Reclaiming Sharing

Today, I will be publishing a paper entitled, “Consumer Taste Sharing is Driving The Online Music Business and Democratizing Culture,” which I co-authored with Gartner researcher and Berkman Center collaborator Mike McGuire. The paper was originally published in slightly different form by Gartner. I will also be giving a talk about the paper at the Berkman Center, which will be webcast here.

For frequent readers of this blog, the main thrust of this paper may be familiar. New tools enable consumers to share their musical tastes. Sometimes this means simply sharing the names of artists or songs they like (e.g., playlist sharing) while other forms involve sharing the music itself (e.g., music podcasting). Data suggests that enabling new forms of taste-sharing may have significant business benefits, promoting artists and driving online music transactions. The tools might also unleash cultural benefits. Most significantly, consumers can play DJ, becoming creators in their own right, and diminish or reshape the power traditional tastemakers like radio and TV have had. In so doing, these tools might help expose people to a greater diversity of music and facilitate the formation of taste-based communities.

Of course, people will use some tools, like podcasting, in ways that infringe copyright, and, like P2P, people will use podcasts to acquire copyrighted content for free without permission. The potential harm of this infringement is not something I take up in this paper. For too long, I think the issues raised by infringing downloading have distracted rights holders and policymakers alike from the benefits of enabling individuals to act as content distributors.

Regardless of what one thinks of infringing downloading, enabling licensed or otherwise lawful forms of sharing would have significant benefits. Finding ways to make music sharing flourish is thus worth pursuing independent of the industry’s need to “compete with free.” Mike and I do argue that enabling sharing can help the music industry compete with free, and that should add to the impetus to support it. But even if infringing downloading simply went away, enabling consumers to be content sharers would still be valuable. It is a win-win proposition, benefiting rights holders, consumers, tech companies, and our culture as a whole.

In the future, I hope to take up some of the ways the industry can support music podcasters and others who want to share copyrighted works. In this paper, though, we simply try to lay out the potential benefits of sharing tools.