The Band's Ex-Manager Accuses Reddit Of Profiting From Piracy In Debate With Co-Founder
from the um,-ok dept
Here’s an interesting one. Fast Company had professor Jonathan Taplin, director of the USC Annenberg Innovation Lab and the former tour manager for The Band debate Alexis Ohanian, cofounder of Reddit,
Hipmunk* and Breadpig. The debate is definitely worth watching, but I’m disappointed with many of Taplin’s claims. He starts out by going for the emotional, talking about how The Band — whose drummer Levon Helm passed away the day after the debate — had members who were no longer making $150,000 to $200,000 per year, as they had been able to do up until about 2002. As Alexis notes in response, there are all sorts of useful business models to help them make money — and he’s even offered to help them make money. And, indeed, the story of Helm is quite tragic, but at the same time, most people when they are no longer working tend not to make as much money as they did in the past. Copyright was never supposed to be a pension for retired musicians, so it seems odd to argue that it isn’t doing that. That was never the intention.
Frankly, what bugs me most about Taplin’s argument is that he continually takes things totally out of context. For example, he cites the familiar numbers about the “music industry” going from $20 billion to $6 billion. Yet he ignores that the overall music industry grew because other parts of the industry grew at a much faster rate. More ridiculous? He claims (totally incorrectly) that Chris Anderson believes that “everything should be free.” Either he didn’t read Chris Anderson’s book, or he’s purposely distorting the book, which focuses nearly all of its attention on how to get paid for content. In fact, most of the book is about ways in which a “freemium” model works — where you have some stuff free, and other things paid. Why Taplin would then claim the book is that “everything should be free” is beyond me. To have a university professor so misrepresent Chris’s book is ridiculous. He owes a major apology to Anderson.
Bizarrely, Taplin then claims that Reddit makes money off of piracy. Say what?! At this point I think he’s just making things up.
He also completely misrepresents Google having to give the government $500 million concerning advertisements from unlicensed online pharmacies. Taplin calls them “phony drug ads,” which is also inaccurate. In many cases the drugs were legit — but the licensing of the pharmacies to deliver those drugs to the US was in question (some, in fact, appear to have been perfectly legit Canadian pharmacies). He then claims that if Google made $500 million on fake drugs ads they must be making more on “illegal pirate ads.” I’m curious: who exactly is buying “illegal pirate ads”?
From there, he tosses in the whole controversy over Backpage.com — which has nothing to do with copyright, and he falsely smears them as providing a service for pimping “young ladies” — leaving out the fact that (a) a court has already cleared the company and (b) this has nothing to do with copyright.
Taplin seems to be throwing together a bouillabaisse of arguments without understanding any of them, and thus misrepresenting nearly everything.
Alexis does a great job with his intro, first pointing out how movie box office revenue has increased, and then pointing out how innovation is the key here, and that industries can innovate their way forward, and points to Kickstarter’s success as an example of how that’s already beginning. Taplin, playing the old curmudgeon, insists this is all crazy. He mocks the movie stat because it ignores the collapse of DVDs. Of course if folks like Taplin had their way, there would be no home video market, because they tried to make it illegal back in the 1970s and 1980s (an inconvenient fact he seems to have forgotten). He also mocks Kickstarter because it won’t fund Martin Scorcese’s latest film. This is typical of someone who doesn’t seem to understand the the innovator’s dilemma. It’s kind of shocking, frankly, that someone in charge of a so-called innovation lab doesn’t understand how innovation works.
In the second part of the debate, Taplin goes full on elitist, mocking those people who use Kickstarter to fund a piddly $50,000 movie, because apparently, to him, those movies don’t count. And yes, earlier in the debate, he was talking about how he was really concerned about the up and comers. He also seems to think that the only movies that matter are the movies that score big distribution deals. He’s internally inconsistent and doesn’t even seem to realize it. He goes on to mock the idea that musicians can make money other than through record sales. Except, he assumes (incorrectly) that the only way to make money is concert sales, and then says that some acts just can’t get enough people to see them live. Um, duh. But that’s always been true. Most musicians never sold enough music to make a living either, but we don’t pass a law to change that. Taplin seems to be complaining that not all musicians or movie makers are rich. I didn’t realize that was an issue.
Taplin then comes up with his “solution.” It’s to have every ISP charge users $2 to $3/month which would go into a giant global pool that would be distributed to copyright holders. Immediately, someone in the comments points out that doesn’t fix bad contracts. It’s even worse than that. First, the entertainment industry would insist that $2 to $3 is way too low. Hell, most music services alone get $10 or so per month. And really what Taplin is doing is to create a giant bureaucracy that won’t effectively help small artists. He talks about ASCAP as the model for this. I wonder what he has to say about the fact that ASCAP takes money from up-and-coming artists and gives it to the largest acts.
Both videos are worth watching. The whole thing is only about 25 minutes, and I think Alexis more than holds his own, though it would have been nice if there was a little more time to hit back on many of Taplin’s claims.
* Corrected after learning that Alexis didn’t found Hipmunk — just joined pre-launch.