Learn to Dance
January 23, 2008
This is a reprise of a comment I wrote on a personal (now defunct) web site many years ago. I resurrected it because there was another article published in Baseline Magazine on a topic that just refuses to die. The Recording Industry Association of America finally won a lawsuit against an individual in 2007 for illegally downloading copyrighted music.
Plain and simple, the RIAA blew their digital music chance and are trying to close the gates after the horses have all left the barn. I am sure the RIAA will be the topic of business school courses for the next hundred years, but here is one more take on it.
Back when the digitization of audio (including music) became easy and simple there were interviews and articles with recording industry executives who said that the industry would be reviewing these technologies, and that when they found a way to get soup to nuts intellectual property security around the entire digitization process (read – how to keep the dollars in their own hands) they would determine how the business “model” would work. (to favour the RIAA of course)
At the time, I thought that it was not the brightest move to make. Sure enough fairly soon a kid named Shawn Fanning let the proverbial digital cat out of the copyright bag with Napster (now a trademark of Roxio). Napster allowed easy access to down loadable music – without much thought given to the copyright owner of that music.
Next, the Long Jump
Fast forward a few years and Apple Corporations iTunes is making buckets of money selling down loadable digital music for which the RIAA gets a small royalty payment.
The RIAA fell into what I call the Long Jump view of technological and business innovation; Namely, try to predict the future, then take a huge leap for that glimpse of future – hoping that you get every technological, legal, consumer, and other ducks all in the perfect row – then land on that perfect future track to a standing ovation and a new world record.
Sorry ladies and gentlemen – it doesn’t work that way any more. While you are in that long jump, the world turns beneath you and you miss every duck, and miss the track as well.
So, in this long jump for intellectual property perfection, what the RIAA actually got was alternative methods of free downloading, then paid methods of downloading owned by someone else! They may actually have become marginalized in their own industry. So much for the standing ovation and new world record.
Learn to dance
What the RIAA should have done was to learn how to dance. Rather than taking a huge leap with unknown (and unknowable) outcomes, take a small step, pause – review what has changed, the risks, and the next possible step, then step again.
There was no perfect technology for their problem (there may never be!) but other industries were already working their way through that. For example, there was already an existing digital play book available! Companies like McAfee and Norton both made millions in that time frame allowing use of their commercial products through what was called “trial ware” (or more cynically “nag ware”). If you had a PC in the Mid to late ’90’s you probably had one of their Anti-Virus products on it. The premise was simple – let people download it, try it, the software would “nag” you regularly to pay for it, you pay for it and the nagging goes away.
These companies had already identified that the majority of consumers will pay for a product if there is a legal way to do so!
Apples iTunes of course has proven it again. Sure, a minority will continue to try and “hack” in and steal any product, but if legal alternatives exist, the majority of us will go the legal route.
So the RIAA dance could have looked like this;
The RIAA invents a music download tool – no Napster needed!. However when you download and play the song, the beginning, middle and end has cut outs that overlays the “Please Buy This Product” message. You pay for it, the nag goes away. You share it to someone else, and because they don’t have the license, the “nag” returns.
Then we pause and see the next steps, as the technology matures and evolves, maybe the next step is the RIAA A-Tunes rather than Apples iTunes, and Pause. And Step, maybe it is the RIAA’s streaming media subscription web site “personal radio station” that we are listening to, and Pause. And Step, how about the RIAA being the negotiator with Smart Phone manufacturers for those music clips being downloaded to every possible device.
None of which will happen now of course – that all happened without them as they were hurtling through their Long Jump.