19 Professors and the Music Business

by on September 30, 2005

Canadian law professors have produced a 600-page book that is being made freely available under a creative commons license in which they make the point that “The public’s interest in copyright, something inconceivable even a few years ago, is the result of the remarkable confluence of computing power, the Internet, and a plethora of new software programs, all of which has not only enabled millions to create their own songs, movies, photos, art, and software but has also allowed them to efficiently distribute their creations electronically without the need for traditional distribution systems”

Apart from the use of the word “plethora” (can we stop using that word now, please?), that sums up the present situation nicely. A couple of weeks ago I posted on Slashdot about this. The “music business” today puts the publisher first before the producer. I’d like to see the musicians having the upper hand, and the listeners literally calling the tunes.

With the Internet performing the role of publisher via search, collaborative filtering and other mechanisms, close to 100% of the money from the purchase of music can go to the artist. Right now, the mechanisms for this (PayPal and, er, PayPal) are in their infancy, but when they mature, musicians will be able to pay accountants, employees, PR, caterers, drug dealers, etc. in the same way as other businesses pay their service providers (accountants, employees, PR, caterers, drug dealers, etc.). They might even like to try some DRM if they want, and see what that’s like ;-)

The record companies aren’t going to go without a fight, but the vast majority of artists earn tiny amounts from their contacts with publishers. How long now until the big flip? I think it’s pretty clear which way the wind’s blowing. Britney Spears: your days are numbered.

But just in case you thought this was a typically misty-eyed Webtorque post, I’m worried about the future after that. With the invisible hand in charge, what will happen? We’ve almost no historical precedent to go on, but what we have looks ominous
:

The one incoherent view is the belief that a free and diverse media will naturally 
tend towards equality. The development of weblogs in their first five years demonstrates 
that is not always true, and gives us reason to suspect it may never be true. Equality 
can only be guaranteed by limiting either diversity or freedom.

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