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. icon
    Dark Helmet (profile), 12 Aug 2010 @ 1:00pm


    "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."

    Yeah, not even close. I for one am going to be unveiling my own experiment using the things I've learned on TechDirt and related sites. Things learned not only from Mike and the TD crew but from the commentors as well, both affirmative and dissenting viewpoints. I hardly think I'm the only one....

    "Your enemy is big, organized, and willing to put their money where their mouth is."

    Here's the thing: they actually aren't OUR enemy. It's just that sometimes we appear to be theirs....

    "You pay $20,000 in taxes every year and they pay $200M."

    Which, according to the rules of a Republic, should mean exactly dick....

    "They hire lobbyists and you sit at home writing blog posts."

    Thank you for pointing out that the system is broken. I wonder what the real substantiative difference between blog posts and the Federalist Papers are....

    "They contribute to campaigns with real dollars and you check the box on your 1040 that donates $3 to presidential campaigns of the future."

    Way to not even mention voting in there, skippy....

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