How Many Times Will Content Industries Claim The Sky Is Falling Before People Stop Believing Them?

from the crying-wolf dept

Michael Scott points us to a fantastic draft paper by respected intellectual property lawyer/scholar Mark Lemley recapping the long history of content industries declaring that the sky is falling every time a new technology hits the scene. From photographs (going to destroy painting) to musical recordings (going to destroy live music) to radio (going to destroy recorded music) to cable TV (going to destroy regular TV) to the photocopier (going to destroy books) to the VCR (going to destroy the movie industry) to audio cassettes (home taping is killing music) to the MP3 player (ditto) to file sharing (ditto) to the DVR (killing TV) and onwards -- the content industries seem to have a problem in immediately declaring that the sky is falling... when it turns out it's never actually falling at all. The paper is a quick read and quite enjoyable. Now, I should admit that I had no idea that the paper gives me an all-too-kind and surprising name check at the end, which I didn't know about until I reached that part of the paper, but I had actually already started writing up this post, so hopefully no one thinks that influenced my decision to write about it.

There isn't necessarily anything new in the paper. Many of you probably know all of these stories, and they've been discussed at length over the years in posts and comments here on Techdirt. However, it's nice to put a bunch of them together in a single document just to highlight the same pattern over and over again:
  1. New technology
  2. Legacy industry freaks out saying the world is ending
  3. Industry flocks to DC & the courts to demand fixing
  4. Turns out that the new technology actually increases the market
Given how many times this has happened, isn't it about time that politicians, judges and the press stopped just believing the industry every time they make this claim? Shouldn't the burden of proof really be on these industries to prove that they're actually being destroyed?

And, yes, many of these technologies did require changes to business models -- which may have meant that some legacy players went out of business. But failing companies and failing industries are two totally different things. It's important to remember that. As Lemley notes in the paper:
The content industry, it seems, has a Chicken Little problem.

It may, in fact, be the case that the sky is falling. But, if you claim that the sky is falling whenever a new technology threatens an existing business model, the rest of the world can be forgiven for not believing you when you claim that this time around it's going to be different than all of the other times. Now, let's be clear, each one of these technologies changed the business model of the industry. They caused certain revenue streams to decline. But they also opened up new ones.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    Hephaestus (profile), Aug 12th, 2010 @ 10:27am

    "And, yes, many of these technologies did require changes to business models -- which may have meant that some legacy players went out of business. But failing companies and failing industries are two totally different things. It's important to remember that."

    This time it is true, the paid media distribution industry is failing. Whats funny is it never really existed in the first place, people were paying for the container.

     

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  2.  
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    Keven Sutton (profile), Aug 12th, 2010 @ 10:42am

    as to the title...

    People will believe what they want to believe. Just as any paranoid schizophrenic.

     

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  3.  
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    Jonathan, Aug 12th, 2010 @ 10:43am

    Actually I believe them more

    Oh, I used to believe that people would quit file sharing once legit options became easy to use. But iTunes is really pretty simple. It's well polished and easier to use than any of the P2P options that I've seen. But there's a determined cadre of file sharing folks who don't want to change. And so I believe the content industry more now than I did in the past.

     

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  4.  
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    Ed Woychowsky, Aug 12th, 2010 @ 10:48am

    Looking ahead

    Meeting aliens will also destroy content, because they will have their own technologies. These technologies could in fact allow memories of content to be transferred from person to person. In a preemptive effort to prevent this Congress shouldn't hesitate to enact a law requiring the surgical removal of brain tissue that could contain copyrighted material. There is no time like the present when potentially facing a danger such as this.

    Also, what if the aliens aren't like those in movies or books, sales will fall, possibly destroying an entire industry. Jobs will be lost and a way of life could be lost. Therefore, Congress should enact a law declaring those of extraterrestrial origins be immediately deported. In addition, the 14 Amendment should be repealed to prevent aliens remaining in the United States by means of anchor larva.

    I recommend writing your representative immediately to combat this potential threat to our nation, our way of life and our content.

     

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  5.  
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    cc (profile), Aug 12th, 2010 @ 10:49am

    Re:

    This.

    The internet is way more disruptive than anything they've had before, because it means they've lost control of the distribution channel.

    While traditionally the distributors would load a bunch of films/tapes/DVDs on a truck and deliver them to the cinema/store and charge any price they wanted, there is now a new player they simply can't compete with in both terms of cost and efficiency.

