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Tuesday, July 29, 2003

Where Have All the Flowers Gone?

There was a time when we used to ask ourselves this question, today it is perhaps imagination we find more lacking. Firstly, many thanks to Francisco for pointing me this link to Tim O'Reilly, commenting on the latest RIAA push against file sharers. O'Reilly makes five good points. Firstly, the main effect of copyright protection is to keep things in obscurity (it is often suggested patents may be used in this way, as a form of protective defence). Secondly, so called 'piracy' functions as what O'Reilly terms progressive taxation: some famous artists lose a little (although as he stresses, even this point is not proven) whilst many, many more come to get known. Thirdly, he argues that customers want to do the right thing if they can. He backs this point up by asserting that books published by O'Reilly which are also to be found online do not lose sales. This latter point is perhaps more debateable, since perhaps people buy because they have not yet got into the habit of working 100% online. Certainly, speaking anecdotally, I have noticed that people tend to progress, initially printing material out, and then becoming more happy to work from the screen. No, I think the big factor is time and earnings. The file sharers are largely adolescents and students. People who have lots of time and little money, then when they have more money and less time they may buy. Fourthly he says, online sharing doesn't threaten book publishing, only the incumbents. And fifthly, the lower quality free service, is normally followed by a better 'paid' version (like Blogger Professional Hmm, Hmm).

I initially used to print a lot of material to read in the metro, or while having coffee, or...... Little by little, I stopped doing this. Now I read all digital material from the screen, and find I have more time for reading books (from, of course, Amazon) in the metro, having coffee,......

Also my experience of music and file sharing confirms one of O'Reilly's points. I have been buying more CD's since I started sharing. One of the most useful activities is browsing the collections of another sharer. This is were you can discover music and sample it. It is a role radio also plays, but, as is often pointed out, we hear a lot fewer complaints about 'free music' on radio. Indeed, when I was a teenager, the so-called 'pirates' had ships of-shore from the UK playing 24 hour pop music, the record indusrty has not only learned to live with this 'piracy', it has now grown rich from it. When, as the song goes, will they ever learn?

More than 100,000 books are published each year, with several million books in print, yet fewer than 10,000 of those new books have any significant sales, and only a hundred thousand or so of all the books in print are carried in even the largest stores. Most books have a few months on the shelves of the major chains, and then wait in the darkness of warehouses from which they will move only to the recycling bin. Authors think that getting a publisher will be the realization of their dreams, but for so many, it's just the start of a long disappointment.............

For all of these creative artists, most laboring in obscurity, being well-enough known to be pirated would be a crowning achievement. Piracy is a kind of progressive taxation, which may shave a few percentage points off the sales of well-known artists (and I say "may" because even that point is not proven), in exchange for massive benefits to the far greater number for whom exposure may lead to increased revenues...........

I have watched my 19 year-old daughter and her friends sample countless bands on Napster and Kazaa and, enthusiastic for their music, go out to purchase CDs. My daughter now owns more CDs than I have collected in a lifetime of less exploratory listening. What's more, she has introduced me to her favorite music, and I too have bought CDs as a result. And no, she isn't downloading Britney Spears, but forgotten bands from the 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s, as well as their musical forebears in other genres. This is music that is difficult to find -- except online -- but, once found, leads to a focused search for CDs, records, and other artifacts. eBay is doing a nice business with much of this material, even if the RIAA fails to see the opportunity.
Source: Open P2P

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