crypto and public policy

Le Monde confused about file sharing

Filed under: Policy September 17, 2003 @ 12:03 pm

Like many other large publications, Le Monde publishes editorials, which summarize issues poorly and inconsistently. Their take on file sharing initially seems balanced, but this balance is, in fact, based on false assumptions.

In Le Monde’s world, the record companies are selling a product at too high a price, and this high price justifies “stealing.” Record companies need to offer cheaper options, and music listeners need to understand that, without pay, artists won’t produce music. That’s a good summary if you assume that the only way we can ever distribute music is on physical medium like CDs. If you’ve ever handled an MP3 file (and there are at least 60 million Americans who have), you know that is a terribly weak assumption.

The issue is that the record companies are both the producers and distributors of content. Sure, the stores aren’t called “Sony Music” or “BMI,” but they just as well might be. When Napster asked the major labels for a reasonably-priced license to make their service legal, the labels flatly refused and promised Congress they were “working on a comparable solution.” Unsurprisingly, we’re still waiting for this comparable solution.

Today, we have the technology to cheaply deliver any piece of music ever recorded to your car, stereo, or portable music player within seconds (remember the old Qwest commercials?). Why isn’t it happening? Is it because no business model exists that can provide this solution while ensuring that artists make a decent living? Or is it because a handful of large dinosaurs are trying to protect their cartel-level margins on music sales by artificially limiting the available means of distribution?

We shouldn’t protect the old against the new. We need to architect our legal framework to provide incentive for innovation.


  1. ionel:

    that’s a geek answer. the system is broken, let’s rearchitect 😉

  2. Ben Adida:

    well I won’t argue that I’m not a geek 🙂

    I wouldn’t say “rearchitect” necessarily, but certainly think about how our framework should benefit the new instead of locking in the old. Does this need rearchitecting or simply looking at the ways in which we already have compulsory licensing for cable companies, etc…. It’s more of a functional goal than a forced rearchitecture.

  3. chak:

    Compulsory licenses involve a capitulation that the record industry is right and that “we” filesharers are wrong, and that they are somehow owed money every time a song is swapped. Due to all the re-education the RIAA is forcing on us right now, it’s irrelevent whether anyone believes the RIAA should receive money for a song swapped. It’s easier to look at cases long-past, where they got compulsory licensing by making everyone (or at least the important people) think they had a legitimate case. In restaurants, where music may be played over the radio, the restaurateur pays a compulsory license to ASCAP (ok, that’s not the RIAA, but whatever) for you to be able to hear music while you’re there. Your ham-on-rye costs more because of that, even though if you ate the sandwhich in your car while listening to the radio, you don’t have to pay ASCAP. Looking back on this now, it seems ridiculous. So too will paying an extra $5-10/month for internet access because the ISP is forking over a cool million to the RIAA to cover any users who are sharing music.

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