Choruss Goes From Vaporware To Nowhere

from the still-waiting-for-our-questions-to-be-answered dept

Well, well. Back in 2008, we noted that Warner Music had hired Jim Griffin to put together a sort of skunkworks project to create what sounded like a mandatory ISP tax to allow file sharing, which was eventually dubbed Choruss. We say “sounded like,” because (as you will see), any time we tried to describe the project, we started getting angry emails from Griffin about how we were wrong. Later that year, someone sent us a presentation that Jim was pushing on universities, asking them to sign up for a “voluntary blanket license” that would let students share files. Initially, upon seeing the presentation, my problem was the fact that (from the details presented) this did not sound particularly “voluntary” for the students — and it felt like yet another situation where the real stakeholders were being left out of the discussion.

We received some upset emails from Warner Music and Jim Griffin over those claims, and so we put together a much more detailed explanation for why such a “music tax” doesn’t make much sense. Jim and I then met in Nashville, and he tried to explain the program in more detail, but again everything was unclear. Griffin seemed to only tell us what it was not, rather than what it actually was. The only thing anyone seemed to be able to pin him down on was that it was “an experiment.” An experiment with a compulsory license? No. A voluntary license? No. A file sharing system? No. A subscription music program? No. A collection society? No. That last one was confusing, since every presentation where he described Choruss he used the very first collection society as the key example of what he was trying to do — but when I wrote it, I got an angry email from Jim insisting Choruss was nothing like a collection society. There were no clear answers, and we kept being told that we couldn’t criticize it while it was still just an experiment. We had planned to discuss these issues publicly at “The Free Summit,” but at the last minute Jim was unable to make it (for perfectly legitimate reasons).

After a few more email exchanges, in May of 2009, Jim Griffin agreed to answer all of our questions about Choruss. So, I posted my list of questions and many of our readers added their own questions as well. A few months went by and there were no answers. I sent him a list of questions via email, and he again promised to answer them. Last I heard from him was about a year ago, when he promised he was ready to answer the questions. But never did. Around that time, reports started surfacing claiming that tens of thousands of students had signed up for Choruss, with a plan to have it start in the fall of 2009. That seemed odd to me, since no one could say what it was. I started asking around for any university student who had “signed up” for Choruss, and not a single one came forward.

Earlier this year, we heard that Choruss had suddenly split from Warner Music, and was changing its focus to “make it faster, easier and simpler to pay for music.” Again, we noted our confusion over the whole thing (and still wondered where the tens of thousands of students were).

The latest reports suggest that Choruss is more or less gone. Apparently, the folks from Audiogalaxy, one of the early P2P file sharing apps that was shut down due to legal issues, had “partnered” with Choruss to build a new “legal” Audiogalaxy, but that fell through when Choruss turned out to be the vaporware that many folks had expected all along. Griffin is now admitting that the project is “on hiatus.” He is taking the blame for “blowing” the opportunity, but then suggests the real problem was the difficulty in finding the rightsholders to get them to sign up.

So, now, his answer is he thinks politicians need to step in and create compulsory or statutory licenses for file sharing, pointing out that “it’s impossible to negotiate with each and every rights holder individually.” It is impossible, but that doesn’t mean the answer is to have the government step in and break the market again. Perhaps we should just accept that it’s impossible and let the market work, as it seems to be doing without such licenses. Musicians are figuring out business models on their own that don’t require some big bureaucracy to collect and distribute the cash or requiring the government to step in and set rates out of thin air.

Now, as much as I’ve clashed with Jim over the past few years (and the man does have a knack for writing incendiary emails), I never doubted his sincerity in trying to “fix” what he saw as the problems in the industry. It’s just that all of the evidence suggested he was tackling the wrong problem, which was more about setting up a new middleman bureaucracy, rather than enabling musicians to embrace new business models on their own.

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Companies: choruss

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Comments on “Choruss Goes From Vaporware To Nowhere”

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cc (profile) says:

I just realised that an ISP tax sounds terribly similar to the Microsoft tax, and I expect it will lead to many of the same problems.

There is simply no way to buy a PC from a major OEM without also paying a hefty price for a Microsoft OS, despite the fact that many users may not need that expensive software and want to use an alternative OS. This system is tolerated because it supposedly reduces piracy, but it has the troubling side-effect of indefinitely supporting Microsoft’s dangerous monopoly.

