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

Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread

  1. icon
    charliebrown (profile), 13 Aug 2010 @ 11:05am

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    "You see the record industry have a drop of 1/3 of their revenues, that was when they decided to stop suing people"

    Are you sure these events are related? Because around the same time as they decided to stop suing people, there was also a global economic crisis, HDTV and BluRay took off more (thus people spending money elsewhere) plus the fact that a lot of people have stopped replacing old CD's with new remasters of old album (the Beatles collection is an EXCEPTION to this).

    And from where exactly did you get the figure of their revenue dropping by 1/3 at the same time they stopped suing people? Seriously, their revenue might have dropped by 1/3 in 2009 compared to 2000, but in that time CD's had to compete with the DVD's, the PlayStation 2 and 3, the xBox and xBox 360, home TV upgrades to LCDHDTV's, the PC explosion (and PC's aren't all filled with pirated music and software, you buy a PC and Windows ain't free, it is included in the price!)

    Take the DVD example: More people were buying CD's than videos in, say, 1995 because videos were relatively expensive compared to CD's whereas now a DVD player is cheaper than a VCR ever was and older DVD releases of movies are way cheaper than the VHS equivalent ever was. So if they are cheaper, could they spend the money they are saving on CD's? Maybe, but they are in the DVD section and not thinking about CD's at all.

    If you ask me, the music industry's biggest competitor is itself. Think about why iTunes took off: Convenience? Yeah, but a large part of the reason was after all these years people were no longer forced to but the whole album for the songs they wanted. Yes there are some great albums out there so I will not use the "Albums have two good songs and the rest are crap" argument. Just because an album is a good album, doesn't mean everybody wants the whole album. Why do you think there's so many greatest hits and best of CD's?

Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter

Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Follow Techdirt
Techdirt Gear
Shop Now: I Invented Email
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Recent Stories
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads


Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.