As most musicians will admit, they make their money from concerts and sales at concerts, not from CD's sold by the music industry. Everything the music industry says is just to keep themselves alive, because they are now obsolete in many ways.

     

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  4.  
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    Chuck Norris' Enemy (deceased), Jul 23rd, 2007 @ 7:39am

    Backwards

    Yesterday I bought concert tickets online from Ticketmaster. I was rewarded with two free downloads from iTunes afterward. I thought, that was nice. I wasn't buying concert tickets because I new I would get two free songs. I thought, if they worked the other way, legally purchase music and get discounts on concert tickets or merchandise or more music, it may provide an incentive to legally purchase music. As far as I am concerned, two free downloads are worthless since I can download music for free anyway if I wanted to.

     

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  5.  
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    Old Guy, Jul 23rd, 2007 @ 7:49am

    Prince

    Really not unusual. Prince has been telling the suits in the recording industry to kiss off since the "slave" Warner days. He has spent his career showing thinking out of the box...More power to him!

     

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  6.  
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    Adam, Jul 23rd, 2007 @ 7:49am

    World's oldest business model?

    Its called patronage.

    Look into it. After all it only worked well for thousands of years and created most of the world's great classical art.

     

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  7.  
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    Brad, Jul 23rd, 2007 @ 8:05am

    Mike: Your scarce vs. non-scarce argument still fa

    "He also seems to realize a key point in understanding the difference between music that hasn't yet been created (which is scarce) and music that has been created (which is abundant)."

    By non-scarce you really mean "loose in the world and able to be digitally recreated and distributed with no payment to the author". And since this is unnavoidable, they need to create other revenue streams.

    Would you accept a DRM solution that worked and didn't inconvenience legitimate consumers?

    Prince is following this path as his music is no longer getting radio airplay (a whole different too-much-corporate-consolidation issue.) That and his fan-base is loyal - I paid face value $312.10 for a single ticket to see him in a small hall in Las Vegas.

     

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  8.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 23rd, 2007 @ 8:12am

    Off topic Warning:

    Two companies(T-Series and MoserBear) in India are literally taking the piracy problem by its horns. These companies have started selling LEGAL DVD's/VCD's/ACD's at incredibly low rates ranging from Rs. 30 to Rs. 50 (thats 80 cents to $1.20 US). This is amazing because most DVD rental shops rent out PIRATED DVD's at around US $1.2 (in my locality anyways). A pirated DVD can be purchased for $2-$3 in most part of the country (agreed its available cheaper at *some* places). Some movies are released within 2-3 months of its theatrical release on these DVD's. Over the last few months, I noticed the modus operandi to be like this:

    1. Release the movie in theaters
    2. Sell TV rights once box office collections are done
    3. Release DVD's soon and at low rates once the movies are telecast on TV

    This is is great for several reasons:
    1. TV broadcasters and sponsors are willing to purchase rights at high rates for new releases (for obvious reasons)
    2. Release DVD's "soon" and at low rates. The timing and price is important, because, most people would be willing to buy DVD's of newer movies, even if its just an average one (while there is still hype surrounding it and is still fresh in peoples mind.) Few people would buy DVD's released a long time ago, especially if the movie isn't a blockbuster (Yes, there are exceptions, but they are few). Delaying the DVD release, simply gives people more opportunities and reasons to obtain a pirated version.

    This model is great for all, maximum revenue for producers, and people can either watch movies in theater, or watch it legally on TV for free (yeah, with a truck load of ads) or on DVD at throw away rates. Everyone's happy !

     

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  9.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 23rd, 2007 @ 8:26am

    Re: Mike: Your scarce vs. non-scarce argument stil

    I'm with you up until this :

    Would you accept a DRM solution that worked and didn't inconvenience legitimate consumers?

    But does such a thing exist? I mean I must be able to replicate the music DRMed I bought (ala casette player).
    If such a thing existed, nobody would be up in arm against it.
    But ALL DRM make it really hard for legitimate consmers to listen to the music on their mp3player :/

     

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  10.  
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    matt, Jul 23rd, 2007 @ 8:32am

    re: scythe

    I agree 100%, unfortunately a large quantity of people still believe for some ass-backwards reason that they make even a remotely close amount from CD's. Of course in prince's case he makes more than 70c a cd, so I'm sure he's making a ton more on both ends with concerts still coming out ahead.

    I give him props. I know lots of people who went and bought one of his albums just to support the newspaper cd thing.

