Dougal Campbell's geek ramblings

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Warnings and Promises

Glenn McDonald has written an excellent open letter to the music industry titled Warnings and Promises, explaining what he’s been “stealing” from them, and why.

I have been one of the last independent apologists for a moral kernel, elusive now to perhaps the point of imagination, in your corrupt and desperate retreat, but now even I have given up. I still buy, but now I also steal. You have forfeited your right to my loyalty. And maybe you’re too lost and beaten to care, and even more likely it’s too late to matter, but for a few minutes I’m going to pretend that neither of those things are so. I’m going to pretend that you’re still capable of awareness and reason, and in a spirit of truth that you long ago stopped deserving, while I’ve still taken little enough to list, I’m going to tell you exactly what I have stolen from you, and why.

via: kottke

He goes on to list various albums that he has obtained, and why he didn’t buy legitimate copies. The reasons include: unreasonably priced imports which haven’t been released in the U.S. yet, out-of-print titles, albums that he already owns, but can’t find the physical copy, and titles which are only available in other countries.

He makes excellent points about how the industry brings a lot of this down upon themselves. And in this age of electronic media, the music companies are going to have to evolve their ideas about distribution, pricing models, and control. Their attempts to tighten their grip on content only serves to frustrate the “power users” amongst their customers. And the repeated extensions to copyright lifetimes only seems to stifle artistic growth by budding artists. Patents only last, what, 17 years? Why the heck should copyrights last 100?

More and more independent artists are choosing to self-publish, choosing their own licensing terms, selling directly to the public, and finding ways to expand their fan base without the help of the industry. If the media companies don’t adapt, and find new ways to add value to what they offer this new breed of artists, they very well could become obsolete in a few years. Their best bet will probably be some sort of “embrace and extend” strategy. Do some research to find the best of the independent artists. Sign them up with short-term contracts. Then, rather than trying to do a massive CD sales campaign, do smaller CD runs (less overall capital expense), but heavily promote sales via online methods. Ditch the DRM (because people will defeat it anyways), make the online track/album prices reasonable ($0.99/track is too much, IMHO), and do some targetted tours with the best selling artists. This kind of strategy would probably benefit both artists and fans. And with less money spent on producing a physical product, they could concentrate more on the almost pure-profit sales of MP3s (or Oggs, if they’re really hip).

See also: Copyright Wrongs, via BoingBoing.

About Dougal Campbell

Dougal is a web developer, and a "Developer Emeritus" for the WordPress platform. When he's not coding PHP, Perl, CSS, JavaScript, or whatnot, he spends time with his wife, three children, a dog, and a cat in their Atlanta area home.
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6 Responses to Warnings and Promises

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  2. Xial says:

    Y’know, that’s quite the read.

    I’m somewhat inspired to do similar, though my list would be a fair chunk longer and the corresponding entry a fair bit shorter.

  3. Tristan says:

    An interesting read, sure, but it’s just focused on the individual. Individual reasons for stealing music don’t matter here; they’re looking at macroeconomics of their industry, and you losing your copy of an African dance CD doesn’t mean anything in that context.

    The truth is, we steal music because it’s free and easy. There is no better explanation. Everything else is just excuses.

    The second truth is, the music industry needs to realize that they can’t stop that behavior no matter what they do. The Internet makes music free, open, and non-rival in consumption, and they can’t deal with their product having that kind of market. I have a better way…

    Three steps to a better music industry:

    1. Believe in the honesty of your customers, not their criminal intent.
    2. Know that negative action toward customers will only lead to disloyalty and dishonesty.
    3. Take advantage of this incredible new distribution medium to provide the best service possible, and don’t so much as think about its negative side effects (see step 1).

    There. Simple. Easy. And it will work if they do it, I’m convinced. It’s the best thing for all parties, and every part makes sense: Step 1 implies that they stop fighting their customers, step 2 is the principle behind it, and step 3 is the market they need to embrace.

  4. Doug says:

    I steal all my music. The DVD industry has been smart to give people what they want, although I will admit that I made a sizable illegal purchase of a TV show that isn’t on DVD as of yet that I desperately wanted, since it is the indisputably best TV show ever (Rocko’s Modern Life). And music is so much more popular than DVD! I love music but hate the music industry!

  5. Mark says:

    The music industry is on a two step forward, 1.9 steps back model. You see a few smart things, promoting new artists on sites like iTunes with free downloads, but tons more stupidity. Now we have the ultimate in the “subscription” model. Join whatever service, pay ’em each month for all you can download, just don’t try to burn a CD of it, don’t try to move it to another machine, and forget about listening to it when you tire of paying every month.


  6. Jerry says:

    It’s a very complex problem. The culture is of primary importance in my life and I do not want to risk his death.

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