If ISPs are forced to charge a tax on each internet connection, the distribution of the received funds will favour the major labels and artists, at the detriment of the minor ones. It will essentially destroy all competition and indefinitely support the profits of the biggest content providers. A point will likely come when no main ISP will be able to provide tax-free internet, much in the same way that no main OEM can provide tax-free PCs, even though there are a lot of people like me who don’t really consume any content — pirated or otherwise.

DJ (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“Microsoft’s dangerous monopoly”

Ok. You don’t like Microsoft. Fine. Your choice. But don’t use words like “monopoly” unless you know what they mean. If Microsoft had a monopoly, then software companies like Apple and Unix and Linux (the list goes on) wouldn’t even exist; let alone actually be competitive.
A monopoly exists only when there is NO OTHER alternative. As long as there is at least one, no matter how crappy it might actually be, there is no monopoly.

That being said, I would simply change your wording to “Microsoft’s dangerous [stranglehold]”

Jay (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Netscape really wasn’t all that good. It got better when it changed to Mozilla. Compuserve I barely heard about.

How Microsoft was positioned, they were the only true game for personal computer software.

Of course, nowadays, Ubuntu, Linux, Unix, etc have gotten better at Microsoft’s features that people enjoy but I’m to believe that during the time period mentioned Microsoft enjoyed a pretty sweet natural monopoly while everyone else tried to find a way to break the giant.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

A relevant quote: ” Microsoft enjoys so much power in the market for Intel-compatible PC operating systems that if it wished to exercise this power solely in terms of price, it could charge a price for Windows substantially above that which could be charged in a competitive market. Moreover, it could do so for a significant period of time without losing an unacceptable amount of business to competitors. In other words, Microsoft enjoys monopoly power in the relevant market. “

cc (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Hell yeah it’s a monopoly. Today Microsoft has 94% of the desktop OS market, while Apple has a puny 5% and Linux a pathetic 1% (catering to niches at best).

It would be disingenuous to suggest they don’t have total and unwavering control of the market, and that’s what’s usually called a monopoly.

What’s your definition of a monopoly?

harbingerofdoom (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

its hardly a monopoly when apples market share is of their own doing.

apple could have easily taken the market away and the numbers would have actually been favoring them had they not been so elitist. it made for the most stable product that no one could afford.
thats not a monopoly, thats the market place telling apple they are doin it wrong.

granted that is an extremely oversimplified view and there is much more to it, but it does boil down to the fact that you cant claim company B’s major mistakes in a market space as proof of company A’s monopoly.

cc (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

While I agree with your logic, I think the problem is much more subtle than that.

Consumers have been conditioned to equate OS with Windows, and the methods used to achieve that were, imo, coercive. The monopoly they are sustaining is in market share, but more importantly in mind share.

A huge part of the problem is them forcing people to buy a Windows license with every hardware purchase, which I believe is something the anti-trust people should take a good hard look at.

And don’t think my beef is with Microsoft or with Windows. What I hate is their business practices, and I’m pissed off that my last laptop purchase included an expensive OS that I had no use for. I don’t want ISPs to include a similar tax for the major record labels that I am forced to pay regardless of whether I love or hate Lady Gaga.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: mandatory ISP tax to allow file sharing

Because I’m poor and can’t afford most stuff I download but still want to see/listen to it. In fact I mostly listen/watch once and delete, but there are a few movies, or records, I really like… but can’t buy.

An €5 increase on my internet bill seems reasonable, as a legal “sample everything, keep what you like” kind of deal.

I shouldn’t have copy/pasted the “mandatory” part, tough.

Grim Jiffin says:

It?s All Your Fault, Mike

It was your disbelief that ruined everything. We were so close, we could have done it. But no, you had to keep demanding ?facts? and ?explanations?, as though they were relevant to something. Maybe in your reality, but not in mine.

So, you can take all the credit for single-handedly sabotaging our last hope for saving all those college kids from a lifetime as career criminals. So much for the humane option…

Hephaestus (profile) says:

Something just occured to me ...

Doesn’t the Commerce clause only cover existing trade? Wouldn’t that prevent a compulsory license from being pushed into law. If the federal government can order that a contractual relationship be put in place, there is nothing the federal government cant meddle in and impose on us. Or am I missing something?

“… he thinks politicians need to step in and create compulsory or statutory licenses for file sharing, pointing out that …”

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