     

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  11.  
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    John B, Jul 23rd, 2007 @ 8:55am

    Good model for Prince

    This is a good model for Prince (who I admire a lot for his creativity and innovation). Unfortunately, this model only works if you want to make money on t-shirts, concerts, etc. If what you really want to do is just write, play and record really good music in your garage or just play in local venues (say, for instance, you have kids and do not want to be away for months out of the year), you end up doing it for free. Some kind of DRM could help these kinds of "purely musical" artists. I still like the idea of DRM that permits a dozen or so listens before it kicks in.

    Oh, and to the people advocating patronage as a way to get new content produced: Yes it worked great for thousands of years for a very small number of elite artists. It worked especially great for the people who sponsored them because then they had veto power over any subversive messages that did not serve the elite’s purposes.

    My solution thus far in the DRM/legitimate buyer copies issue has been to use MP3 CD ripping/burning programs that ignore DRM. I buy a legitimate CD, then I make mixed MP3 CDs and download to my iPod, etc. Never encountered any DRM problems. It seems to me that DRM workarounds mainly adversely affect major artists. Most people will not spend a lot of time trying to rip off garage artists. There are too many of them with too small an audience per artist. It is not worth the time. The current DRM model (only when combined with the DRM-free ripping/burning software) seems to work fine for everyone except people who want something for nothing. I note it did not prevent Prince from doing his own "revolution"ary thing (old Prince fans will get this). It will not prevent anyone else from doing it, too.

     

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  12.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 23rd, 2007 @ 8:56am

    DRM solution you've all been waiting for

    Maybe instead of limiting how DRM files can be used, just use it to uniquely identify each and every instance of a song. Therefore, if one somehow gets out on the internet, trace it back and hang the person that posted it. People will learn quickly.

     

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  13.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 23rd, 2007 @ 9:24am

    Re: DRM solution you've all been waiting for

    First off that assumes it's possible to:

    1. Not remove said identifiable information completely.
    2. Said information cannot be spoofed.
    3. There are never any errors when someone steals someones ipod, then upload the music on the ipod (just one example of many).

    The reality is you can forget 3 as almost certainly it would be possible to do numbers 1 and 2. So yeah, if you can invent magic tech go ahead, but unfortunately you can't.

     

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  14.  
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    comboman, Jul 23rd, 2007 @ 9:24am

    Re: DRM solution you've all been waiting for

    What you're suggesting is called "Watermarking" and it's nothing new. It works alright for purely digital works (like computer programs) but for analog works in digital format (audio & video), it's far to easy to get rid of the watermarking by just re-encoding.

     

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  15.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 23rd, 2007 @ 9:28am

    Re: Re: DRM solution you've all been waiting for

    Thanks guys. Because comment #12 wasn't sarcastic at all.

     

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  16.  
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    Wolfger, Jul 23rd, 2007 @ 9:33am

    it's getting a bit old...

    I love Techdirt, I really do... but lately it's sounding like a (pardon the pun) broken record. Worse yet, the stories that are so often repeated (over and over and over and... over again) are marginally (at best) related to tech. Did I miss something, or is this TechDirt?

     

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  17.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 23rd, 2007 @ 9:37am

    Re: Re: Mike: Your scarce vs. non-scarce argument

    It's called "art". While it's up to the creator to sort out how to make a living off it, with certain, limited restrictions, once it's been released it belongs to society. The better the art, the more appreciated it is and that is the definition of successful art. Not how much revenue it generates for the creator.

    If you want to get paid for every unit you generate, leave the art to the artists and start making widgets. If you want to make art and get rich, then you'll have to be clever enough to figure out a way to make the art work for you that doesn't involve pissing all over those who appreciate it.

     

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  18.  
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    Phil, Jul 23rd, 2007 @ 10:11am

    A Detailed Look At How Prince Embraces New Music D

    Can't say I'm a fan of Prince's music (if I had the CD with my paper I would have given it away or thrown it out) but I do respect and applaud his approach here. Just goes to show you the worldwide whinings of piracy armageddon by the Recording Industry Associations are a bunch of crap and everyone knows it.

     

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  19.  
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    Brad, Jul 23rd, 2007 @ 12:59pm

    Re: Good model for Prince

    yeah and the patron's didn't have their resulting art "shared" via a distributed file network with all the jokers who didn't pay for the work .

     

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  20.  
    identicon
    Brad, Jul 23rd, 2007 @ 1:05pm

    Re: Re: Re: Mike: Your scarce vs. non-scarce argum

    According to Mike (and this site) it also includes software, intellectual property, books, music, art -- anything that can be distributed digitally for little or no cost. So, no matter your cost to develop, if it's digital it's free...

