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.