    There is nothing that can be done to save them, really, but the big studio companies own the bigger distributors, and they are putting up a fight -- a fight that may NOT in fact be about saving the distributors!

    They clearly don't own the internet's infrastructure, but they sure seem bent on controlling the internet through new legislation that passes some of the profits to themselves! Isn't that what all these Hadopi, Ipred, Digital Economy Act, Australian Firewall etc "projects" are really about?

    I'm personally sick and tired of listening to them moan. Not only are they in the "luxury goods" business, meaning what they sell is hardly a necessity, they've been rendered obsolete by new technology, they've even cried "wolf" way too many times, and they've proven themselves to be greedy, selfish and unethical. Can't they just die already?

     

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  6.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 12th, 2010 @ 11:01am

    Re: Actually I believe them more

    easy to use != reasonably priced

     

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  7.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 12th, 2010 @ 11:05am

    Re: Re:

    "Can't they just die already?"

    Every time someone sees a movie (like Inception), the answer is no. In order to to make them feel it, a large portion of society needs to stop giving them money.

    Right now we have a small portion merely talking about boycotts. This is why they are still hanging on.

     

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  8.  
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    jjmsan (profile), Aug 12th, 2010 @ 11:11am

    Re: Actually I believe them more

     

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  9.  
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    jsl4980 (profile), Aug 12th, 2010 @ 11:12am

    People aren't the problem

    People aren't the problem. I doubt many people believe them. The problem are the politicians, and I'm guessing some of them will believe anything if there's a large enough campaign contribution attached.

     

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  10.  
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    jjmsan (profile), Aug 12th, 2010 @ 11:13am

    Re: Re: Actually I believe them more

    I really hate it when I do that.
    What I wanted to ask was how do you pay for these reasonably priced items? The site did not say and kept trying to load a program onto my computer.

     

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  11.  
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    out_of_the_blue, Aug 12th, 2010 @ 11:14am

    The sky isn't falling; it's just the privileged birds crapping on us.

    The ever-escalating demands of those granted copyrights must be not only stopped but reversed. Since it's obvious that the public no longer has any significant effect on Congress, but that The Rich control politics, and copyright being just a minor battle in the class war, *we* need to recognize the true enemy and embrace Populism as the cure.

    Now, looked at over the implicit century, the quality of "art" has fallen about as predicted. I'm not high-falutin', but what we get from commercialism is *crap* made for lowest common denominator, so the new "business model" that's needed is again one which apportions rewards in some vague semblance of objective value to society rather than allowing concentrated excesses of mass distribution. That's easily done by breaking up what are effectively media cartels, and thereby encouraging more local artists and start-ups.

     

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  12.  
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    Brian (profile), Aug 12th, 2010 @ 11:17am

    Re: People aren't the problem

    Well for some of them all you really need is a nice dinner and a weekend getaway and they will support you until they turn blue in the face

     

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  13.  
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    Alberto, Aug 12th, 2010 @ 11:36am

    Re: Actually I believe them more

    Yeah. You're right. Some of my friends just continue to download. They spend hours trying to find the right P2P program and the right tracker. I think it's kind of funny. They could easily afford $30/month in iTunes fees, but they keep saying that it's the big companies fault for not making it easy enough and cheap enough for them.

     

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  14.  
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    cc (profile), Aug 12th, 2010 @ 11:41am

    Re: Re: Re:

    I agree, however I don't believe it's possible to stop people from watching movies. I don't think most people care enough about copyright or even civil liberties to boycott the major studios simply out of principle.

    The only way forward is if the major studios start seeing competition from newcomers, but they've set up a "cartel" to collectively fight anyone new from getting a foothold in the market. That's why they are called a monopoly, after all.

     

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  15.  
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    Hephaestus (profile), Aug 12th, 2010 @ 11:50am

    Re: Re:

    "these Hadopi, Ipred, Digital Economy Act, Australian Firewall "

    You forgot the big one ACTA. :)

    "they've been rendered obsolete by new technology"

    I have been looking at new open source technologies that are being developed for music, and video production. Trying to determine how long it will be before we have a full studio (music and video) in a box. The most recent one I found is a project called the apertus : open source cinema project it truely does not bode well for TV and movie studios. It will allow for people to create plug-ins for an open source Video cameras. Anyone can create any effects they want, network the cameras together, share in any way they want, edit on the fly, post with the push of a button, and customize the cameras in any way they want.

    What would take a studio and 20 people will soon be possible for one person to do.

    "Can't they just die already?"

