One of the things I like about air travel is a block of time to catch up on blog postings that otherwise would get a quick scan and that would be that.
Fred Wilson, a VC in NY has a post up which he calls Online Music Musings. It’s always risky to take quotes from somebody else’s entries because I don’t want to make my point via an out of context shot at somebody else. So, if there is any doubt on what I’m saying here, please read Fred’s entire post.
One other disclaimer is that I have an investment in a music technology company called Predixis, so keep that in mind as well.
In his post Fred talks about Snocap, the technology company that basically goes out, finds/indexes music on the P2P network so that an content owner can tell Snocap, this is my stuff and Snocap can register it in her database. Then, a participating P2P will not allow a music file to get transfered without first checking with Snocap to see what the rights are. If the track is registered to an artist and the artist says, yeah fine, the transfer takes place, if the artist says, no or play a sample, or 3 times then pay, or whatever, that’s what happens.
Fred likes the basic P2P model. In his words:
“They include most, if not all, of the music that is available online because the users are the ones creating the network (peer production). Peer to peer networks include bootlegs, mashups, and most anything you'd ever want to find. So the peer to peer networks are comprehensive whereas iTunes is not.”
He is right. P2P networks are good things that scale, are easy to use and make efficient use of all that computing/network power out there.
Fred makes this comment about P2P networks:
“I use peer to peer networks all the time to get music that isn't available on iTunes or some other legit online music store. I'd be happy to pay for the privledge, but have never been asked to do so. I suppose that makes me a thief, but I suggest that it makes me a lost customer instead.
So when Mashboxx launches, I will gladly use it and pay for the music I am finding on peer to peer networks that is not on iTunes.”
My first point of contention with Fred is this rationalization that if he isn’t given an opportunity to buy it, getting it doesn’t make him a thief rather a lost customer. I think this notion of “I’d pay if you’d let me” is just hypocrisy at it’s best.
The clerk went in the back room, I couldn’t wait so I took the candy bar but if the guy had been at the counter I would have gladly paid for it. Extreme example? Yes, but it is to make the point. Let’s just call it what it is. People like Fred, will continue to steal music if there isn’t a brain dead easy way for people to consume it. I doubt Fred actually steals software, HBO, or his groceries, and fairly certain if the kiddos showed up one day after school with a bag full of unpaid for goodies, Fred would not be a happy dad.
To me it is simple. Let’s say you hear a new artist on the radio called, say FreddieW. Cool new song, you think. I’ll even extend the example to make the point. The radio station says the CD is exclusively available for a limited time at Barnes and Noble. You remember the artist and fire up iTunes. No such artist. Hmm. You crank up your P2P client and sure enough, there is the track because somebody ripped the CD and put the tracks up. Presto, you have the track.
Using Fred’s logic and assuming he would pay if asked, he’s fine with claiming lost customer status.
But what if the artist produced that CD and, on purpose, for whatever reason, doesn’t have his music available in digital format. Suppose, for that artist, the whole CD, liner notes, lyrics, etc, tell an entire story, give an entire experience that he, the artist wants to produce. He chooses to limit his customer base to those that want the CD in its entirety. That is the artist’s choice, not Fred’s and not the choice of the person that ripped the CD and put that music into the digital world. And once it gets into the digital world, that is not clearance for Fred’s dubious “lost customer logic” to kick in.
The artist didn’t ask Fred to pay for one track or the CD in digital format and that is the artist’s choice Hiding behind not being asked to pay as an excuse for supporting the notion of stealing is just not creditable.
Then Fred takes aim at the content owners with this part. I’ve quoted a large chunk because I am trying not to take it out of context.
“First, and most important, are the intentions of the content owners. We have learned that we cannot trust them to understand the value of online distribution. The last line in this paragraph in Saul Hansell's article is what concerns me:
Then they will enter into the registry the terms on which those files can be traded. It could be just like iTunes - pay 99 cents, and you own it - or it could be trickier: listen to it five times free, then buy it if you like it. Or it could be beneficent: listen to it free forever and (hopefully) buy tickets to the artist's next concert. Of course, the rights holders could also play tough: this is not for sale or for trading, and you can't have it.
