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
    Greevar (profile), 12 Aug 2010 @ 2:35pm

    Threshold System

    Creators can make money on the "Fund and Release" or the "Threshold System". If creators could make art on a contract basis, essentially making something for a predetermined amount, they could produce it. They'd get paid for their work and the pledgers would get their content. But everyone else would get that content as well, for free. By giving away work they were already paid to make, they are getting free publicity to attract more people to create more works. If the threshold isn't met, nobody pays.

    I really like this model, as it ensures that creators can earn a living from their work, but they don't have to restrict the creativity and innovation of the public because they give the work away without restrictions. To further encourage funding of art, the creators could offer special privileges to those that pledge to the project. It could be anything such as special recognition, pledger input on the project, or related merchandise.

    I have already seen this model in action. Paul Ellis, the artist talked about on TechDirt a while back uses fan funding to help create new works, while offering incentives for the fans that fund his work. The AAA Indie project from Zero Point Software is using a fan funding model to pay for production of their games and bypass the need for a publisher to fund their game Interstellar Marines.

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