    Give it time the technology is almost here, The creative commons is gaining ground, people are spending more time interacting and doing and less time being couch potatoes. For now just put on a smile, and watch the slow painful way they are failing.

     

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  16.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 12th, 2010 @ 11:59am

    Re: Re: Actually I believe them more

    Man... too bad that Anonymous watermark shows us you're the same person as the OP, huh?

     

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  17.  
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    Jim, Aug 12th, 2010 @ 12:03pm

    Re: Actually I believe them more

    iTunes is horrible on Windows. I've tried it no less than 3 times. It runs like crap, it comes bundled with stuff I don't want (quicktime...), and it also wants absolute control over my music. I just want something to transfer music to my computer, let me organize it, tag it, whatever. Not to mention that originally iTunes was DRM encumbered.

    Also, 99 cents/song is not a reasonable price in my mind.

     

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  18.  
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    Dark Helmet (profile), Aug 12th, 2010 @ 12:15pm

    Re: Re: Re: Actually I believe them more

    Ha ha! Busted!

     

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  19.  
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    crade (profile), Aug 12th, 2010 @ 12:31pm

    Re: Actually I believe them more

    Yeah, but so what? ITunes is hugely successful, showing not that people will "quit file sharing", but that people will "buy music" (which is way more important to the industry if you ask me) once legit options became easy to use.

    Also, I don't know why the heck you would believe the content industry more now than in the past considering they haven't done anything to deserve it.

     

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  20.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 12th, 2010 @ 12:39pm

    You could try the alternate strategy:

    1. Opinion blog complains that government and corporations are unfairly colluding to disenfranchise people.

    2. Commenters shout "me too!" to the heavens.

    3. Nothing happens.

    For a blog and a community that are all about "adapt or die" or "if you can't compete then go out of business" there's not much adaptation or competition going on. Just a bunch of bitching that your enemy has stacked the rules against you. It's like the British army complaining that the colonials don't fight fair by lining up in rows with brightly colored jackets on.

    Except it's worse because you aren't even on the battlefield. You're huddled in cafes wearing black turtlenecks. You've come to a war armed for academic debate.

    Your enemy is big, organized, and willing to put their money where their mouth is. You pay $20,000 in taxes every year and they pay $200M. They hire lobbyists and you sit at home writing blog posts. They contribute to campaigns with real dollars and you check the box on your 1040 that donates $3 to presidential campaigns of the future.

    They understand that business is war, and the goal of war is to win. If you can change the rules to favor you, all the better.

    Enjoy your cappuccinos.

     

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  21.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 12th, 2010 @ 12:49pm

    Re:

    It's not a war. Don't call it a war because it is not. Prove it. Prove that this is a war.

    Enjoy your stupidity.

     

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  22.  
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    RadialSkid, Aug 12th, 2010 @ 12:58pm

    Re:

    "there's not much adaptation or competition going on."

    Not even halfway through your post, and you've already displayed enough ignorance to destroy your own argument. Congratulations.

    I'm sure the entertainment industry is arrogant enough to think that they're more powerful than the increasing number of people they alienate every day, but in the coming years they're going to learn a hard lesson that teaches them otherwise. It just gets worse and worse for them and better and better for us.

     

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  23.  
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    Dark Helmet (profile), Aug 12th, 2010 @ 1:00pm

    Re:

    "For a blog and a community that are all about "adapt or die" or "if you can't compete then go out of business" there's not much adaptation or competition going on. Just a bunch of bitching that your enemy has stacked the rules against you. It's like the British army complaining that the colonials don't fight fair by lining up in rows with brightly colored jackets on."

    Yeah, not even close. I for one am going to be unveiling my own experiment using the things I've learned on TechDirt and related sites. Things learned not only from Mike and the TD crew but from the commentors as well, both affirmative and dissenting viewpoints. I hardly think I'm the only one....

    "Your enemy is big, organized, and willing to put their money where their mouth is."

    Here's the thing: they actually aren't OUR enemy. It's just that sometimes we appear to be theirs....

    "You pay $20,000 in taxes every year and they pay $200M."

    Which, according to the rules of a Republic, should mean exactly dick....

    "They hire lobbyists and you sit at home writing blog posts."

    Thank you for pointing out that the system is broken. I wonder what the real substantiative difference between blog posts and the Federalist Papers are....

    "They contribute to campaigns with real dollars and you check the box on your 1040 that donates $3 to presidential campaigns of the future."

    Way to not even mention voting in there, skippy....

