One of the things that I get worked up about, at the moment at least, is copyright restrictions. A fantastically brief summary is that entertainment industry folks want to be able to control how we consume various copyrighted entertainments. This is an understandable thing – if everyone can use Napster-clones to copy music for free, the industry loses out. The problem is that in restricting use they are looking to a) prevent legitimate uses (such as making an mp3 copy of a CD to listen to solely on my PC), and b) potentially looking to extend this control beyond their justifiable defense, so that I can’t watch a TV program without having to watch the ads. Maybe they’ll have an automatic strap to keep me in my chair one day soon?
But I read a cartoon (of all things) that highlighted an obvious point to me. Using the example of music, an artist routinely gets a dollar for each CD sold, from which they have to pay various expenses and feed their family. So making the numbers easy, the artist gets 10 cents for each track on an album. Everything else is subsidiary. The money paid by the studio to promote the artist, ship CDs, etc. is all secondary to the artist creating a song and me paying to listen to it. That doesn’t mean that the promotion is a waste, or that I don’t appreciate being able to own a physical CD. It’s just not the key feature.
So far so good. What the cartoon highlighted is:
1. I could pay the artist 15 cents per track. I wouldn’t think twice about doing that – 15 cents is scarcely even small change any more. But I get my music, and the artist still gets more than if we were using the traditional approach. The people who lose out (the industry surrounding the artist) don’t like it, but as I’ve just said, they are secondary.
2. I would have no reason to share the music. Why would I want to use up my resources making the latest Metallica CD available on Napster? It costs me money (a small but real amount), deprives an artist I presumably like (not Metallica!) of revenue that he deserves, and all to save a stranger 15 cents.
3. I’ve always been concerned that downloading music deprives you of a nice physical item that you can keep for ever. If my hard drive crashes I lose all that music (and money). But I can burn the tracks onto a CD easily enough. So with just a little organization the most I’ll lose is a CD containing maybe $16 of songs (assuming the CD becomes corrupted over time). Let’s assume that I only actually want half of those songs now that 15 years have passed. So to replace all that music will cost me $8! This is the key insight from the cartoon for me.
4. The corollary of this is that I might actually download multiple copies of the same track! If I’m at a friends house and want him to listen to a new artist, for 15 cents and an hour’s internet access I can give it to him. If I want to listen at work the same thing applies. And all this at virtually no extra cost to the artist!