I wish that I could say that I read last Sunday’s article in the Tennessean about Mitch Bainwol’s speech at the recent Nashville Digital Music Summit, with interest; but that would be a bit of a lie. Bainwol, the current chairman of the RIAA, was detailing the organization’s newest strategies against online music piracy, all of which seem like more and more sophisticated ‘whack a mole’ games. The same article spoke of the industry’s ever oppressive 360 deals, which seem to alienate artists in the same way that the heavy handed attitude towards piracy has alienated fans.
I don’t want to be misunderstood. I am a complete believer in intellectual property rights and as a copyright lawyer, I will diligently enforce my client’s rights against infringement. However, I am becoming more and more convinced that the way to combat piracy in the digital world is through education and making an attractive, accessible product that people actually want to buy and own. We are in the midst of a great cultural shift and nowhere is it more apparent than in consumer’s relationship to music. All of us geezers lament the demise of the traditional retail record store. Not only did these businesses keep us current on new releases and new artists but they also had a social component to them. As so many people have commented, this social component has now moved almost exclusively online. This is not just affecting the retail component.
In his influential email post, Bob Lefsetz recently reported the following facts:
Time spent listening to radio by 12-24 year olds has dropped from 2 hours and 43 minutes in 2000 to 1 hour and 24 minutes today.
Time spent surfing the Web has jumped from 59 minutes a day to 2 hours and 52 minutes.
Another blogger whom I read religiously, James Marshall (whose site is called “The Hound Blog”) recently wrote that though we miss record stores and newsstands, there is some compensation in the fact that we can dial up almost any obscure music and film footage on You Tube. This also should convince people that the consumers have migrated online and that they are going to access music online. The history of technology has shown us that if the music industry keeps trying to erect barricades online, the young technocrats will simply find ways to remove them, legally or illegally.
I think the answer is coming, somewhere in the near future. The outline is emerging. In the short term the battles will continue to be fought but I believe that the only way to really stop piracy is to educate the audience-show them how songwriters and artists actually struggle to make a living, teach them that this is a penny business and that their pennies make a difference. That’s got to be better than the current Big Brother approach.