     

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  24.  
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    Hephaestus (profile), Aug 12th, 2010 @ 1:24pm

    Re:

    "Your enemy is big, organized, and willing to put their money where their mouth is. You pay $20,000 in taxes every year and they pay $200M. They hire lobbyists and you sit at home writing blog posts."

    About them being big yes they are, Organized sometimes, think things through ... not so much. These guys have a set world view that isn't going to change. Its a monopoly mindset, its members have only competed within the monopoly and never faced external competition before. There is a slow errosion across the board for all the content distribution companies. It can not be stopped, it can be barely slowed.

    Funny thing they spend tens if not hundereds of millions on ACTA and other laws and a guy wearing bunny slippers, shorts, and sucking down iced coffee with a couple of his friends lays waste to the big three sections of ACTA in the EU. For no reason other than its fun to see who can do the most damage.

     

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  25.  
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    Greevar (profile), Aug 12th, 2010 @ 2:35pm

    Threshold System

    Creators can make money on the "Fund and Release" or the "Threshold System". If creators could make art on a contract basis, essentially making something for a predetermined amount, they could produce it. They'd get paid for their work and the pledgers would get their content. But everyone else would get that content as well, for free. By giving away work they were already paid to make, they are getting free publicity to attract more people to create more works. If the threshold isn't met, nobody pays.

    I really like this model, as it ensures that creators can earn a living from their work, but they don't have to restrict the creativity and innovation of the public because they give the work away without restrictions. To further encourage funding of art, the creators could offer special privileges to those that pledge to the project. It could be anything such as special recognition, pledger input on the project, or related merchandise.

    I have already seen this model in action. Paul Ellis, the artist talked about on TechDirt a while back uses fan funding to help create new works, while offering incentives for the fans that fund his work. The AAA Indie project from Zero Point Software is using a fan funding model to pay for production of their games and bypass the need for a publisher to fund their game Interstellar Marines.

     

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  26.  
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    Nastybutler77 (profile), Aug 12th, 2010 @ 2:46pm

    Re: Re: Re: Actually I believe them more

    "Yeah, Jonathan, I mean Alberto, you've got a good point."

    "Why thank you Jonathan for agreeing with myself."

    "Well when your right, I'm right."

    Curse these colored snowflakes! Now I can't make it seem like my crappy points have AC's agreeing with me!

     

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  27.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 12th, 2010 @ 3:24pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    If it is a small portion why the industry is freaking out?

    Why the labels and studios stopped short suing everyone?

    Because it is not a small part of the population, there is a small part of that population talking about it, but the big part that is silent is not minor and never was.

    You see the record industry have a drop of 1/3 of their revenues, that was when they decided to stop suing people and try to find proxies so they don't bear the brunt of the negative sentiment that it comes when they try to enforce that crappy thing called copyright.

     

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  28.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 12th, 2010 @ 4:19pm

    They understand that business is war, and the goal of war is to win. If you can change the rules to favor you, all the better.


    WAR! that is fine, because in this war, people only need not give money to the other side, business against business is about winning, business against clients is about suicidal tendencies LoL

     

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  29.  
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    tezza, Aug 12th, 2010 @ 7:01pm

    Re:

    had to goolge 'turtleneck' lol

     

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  30.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 12th, 2010 @ 7:51pm

    Re: Re:

    I bet Steve Jobs came up first on that search LoL

     

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  31.  
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    techflaws.org (profile), Aug 13th, 2010 @ 2:27am

    Re:

    Your enemy is big, organized, and willing to put their money where their mouth is. You pay $20,000 in taxes every year and they pay $200M.

    And yet too darn stupid to stop file sharing in the slightest. Sounds like $200M well spent?

     

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  32.  
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    Rekrul, Aug 13th, 2010 @ 4:50am

    Re: Actually I believe them more

    Oh, I used to believe that people would quit file sharing once legit options became easy to use. But iTunes is really pretty simple. It's well polished and easier to use than any of the P2P options that I've seen. But there's a determined cadre of file sharing folks who don't want to change. And so I believe the content industry more now than I did in the past.

    I have an old system and iTunes won't run on it. There's also no Linux version of it. Why do people even need a bloated piece of software to purchase audio files anyway?

     

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  33.  
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    PaulT (profile), Aug 13th, 2010 @ 6:11am

    Re: Actually I believe them more

    "But iTunes is really pretty simple."

    ...and horrendously overpriced and restrictive (regions, DRM on movies, etc.). They're the real problems, and the content industry seem no closer to solving them than they were when they were trying to sue to first MP3 players out of existence.