     

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  21.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 23rd, 2007 @ 2:35pm

    Re: Re: Good model for Prince

    Brad,
    If you're trying to say that the copyright cartels only object to distribution by file networks then you seriously need to do some research. They've been known to object to all methods of "unauthorized" distribution: digital, analog or even word of mouth (i.e. performance). Non-digital methods of distribution have been around for thousands of years but you seem to think it's all something new.

     

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  22.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 23rd, 2007 @ 2:56pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Mike: Your scarce vs. non-scarce a

    According to Mike (and this site) it also includes software, According to Mike (and this site) it also includes software, intellectual property, books, music, art -- anything that can be distributed digitally for little or no cost., books, music, art -- anything that can be distributed digitally for little or no cost. So, no matter your cost to develop, if it's digital it's free...

    1. What "it" are you referring to?
    2. What is the difference between "intellectual property" and the other items in your list?
    3. What does digital have to do with it? I've seen the record and movie companies go after plenty of distributors of unauthorized tapes in the past. And songwriters go after people who sing their songs without permission and sports leagues go after people just for showing their broadcast games to groups or repeating their trademarked phrases. I don't know what makes you think it's a "digital" thing.

     

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  23.  
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    Mike (profile), Jul 23rd, 2007 @ 11:28pm

    Re: Mike: Your scarce vs. non-scarce argument stil

    By non-scarce you really mean "loose in the world and able to be digitally recreated and distributed with no payment to the author". And since this is unnavoidable, they need to create other revenue streams.

    No. I mean it's non-scarce. That's not an opinion, it's a factual statement.

    Would you accept a DRM solution that worked and didn't inconvenience legitimate consumers?

    I've already discussed why DRM doesn't make sense because it's about putting an artificial limitation on the benefit of a product. That's dumb. It just opens up an opportunity for someone else to provide more value than you do.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24.  
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    Mike (profile), Jul 23rd, 2007 @ 11:32pm

    Re: Good model for Prince

    This is a good model for Prince (who I admire a lot for his creativity and innovation). Unfortunately, this model only works if you want to make money on t-shirts, concerts, etc.

    That's like saying restaurants only make sense for people who want to make money selling food, service, etc. If that's what the product is, why isn't that what you're selling?

    If what you really want to do is just write, play and record really good music in your garage or just play in local venues (say, for instance, you have kids and do not want to be away for months out of the year), you end up doing it for free.

    Um. Yes. If what you're doing is a hobby, then yes, you don't make money from it. That's no different than any hobby. You make it sound as if people owe you money for a hobby. That's not how it works.

    Besides, you still ignore the numerous other business models that could allow someone to make money making music from home. But I've discussed these before with you and you seem to have a blind spot to them.

    DRM isn't a reasonable solution. You are TAKING AWAY VALUE from your customers. Why would you do that? It's just mean. Plus, it opens up opportunities for others to offer a better business model offering more value.

     

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  25.  
    identicon
    Brad, Jul 24th, 2007 @ 10:04am

    Re: Re: Mike: Your scarce vs. non-scarce argument

    Define "Non-scarce".

    My take is it's only non-scarce because of copyright violations. What's yours?

     

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  26.  
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    Mike (profile), Jul 24th, 2007 @ 6:50pm

    Re: Re: Re: Mike: Your scarce vs. non-scarce argum

    Define "Non-scarce".

    Non-scarce is a definition in and of itself. Anything that has no scarcity to it. In other words, anything that is non-rivalrous and non-excludable.

    My take is it's only non-scarce because of copyright violations. What's yours?

    That doesn't make any sense. The legal situation and the FACTUAL point of whether or not something is scarce are apples and watermelons. They're totally separate. Whether or not something is scarce is a physical property. Whether or not something is legal is based on laws. One can be scarce and legal or scarce and illegal. Legality has no impact on real scarcity. It *can* be used to create some type of artificial scarcity, but that's quite different.

     

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  27.  
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    PissedOffMusicFan, Jul 24th, 2007 @ 10:22pm

    Misc rant...

    The Music cartel is only about making themselves rich. They screw the artist. How dare they claim copyright to something the artist wrote and performed. What is wrong with that picture? The labels are distributors and they make the artist sign away all their rights. How many other products are distributed where the creator assigns his rights to them? I want to buy my content from the artist and cut the greedy middle man out. All they do is exploit the artists and keep all the pie to themselves.
    Roll back copyright to 50 years! You go England for sticking to the 50 year max! If an artist is 20 when the thing is created they will be 70 by the time it runs out. All the money saved up will be for their retirement if you cut out or reduce the % the greedy record labels get. Leave the drugs and booze alone and save that money!

    You go Prince! You showed those greedy twits! Changed your name to get out of that FUBAR contract they stuck you with when you were unknown. Sweet move! Now lets party like its Apophis time!

