I attended that excellent Digital Music Forum: East
conference yesterday in Manhattan, where I appeared on stage to interview Gary Shapiro, the head of the Consumer Electronics Association and the author of the (really excellent) new book The Comeback
. It's really worth reading, and I think a ton of Techdirt readers would enjoy it, as it hits on a ton
of points we regularly discuss, concerning innovation, policy and intellectual property. That discussion was fun, and Gary made some great points about trying to look towards the future, and avoiding mistakes like the recording industry suing its own customers.
However, the panel that was the most fascinating was later in the day with a panel called "Lawyers, Guns & Money," discussing questions around music file sharing and what should be done about it. The lineup of panelists included Rich Bengloff (who later told me that I should have the word "editor" stripped from my badge because it gave me too much credibility -- nice guy, that Rich) from A2IM (who represents independent music labels), Michael Petricone from the Consumer Electronics Association, Julie Samuels from the EFF, Mark Eisenberg who has worked at the major labels and is now a consultant, and Bryan Calhoun from SoundExchange. The whole thing was moderated by Jonathan Potter who certainly knows how to make a panel get... lively.
Not surprisingly, there was a fair amount of disagreement on some of the issues, with Bengloff doing the usual song and dance about "piracy" destroying the music industry. Julie Samuels, correctly, pointed out that Bengloff was being misleading, and it was the recording industry
that was having trouble adapting, not the music industry. Bengloff insisted this wasn't true, and insisted (contrary to every single study we've seen
) that every other aspect of the music business was in massive decline. Petricone then responded by bringing things around to a key point: copyright law was designed for one purpose and one purpose only: to act as an incentive to create content. And, if you look at the market today, you'd have to be delusional to say that the market is having any problem in that area whatsoever. More music is being created today than ever before. More people are spending more money on music and music related goods than ever before. There's a massive variety of music available today. Basically, the content space is absolutely thriving
. So, arguing that there's a problem in the market seems misguided.
And this is the point where the panel went off the rails a bit. Suddenly, Bengloff decided it was time to directly attack Petricone (with a brief jab thrown at me for some reason). He pulled out some paper, showing that he came prepared specifically to try to do a character assassination on Petricone. What was the piece of paper? Apparently a petition to try to get an independent musician to become the new head of SoundExchange -- with Petricone's signature supporting the petition. Whether or not this particular musician was qualified to be the head of SoundExchange may be a fair question, but Bengloff effectively said that the very act of supporting an actual musician to be head of SoundExchange showed that he didn't care about musicians and he was just trying to help consumer electronics providers. If someone can explain the logic here, it went over my head. The suggestion that Petricone doesn't actually care about music or musicians was quickly debunked by other panelists, who point out that he's a massive supporter of musicians, and the whole attempt to paint Petricone as some anti-musician person just made A2IM and Bengloff look petty and focused on character attacks rather than the key issues at hand.
This resulted in a bit of a meltdown on the panel with people starting to scream back and forth at each other over various issues, and it took a bit of time to get the panel back under control, at which point it went back down the same old road, with one group claiming "woe is me, the industry is dying," while others pointed out that's simply not true and there are ways to adapt and change and succeed. Petricone pointed out -- as we were just discussing
that it's silly to present the tech companies as being somehow "evil" in all of this, as their interests are very much aligned
with the content creators' interests. This is the same frustration point we've reached before.
As the panel wound down Eisenberg tried to make a point about where the industry needed to go, saying "we all know that everybody needs
to get paid, and the real question is how do we best bring that about." I have a problem with this statement, because no one needs
to get paid. In a capitalist free market economy, the whole point is that it's your own responsibility to figure out how to get paid, and if the market shifts, you need to learn to shift with it or perish. That's the nature of innovation and creative destruction. When the automobile came along, no one said "but the horse buggy creators need to get paid!." The horse buggy creators figured out how to adapt, or they went out of business. The fact that we have so many people creating music today, and the various research shows musicians making more money than ever before in the past certainly suggests that musicians are adapting. As for the record labels? Well, some are adapting, but it still appears that many are not.
Finally, Julie Samuels pointed out that it took nearly 50 minutes into the panel before anyone mentioned the fans
of music, and how to actually respond to what they want. This is another key observation that sort of highlighted the problem. The fans are the people that the industry needs to be paying attention to, listening to and engaging. Instead, they declared war on them. When that backfired, the industry declared war on the tech innovators -- the companies who were creating the infrastructure and tools to lead them through this. It's as if the recording industry can't help but to attack those it needs the most.
Either way, it was an entertaining panel to watch, if only for the screaming match in the middle. Still, I am hopeful that someday soon, we can have discussions on how to move forward and embrace opportunities, rather than fighting over how do we go back to a past that isn't coming back.