Re: When is an MP3 file like a lighthouse?

From: Lee Daniel Crocker (
Date: Wed Oct 24 2001 - 10:46:48 MDT

> So it's a little too soon to assume that the music industry as we know
> it is a corpse.

While this author's explanations aren't very rigorous (which is to be
expected for public-consumption prose), the basic facts are hard to avoid.
Any industry that currently _relies_ on the excludability of content is
on its deathbed. Encryption may provide a few last gasps, but it cannot
solve the basic problem (for those who see it as a problem :-)

> This blithely assumes that the only negative consequences will be on the
> people everyone loves to hate, the marketers and publishers. Somehow the
> negative impact on the artists is overlooked here. It would not suit
> the political purpose of this essay to dwell on reduced revenues to
> the creative people who make music and other content.

The negative impact on artists will be primarily to those artists who
presently can earn a living _only_ because of excludability, because
their work isn't good enough for the other revenue models. There may
also be some reduction in he amount of revenue earnable by great artists,
though they will certainly continue to be in demand. He also leaves
out the _positive_ impact on artists who will be freer to make derivatives
and have a larger public domain from which to draw. Let's not pretend
that artists "create" ex nihilo. They are users of content too.

In the market as a whole, demand won't change much--people still want
things as much as they wanted them before. The market will figure out
ways to extract money from people willing to pay for it, and they'll
only be able to do that if they can deliver the goods of talented
artists. So yes, the artists do have less to fear from free content
than do traditional "publishers", but creative marketers will still
have their uses as well.

> > Other textbook public goods are
> > national defense, mosquito control, and public radio.
> Why the adjective "public" in public radio? Is there something about
> public radio which makes it a public good while private radio is not?
> Not that I can see. Both are non-excludable and non-rival, within a
> certain area. Why then would the author have mentioned public radio
> while failing to describe ordinary radio and television as public
> goods? Again I think it is because it wants to lure us into accepting
> a certain model of how to think of this problem.

Agreed. Commercials will be a much bigger part of all content, andI
think the author doesn't want to make that obvious.

> The difference between public radio and other radio is that public
> radio is government funded. Taxes are taken from people who have no
> interest whatsoever in public radio and used to pay for these broadcasts.
> With private radio and TV on the other hand, funding is provided via
> commercials.

Actually, government funding of pulic radio is miniscule. It is primarily
user and private-grant supported (the CPB throws in a few bucks to
produce programs). I'm not sure the author is arguing for government
support here--I'm certainly not.

> Of course another entire category of public goods which has been around
> for centuries is intellectual property: patents, trademarks, copyright.
> Again it is a curious lapse that the author does not mention these,
> and I believe it is because it doesn't fit into the message he is trying
> to send.

Since when are copyrights and patents "goods" at all? Content is the
good. Copyrights and patents are government-created instruments
that change the _nature_ of those goods by making them excludable. No
one actually desires copyrights or patents as an end in themselves--
people desire content and technology; copyrights and patents are a means
to that end. Whether or not they are an effective means is a bigger
issue, but there is no argument that they are just means.

> > If content is becoming a pure public good, it will necessitate a
> > radical rethinking of the recording industry's claim that copying
> > content is stealing. We as a society react very differently toward the
> > unpaid use of rival versus nonrival goods. Think of the punishment
> > inflicted, for example, on those who steal cars versus those who
> > listen to public radio without contributing to the fund drives.
> Here we see how smart he was not to mention existing forms of IP.
> Someone who listens to public radio without contributing is at worst
> a leech. Compare it to someone who steals patented technology, or who
> fraudulently uses someone else's trademark, or republishes a copyrighted
> novel without a license. Most people will think of these activities
> much less favorably than the guy who doesn't pay PBS.

But the author's point is still valid here: these opinions we have are
shaped by culture and tradition, but our gut-reactions are different.
I honestly don't think most children will react the same way to being
told that a man built a copy of another man's machine as he will to
being told that one man took the machine from the other man's house
until that child is introduced to the concept of "patent" and its
justifications. Likewise, even people who _know_ that ripping a CD
is "wrong" under present law make jokes about it, when they would not
think of making those same jokes about people stealing actual CDs.
The things are different, and the author correctly points that out.

> > The lawyers representing the recording and movie industry are well
> > aware of the threat to their business models of digital content, and
> > they believe they have already developed the answer:
> > encryption. Encryption represents the music industry's last, best hope
> > of maintaining their product as excludable. Why they are wrong, and
> > content protection is doomed to failure, will have to wait for the
> > next essay.
> I will look forward to seeing that. But so far I am not impressed with
> the evenhandedness of his discussion.

I'm not sure that was the author's goal here. For one thing, there's
the "equal time" argument: an argument against long-stand tradition and
law is itself equal time to those long-indoctrinated traditions. Why
should he present the side of the status quo, when that side already
has the power? I think what he's trying to do here is show how the
status quo departs from the basic realities, and I think he does that
reasonably well, even if he does wander into speculation a bit.

Lee Daniel Crocker <> <>
"All inventions or works of authorship original to me, herein and past,
are placed irrevocably in the public domain, and may be used or modified
for any purpose, without permission, attribution, or notification."--LDC

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