    Nobody cares if a program is easy to use when a restricted movie costs 2-3x more than a DVD and they're charging 30% more for most singles than they did 12 months ago.

     

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  34.  
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    Hephaestus (profile), Aug 13th, 2010 @ 7:13am

    Re: Re:

    "Thank you for pointing out that the system is broken. I wonder what the real substantiative difference between blog posts and the Federalist Papers are...."

    Never noticed that before ...

     

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  35.  
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    Gene Cavanaugh, Aug 13th, 2010 @ 9:07am

    Chicken Little Syndrome

    Excellent article, but it misses an important point.

    The SJ Mercury News recently reported that all but one of the State's legislators had sponsored legislation arguably against the public interest, but favoring their sponsors, such as campaign contributors (and, independently, it seems they simply missed the connection to that one).

    This is true in spades in DC, where there is more power, and money is needed more.

    Until we break the ownership of our legislators by big business, all this complaining will fall on deaf ears.

     

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  36.  
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    charliebrown (profile), Aug 13th, 2010 @ 11:05am

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    "You see the record industry have a drop of 1/3 of their revenues, that was when they decided to stop suing people"

    Are you sure these events are related? Because around the same time as they decided to stop suing people, there was also a global economic crisis, HDTV and BluRay took off more (thus people spending money elsewhere) plus the fact that a lot of people have stopped replacing old CD's with new remasters of old album (the Beatles collection is an EXCEPTION to this).

    And from where exactly did you get the figure of their revenue dropping by 1/3 at the same time they stopped suing people? Seriously, their revenue might have dropped by 1/3 in 2009 compared to 2000, but in that time CD's had to compete with the DVD's, the PlayStation 2 and 3, the xBox and xBox 360, home TV upgrades to LCDHDTV's, the PC explosion (and PC's aren't all filled with pirated music and software, you buy a PC and Windows ain't free, it is included in the price!)

    Take the DVD example: More people were buying CD's than videos in, say, 1995 because videos were relatively expensive compared to CD's whereas now a DVD player is cheaper than a VCR ever was and older DVD releases of movies are way cheaper than the VHS equivalent ever was. So if they are cheaper, could they spend the money they are saving on CD's? Maybe, but they are in the DVD section and not thinking about CD's at all.

    If you ask me, the music industry's biggest competitor is itself. Think about why iTunes took off: Convenience? Yeah, but a large part of the reason was after all these years people were no longer forced to but the whole album for the songs they wanted. Yes there are some great albums out there so I will not use the "Albums have two good songs and the rest are crap" argument. Just because an album is a good album, doesn't mean everybody wants the whole album. Why do you think there's so many greatest hits and best of CD's?

     

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  37.  
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    charliebrown (profile), Aug 13th, 2010 @ 11:20am

    Mechanical Music

    Quoting from the paper in question, this quote itself a quote from John Philip Sousa, writing about the player piano and the the fact that "mechanical music" will kill amateur music:

    "under such conditions the tide of amateurism cannot but recede, until there will be left only the mechanical device and the professional executant. Singing will no longer be a fine accomplishment; vocal exercises, so important a factor in the curriculum of physical culture, will be out of vogue!"

    Well it wasn't the player piano that did this and I'm pretty sure it wasn't the radio either... But with the abundance of "hit" songs where the "singing" is rapped vocals that are drowned in the AutoTune "Robot" effect over a pitch-manipulated buzz and beat that apparently passes as music. So, yeah, he was right, that is what has become of professional music.

    As for amateur and independent music, I am loving it!

     

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  38.  
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    Hephaestus (profile), Aug 13th, 2010 @ 7:51pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    The similarity with the Federalist Papers that is ...

     

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

  39.  
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    Hephaestus (profile), Aug 13th, 2010 @ 7:53pm

    Re:

    "business against clients is about suicidal tendencies"

    Do you mind if I use that ?? Its totally classic.

     

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  40.  
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    Hephaestus (profile), Aug 13th, 2010 @ 10:24pm

    Re:

    Actually is should be ...

    acting against clients is business suicide

     

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  41.  
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    Anonymous Coward #X, Sep 17th, 2010 @ 7:54am

    Re: Re: Actually I believe them more

    iTunes needs to come bundled with Quicktime, because that's the engine it uses to play media. If you really want a good question, ask why Quicktime won't support Ogg Vorbis, Ogg Theora, FLAC, MOD, or any number of formats that aren't owned by MPEG-LA.

     

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