     

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  28.  
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    BrotherFire, Jul 25th, 2007 @ 11:14am

    Prince and Copywrite....

    Prince is obviously onto something....I get all my music for free because I DJ. Digital technology has made everyone their own DJ. Music arrives primarily through the ears and provides only auditory and spiritual stimulation. Food is experienced through taste, smell and digestion, and actually provides physical nourishment. However, I can make one of Rachel Ray or Emeril's recipes from memory and I don't have to pay them anything, in fact, that's kind of the point of their performance. I'm glad that technology has removed the restrictions on distribution that prevented me from hearing music from people who recorded it without me being present. A true artist seeks the widest, largest audience possible with which to truly connect, not the most number of widgets distributed. Those widgets are pushed through a retail pipeline just because it exists; selling to consumers is not connecting to audiences. Lyrics are more definite and verifiable, and should be copyrighted like literature, but the same problem exists in book publishing. However, context matters, and stealing lyrics to re-contextualize is inevitable. A digital recording is sometimes just a recipe for the original live performance. Sometimes it's an imperfect encapsulation of that very integral live performance experience, as with Jam Band Bootlegs. At other times, a digital creation is wholly produced at a laptop or PC, and it would be difficult to tell the difference between
    a recording of someone who knows how to play an instrument and someone who used a computer to compose or create a piece with similar instruments. Efforts to prevent "consumers" from sharing music are futile. Thank Jah. If I write a book and sell it on my website for download, it would be pretty stupid to disallow a reader from printing it out and giving it to his wife to read on the bus. If you record music, you have control of the manner of release and, now, thanks to technology, distribution. But you should not have "copyright" over the discussion of the piece, the referencing of the piece, the hacking to pieces and re-appropriation of the piece, or the transfer of the piece to other formats, as long as someone else's labor is involved and it was already submitted to the collective consciousness. It's just not legitimate to assume that puppets like Jessica Simpson or Justin Timberlake are hurt when we download or "steal" records, when they've done exactly what the newspaper in this article did. They paid a real artist to create music for them. Only this newspaper didn't pretend they WERE artists. What you're paying for with major labels is the support of an outdated and practically irrelevant distribution and promotion network, including pay-for-play commercial radio and playlists shorter than a fifth-graders. Thanks to technology, a recording artist(DJ, Comedian(ienne), Musician, Poet) can now take control of their very own development, recording and distribution like Prince. And it doesn't matter if the suits want to call it legal or illegal, we're going to do it.

     

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  29.  
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    s kumar, Aug 25th, 2007 @ 2:19am

    piracy problem

    I understands that all movie released in same time in theater and vcd and dvd for stop the piracy because if movie come in theater then same time pirated vcd dvd also come in shop in this condition people see movie in pirated cd because some people not go in theater so he see the movie in pireted vcd because original vcd come in market after many time so people can't wait for long time. So if you wants to stop the piracy then released movie same time in theater and home video with law price.

     

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  30.  
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    s kumar, Aug 25th, 2007 @ 2:39am

    piracy problem

    piracy is the bigest problem in india.for stop the piracy
    released the movie in theater &home video in same time because some people see the movie in theater &some people see the movie in vcd /dvd so if pirated vcd come in market then people see the movie in vcd because original vcd/dvd come in market after many time(1 or 3 month ) so people can't wait original vcd long time.so if you wants to stop the piracy the released movie in theater & home video in same time.

     

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  31.  
    identicon
    Kim, Sep 6th, 2007 @ 8:54pm

    Scarcity.

    Brad said:
    "Define "Non-scarce".

    My take is it's only non-scarce because of copyright violations. What's yours?"

    Remember Brad, there are no stupid questions, only stupid people. Your obtuseness has demonstrated that you are one. I can't abide stupidity.

    I know, I'm not very nice, but then, you're not very smart, so it seems that we both have flaws. I'm going to make it really easy for you. I picked up a dictionary (something you are apparently unfamiliar with), and here's what it says: "scarce | adjective (esp. of food, money, or some other resource) insufficient for the demand : as raw materials became scarce, synthetics were developed."

    Brad, read the above, and enjoy your stay in the idiot tree.

    As Mike has alluded, copyright is about creating artificial scarcity through legal means. Until recently, large scale copyright violation required a factory or printing press, which were easy to locate and close, thus preserving the scarcity. Now copying requires a PC, which everyone owns, and is extremely decentralised.

    In my opinion, copyright can no longer be enforced without the full apparatus of a police state, and even that may be insufficient.

    Back on topic; good on you, Prince! At least the man is still being inventive and original; if not with his music (a subjective matter of opinion), then with his methods to promote it.

     

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