If that's the approach they take, I'll just keep using Limewire. Content I can't have isn't an acceptable answer in my book. I understand that there are rights issues. But I don't really care about them. If its available online, I'll get it one way or another and you can't sue all of america just because you've made some stupid deals on the rights to your content”
Let’s start with this notion of trust. I’ve read that line at least 50 times and as I’m siting here at 32,000 feet, I’m still hoping that this isn’t what Fred really meant but it’s out there. To quote it stand alone:
“We have learned that we cannot trust them to understand the value of online distribution.”
Maybe Fred meant that content owners have not yet been convinced of online distribution or maybe he was taking aim at some big record label or some such, I really don’t know but content owners should be offended by this comment as it stands. It’s up to the ‘we’ to sell the idea of online distribution not up to the artist to take ‘trust me’ as comfort for protecting her work.
If a content owner and I mean the original artist wants to get paid, that is their choice and if the content owner doesn’t want it traded that is also their choice. Choice, free enterprise, capitalism, all the really good stuff that let’s me enjoy this job are the same tenants that give artist the complete and unfettered right to starve and get zero sales. If they sell the CD for a million dollars and nobody buys it, that is the choice of the artist.
It is not for the mysterious “we” to impose this notion of trust on an artist that in effect says do it my way or I’ll simply steal it. How smug and arrogant is that. But, clearly Fred didn’t mean that so I’m left with trying to understand what this line really meant.
I’m not going to attempt to even try to understand the phrase “content I can’t have isn’t an acceptable answer in my book” because it smacks so bad of a Conrad Black entitlement speech that it clearly was part of another thought that got edited wrong.
Unfortunately, Fred continues on with this notion of my way or I’ll just steal it. Fred makes it plain he doesn’t care about rights issues. And, as you can read, it is in the context of either let me have it my way or I’ll just steal it or in his words, “get it one way or another.”
There is the key “If its available online” piece that is particularly bothersome. If the artist didn’t intend to put it online and somebody rips the CD which then gets it online, does that give Fred’s argument weight to say, too bad, it’s online, didn’t trust you anyway, so too bad it’s now on my Ipod. I hope not.
That paragraph then attempts to shift the issue right back to the owner of the content. Too bad, Mr. Artist, cut a dumb deal that doesn’t allow you to put your music up where I can get it, bite me; I’ll just get it. Again, this has to be a bad editing job on the part of Fred because this is just ridiculous on its face.
The indie musician that puts his or her CD up on CD Baby for sale has NO deal cut with anybody and, according to Fred’s logic if that person doesn’t want his tracks up, too bad, you can’t be trusted and if you can’t be trusted and I’m not quickly and easily asked by you to pay for the song my way, I’ll steal it or, again “get it one way or another.” I encourage you to read the arrangement people have with CD Baby. It’s simple. Send us 3 copies of your CD and we will list it. Let us know if you want to have samples online, etc, etc. All choices of the artist and totally under the artist’s control.
Fred complains about having to pay for music more then once and on that point he is right. He wants a simple service that he pays one fee and he gets whatever he wants whenever he wants. And he is ready to pay. All of this is fine but it doesn’t justify all the preceding noise about lost customers, not caring about rights issues and basically saying put your music where I can get it or I’ll steal it nonsense.
Fred tries to end on a reasonable up note:
“I hope this works out at least well enough to encourage the content creators and the content owners to continue to move in the direction of peer to peer networks, open and comprehensive catalogs, and easy payment mechanisms.”
As well, I give the man credit for being refreshingly honest even if the logic is, in my opinion, flawed.
And for the record, DRM today sucks beyond belief. I had to write this in silence because my 80 gigs of music is dead in the water. Why? I haven’t phoned home to Napster recently. They have my money but I, right now, don’t have my music because Napster hasn’t seen my PC. Clearly, DRM of today is not encouraging people to play fair either.