August 04, 2003
News Media Reports Chaos and Controversy in the Digital Media Industry

Where to begin? I can't tell if there really is as much chaos as has been reported over the past few days, between music company lawsuits, parents facing tuition and a subpoena (for the fall semester), the general state of the media business, and reactions from the public, ISPs and Congress, the RIAA picked a great time to stir things up, bringing about many more questions than answers. Nobody involved could possibly be having a restful vacation season right now.... Happy Summer!

Carrie Kirby/SFGate report the FTC alert issued on file-sharing: Without taking a stand on the controversial issue of trading music and other files on the Internet, the Federal Trade Commission is advising people to step carefully if they dabble in file sharing.

Ryan Naraine/internet.com notes that Universal Music Defends DRM; P2P Litigation: In a lively keynote presentation at the Jupiter Plug.IN Conference & Expo here Tuesday, (Larry) Kenswil (President of Universal Music Group) slammed pundits who have been "trying to dictate how to reinvent the music business" by encouraging the theft of copyrighted works. "The bickering among record companies, publishers and retailers is impeding progress. We need to focus on making sure the pie is large enough to slice in a number of ways," Kenswil added.

Phil Kloer/Atlanta Journal-Constitution says in Music downloading. Say you want a revolution? It's war between record labels and downloading fans (htm): This is the spirit of rock 'n' roll, of instant gratification and anti-authoritarianism. And it's that very spirit that has the entire music business shaking in its Doc Martens. Because you're hard-pressed to find a kid at Warped who isn't downloading -- illegally, for free, sometimes in massive quantities -- the very music he or she has come to glory in.

But then Geoff Boucher/LATimes says Now fans call the tune, The same era that has vexed the recording industry has brought more control to the consumer (htm):

In a music world in upheaval, iTunes, with its paid downloads of music, is the closest thing to an interim government in the lawless land created by Napster and its revolutionary ilk, and while its future is uncertain there is no denying that the real estate on Third Street in Santa Monica is a foothold in a brash new world.

The sunny visions of those Apple commercials are hard to reconcile with the gloom and doom that have been pervasive in the music industry in recent years. The grim chorus is now as familiar to the public as any Top 40 hit: Piracy has gutted profits, CD sales are going steadily south for the first time since the format was introduced in the 1980s, corporate conglomeration has stultified any art in the commerce of record labels, radio and the concert business.

The chaos inspires in some a belief that better times are ahead, not just for fans but also for artists and the business thinkers willing to jettison the view that giving away music is tantamount to condoning high-tech shoplifting. One of those thinkers is (David) Benveniste (also manager for System of a Down). While many in the music industry have been scrambling to halt file sharing (indeed, the Recording Industry Assn. of America is now pursuing hundreds of subpoenas that would force Internet service providers to reveal the names of particularly prolific online music bandits), Benveniste exults in mailing out free music to fans and creating as much Internet buzz as possible.

"Look, the kids are so smart these days, they can find, retrieve, disseminate, produce any piece of music or technology now on the Internet. They can take a song, send it to a friend in North Africa, remix it how they want, make their own video for it and make it their own. And that technology makes them so powerful. It's not about the radio programmers anymore or promoters. It's about a kid in homeroom in Iowa now. Everything is different now." (Benveniste) Reminds me of the cultural populists refered to in this definition of Semiotic Democracy.

But the LATimes also has an OpEd on the Tone-Deaf Music Industry (htm): What is euphemistically called trading music online is theft, most of it petty. Songs downloaded free deny artists and record companies their due. Even so, the recording industry has abetted the robbery with its own greed and ineptitude. Though the industry is showing a glimmer that it understands there are better ways to deal with the problem, it also is employing a legal blunderbuss to pursue small-time downloaders as big-time criminals.

Jon Healey/LATimes also reports on negotiations between the music industry and universities: New Tactic Planned in Antipiracy Campaign (htm) even while Anthony D'Amato/Chicago Sun Times reports that universities are turning over students and becoming in essence part of the law enforcement side of things: Loyola hits sour note in naming students in Net music case (htm).

Then there's Charles Haddad in Business Week's Byte of the Apple talks about Why iTunes Has Bands on the Run, Music fans are making their feelings clear: Online services such as Apple's put consumers in control of what they buy, not artists talking about, among other things, the debate between fans of albums verses singles and what effect that has on the digital music industry.

Marrecca Fiore/Utica Observer-Dispatch on Music piracy, more competition cutting into record store profits.

Sara Steffens/Contra Costa Times has Generation Download, Teens, young adults who have grown up digital aren't keen to follow analog rules

And Terry Lawson/Detroit Free Press on Billboard's chart of digital downloads reflects changes in industry: If legal downloading does put a dent in file-sharing shoplifting, it could have ramifications the music industry doesn't expect.

One scenario is a return to the early 1960s, when 89-cent singles outsold albums, generally priced at about $4, 50-to-one. If you've ever wondered why original Motown albums are hot in the collectors' market, it's simple. It wasn't until the mid-'60s that Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye began recording tracks meant to be listened to in sequence, a la albums by the Beatles and Rolling Stones. Before that, only hard-core fans bought Supremes albums, which were padded with covers and singles rejects. Motown's most successful albums were always its hit-singles collections.

Then there's My-Ly Nguyen/Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin piece on Fearless file sharing, Some music downloaders have no qualms about breaking copyright laws.

Kevin Bermeister/Biz2.0: Toward a Law-Abiding Kazaa, The technology exists to make P2P work for legitimate, copyright-protected content. But first, media companies have to stop suing and start acting in their own interests. (sub req) (or htm) says The age of superdistribution is upon us: Users expect all content -- protected or otherwise -- to be available to them on demand.

Eric Hellweg/Biz2.0 asks Will Napster 2.0 Be Music to Investors' Ears? Trading jumped when Roxio announced it was relaunching the service, but serious hurdles stand in the way of success.

Marc Ferranti/IDG News Service says Doubts Still Plague Online Music, looking at marketing, ease of use and flat fees and other distribution arrangements. A big issue is still securing rights to content.

Mark Rasch/Security Focus and the Register "Copying is Theft ..." And other legal myths in the looming battle over peer-to-peer on the music industries insistence that all copying is theft... So "copying" is not "stealing" but can be "infringing," (according to the Supreme Court). That doesn't have the same sound bite quality as Valente's position. (also at The Register)

And in the business side of things, Mark Landler/NYTimes says Bertlesmann is reducing debt (htm), sitting out the sale of Vivendi assets, as well as pulling back on talks to combine BMG with Warner Music Group. And having restful vacations as well.

And for fun, Gary Marshall/Guardian looks at viral marketing and the recent Metallica spoof, and the ways that the whole episode helped Unfaith get some attention.

Posted by Mary Hodder at August 04, 2003 09:10 AM
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