History Repeats Itself: How The RIAA Is Like 17th Century French Button-Makers

from the no,-seriously... dept

As regular readers know, I've been working through a series of posts on how economics works when scarcity is removed from some areas. I took a bit of a break over the holidays to catch up on some reading, and to do some further thinking on the subject (along with some interesting discussions with people about the topic). One of the books I picked up was one that I haven't read in well over a decade, but often recommend to others to read if they're interested in learning more about economics, but have no training at all in the subject. It's Robert L. Heilbroner's The Worldly Philosophers. Beyond giving readers a general overview of a variety of different economic theories, the book actually makes them all sound really interesting. It's a good book not necessarily because of the nitty gritty of economics (which it doesn't cover), but because it makes economics interesting, and gives people a good basis to then dig into actual economic theory and not find it boring and meaningless, but see it as a way to better understand what these "philosophers" were discussing.

Reading through an early chapter, though, it struck me how eerily a specific story Heilbroner told about France in 1666 matches up with what's happening today with the way the recording industry has reacted to innovations that have challenged their business models. Just two paragraphs highlight a couple of situations with striking similarities to the world today:
"The question has come up whether a guild master of the weaving industry should be allowed to try an innovation in his product. The verdict: 'If a cloth weaver intends to process a piece according to his own invention, he must not set it on the loom, but should obtain permission from the judges of the town to employ the number and length of threads that he desires, after the question has been considered by four of the oldest merchants and four of the oldest weavers of the guild.' One can imagine how many suggestions for change were tolerated.

Shortly after the matter of cloth weaving has been disposed of, the button makers guild raises a cry of outrage; the tailors are beginning to make buttons out of cloth, an unheard-of thing. The government, indignant that an innovation should threaten a settled industry, imposes a fine on the cloth-button makers. But the wardens of the button guild are not yet satisfied. They demand the right to search people's homes and wardrobes and fine and even arrest them on the streets if they are seen wearing these subversive goods."
Requiring permission to innovate? Feeling entitled to search others' property? Getting the power to act like law enforcement in order to fine or arrest those who are taking part in activities that challenge your business model? Don't these all sound quite familiar? Centuries from now (hopefully much, much sooner), the actions of the RIAA, MPAA and others that match those of the weavers and button-makers of 17th century France will seem just as ridiculous.


If you're looking to catch up on the posts in the series, I've listed them out below:

Economics Of Abundance Getting Some Well Deserved Attention
The Importance Of Zero In Destroying The Scarcity Myth Of Economics
The Economics Of Abundance Is Not A Moral Issue
A Lack Of Scarcity Has (Almost) Nothing To Do With Piracy
A Lack Of Scarcity Feeds The Long Tail By Increasing The Pie
Why The Lack Of Scarcity In Economics Is Getting More Important Now

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  1. identicon
    simon, 11 Jan 2007 @ 3:02pm

    so how come

    so how come when another party (see here allofmp3's like) make-it in sales, without their initiative, consent, whatever, with same kind of legal product (because they are legal in their country) are slapped down and constrict by pressure (see Credit Card refusal to collaborate) and their money in legal fees (up to 20% from sales) were turned down

    RIAA ans MPAA stick to same platform sale : cda/whatever, ignoring what they are selling, who cares this day about a cd , so soft and easy to deteriorate, all want digital format, high quality, playable on all supports at affordable prices to kick out free, high compressed, low quality digital music available on share networks

    yes, we wanna buy the music, yes we want to buy the films, yes i want to go with my external hard drive at shop and say how much this movie costs, please put-it on my hard-drive and mark-it as purchased on my personal card, so i can retrieve-it again at service price anytime i will desire from shop.

    i want to see a shop offering this : come with your personal digital support and get your movie from us: high definition, rental for 3$ , 1-5 views, no copy option, media player included , full purchase, 12-15$ option to retrieve at any time again for only 1-2$ service cost ...

    same thing for music/music albums/ whatever including print-outs, etc ...


    and i wanna see them worldwide so i can get them too here in belgium ,without having to download lower quality ones from share networks, due to traffic limitation ...

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