Copy Protection Killing The Promotional Value Of Content

from the missing-the-point-in-a-big,-big-way dept

While people often accuse us of "promoting piracy," nothing could be further from the truth. As we've said repeatedly over the years, we don't condone piracy -- but think that businesses need to recognize that it's a part of the market place, and if that's the case, why not learn to use it to your advantage, rather than fight against it? It's actually pretty simple to do so. Rather than thinking about content as a good that is being taken for no revenue, think about the content as a promotional good that costs nothing to distribute. Suddenly, a bunch of new business models open up that allow you to embrace people sharing your content. To be honest, this isn't a particularly new or unique idea. Using "free" as a promotional tool has been around for years. It's why there are buy one, get one free offers. Or free drinks in casinos. It's why you get to watch broadcast TV for free. In other words, there are already a ton of business models that understand the fundamental idea that "free" isn't bad when used for promotions. It's definitely true in the music video market. Music videos promote musicians, helping to sell more CDs, concert tickets and merchandise. With a few video download stores popping up online, it looked for a while that some of the record labels were thinking about trying to charge for music videos, basically destroying their promotional value and missing the point on the value of promotional goods.

The folks over at YouTube are hoping to change that, by working with various record labels to go back to the roots of music videos as promotional material and putting up music videos for free on YouTube. However, it's not clear that everyone has figured this basic concept out just yet. Over the last few weeks, the band OK Go has build up something of a cult following for its video of the band on treadmills for the song "Here It Goes Again." It's been passed around via email, on blogs and I even saw it mentioned on some TV show. The video is available on the band's website and YouTube among other places. However, Tim Lee noticed that on the band's blog they ask people to go to VH1's site to vote for their video. There's just one problem: Tim is on a Mac, and the video on VH1's site won't play on his Mac, because it's incompatible with the Microsoft DRM that VH1 seems to be using for no good reason at all. As Tim explains, this is beyond pointless. It's actually harmful to the idea of using the video as promotion (as the band clearly wants). There's simply no reason to use copy protection technology here -- as it completely goes against the very point of music videos. However, with the industry continually beating the "DRM is necessary" drum, it's no surprise that VH1 would feel compelled to put DRM where it absolutely isn't needed.
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  1. identicon
    lar3ry, 17 Aug 2006 @ 7:23am

    Same argument can be used a lot of places

    This is a good argument, but you cannot simply make a blanket statement that videos and songs are just promotional material. Like it or not, the record companies' see this as product and not promotion.

    OK Go is pretty shrewd. Their videos ("In the back yard, dancing" and "On Treamills") are hysterical and very attention getting. I bet they are making a fortune from their CD sales as a result of these.

    However, most bands are in it for the music. They can play a fourteen minute riff based on five chords and get it in the first take. They are not video wizards, nor are they actors or even dancers. They are in it for the music. Getting paid is nice, as they can devote more time to their music, but even if they don't get paid, they'd still be playing and making music all the same.

    Once they sign the record contract, the artists' desires go out the door. Their music is no longer "art" but "product." It's a tangible thing, in which they make their 2.04 cents per CD (after the record company recoups their costs, of course!). To the record companies, every possible thing that's out there is a potential sale. Every video play must give the company back a royalty. Every song that airs must put money in the company's coffers.

    Looking at it from the industry's point of view, every MP3 or video file out there is a potential loss of income. DRM has become their mantra ("It will save us!") and they don't give a damn about how DRM may infringe upon the user's fair use rights.

    The big problem, of course, is that the users don't want to see it from the industry's point of view. To them, the industry is just a money-grubbing cartel that shafts the artists, and sues its own customers all in the name of the poor artists that they are shafting. "But we download the song to see if we like it, and if we do, we purchase the CD? What more do you want?"

    The industy sees the people sharing audio and video files are pirates who will continue to download this "illegal music and video" until something forces them to stop.

    With both sides at such diametrically opposing views, is it any wonder that there's no solution in sight?

    I don't think the main point of the article should be that "every video and song file is promotional material." That's just an opinion, and it's definitely not the one that the industry will ever agree to.

    Let's make it easy for non-RIAA bands to make their music available for free. All those "independents" that people claim to be downloading deserve some recognition.

    Apple has done some good work with Garage Band. For $50 (or free, if you purchase some models of Macs), a musician can lay down some tracks very professionally. Apple can go one step further and create a section on iTunes where indies can upload their music and make it available at whatever price they want, with a minimum price being Apple's iTunes fee, and the rest being the band's profit per download. Apple could offer free "samplers" of various types of indie music for people to figure out which new artists out there have good music. This may get Apple's industry partners upset, but it will do more for artists overall.

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