How Many Times Will Content Industries Claim The Sky Is Falling Before People Stop Believing Them?

from the crying-wolf dept

Michael Scott points us to a fantastic draft paper by respected intellectual property lawyer/scholar Mark Lemley recapping the long history of content industries declaring that the sky is falling every time a new technology hits the scene. From photographs (going to destroy painting) to musical recordings (going to destroy live music) to radio (going to destroy recorded music) to cable TV (going to destroy regular TV) to the photocopier (going to destroy books) to the VCR (going to destroy the movie industry) to audio cassettes (home taping is killing music) to the MP3 player (ditto) to file sharing (ditto) to the DVR (killing TV) and onwards -- the content industries seem to have a problem in immediately declaring that the sky is falling... when it turns out it's never actually falling at all. The paper is a quick read and quite enjoyable. Now, I should admit that I had no idea that the paper gives me an all-too-kind and surprising name check at the end, which I didn't know about until I reached that part of the paper, but I had actually already started writing up this post, so hopefully no one thinks that influenced my decision to write about it.

There isn't necessarily anything new in the paper. Many of you probably know all of these stories, and they've been discussed at length over the years in posts and comments here on Techdirt. However, it's nice to put a bunch of them together in a single document just to highlight the same pattern over and over again:
  1. New technology
  2. Legacy industry freaks out saying the world is ending
  3. Industry flocks to DC & the courts to demand fixing
  4. Turns out that the new technology actually increases the market
Given how many times this has happened, isn't it about time that politicians, judges and the press stopped just believing the industry every time they make this claim? Shouldn't the burden of proof really be on these industries to prove that they're actually being destroyed?

And, yes, many of these technologies did require changes to business models -- which may have meant that some legacy players went out of business. But failing companies and failing industries are two totally different things. It's important to remember that. As Lemley notes in the paper:
The content industry, it seems, has a Chicken Little problem.

It may, in fact, be the case that the sky is falling. But, if you claim that the sky is falling whenever a new technology threatens an existing business model, the rest of the world can be forgiven for not believing you when you claim that this time around it's going to be different than all of the other times. Now, let's be clear, each one of these technologies changed the business model of the industry. They caused certain revenue streams to decline. But they also opened up new ones.

Filed Under: business models, chicken little, content, innovation, mark lemley, predictions, technology


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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Aug 2010 @ 12:39pm

    You could try the alternate strategy:

    1. Opinion blog complains that government and corporations are unfairly colluding to disenfranchise people.

    2. Commenters shout "me too!" to the heavens.

    3. Nothing happens.

    For a blog and a community that are all about "adapt or die" or "if you can't compete then go out of business" there's not much adaptation or competition going on. Just a bunch of bitching that your enemy has stacked the rules against you. It's like the British army complaining that the colonials don't fight fair by lining up in rows with brightly colored jackets on.

    Except it's worse because you aren't even on the battlefield. You're huddled in cafes wearing black turtlenecks. You've come to a war armed for academic debate.

    Your enemy is big, organized, and willing to put their money where their mouth is. You pay $20,000 in taxes every year and they pay $200M. They hire lobbyists and you sit at home writing blog posts. They contribute to campaigns with real dollars and you check the box on your 1040 that donates $3 to presidential campaigns of the future.

    They understand that business is war, and the goal of war is to win. If you can change the rules to favor you, all the better.

    Enjoy your cappuccinos.

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