Wednesday, April 06, 2005

MGM vs Grokster thoughts

See? I told you the silence wouldn't last long. Anyway, for what it's worth, here's my two cents on the P2P lawsuit currently being heard in the Supreme Court.

Personally, I am a bit divided on whole case. I won't lie, I use P2P networks to download stuff and I would be sad to see the court decide to try and shut them down. It's highly doubtful that would happen, and even if it did then another one would rise up in its place much akin to the mythological hydra. However, I do understand the RIAA and the MPAA whining about their "lost revenues" due to piracy from the P2P networks. The companies are in the business to make a profit, but that doesn't mean that I agree with their methods. I think that some sort of balance or compromise needs to happen.

I consider myself to be a very seasoned netizen, having been online since 1996, and have learned lots of techniques to find what I'm looking for. I know P2P networks won't go away, it's an innate function of the internet just like FTP or even instant messenger protocols... one computer connects to another for purposes of data transmission. Even if P2P file sharing is ruled to be illegal, piracy will continue on IRC, Usenet (anyone remember that?), private or anonymous networks, and whatever other next-generation methods may arise. I'm not an attorney, but I believe that these networks are useful and should fall under free speech laws and fair-use copyright laws. Contrary to what the RIAA wants you to believe, lots of legal bits and bytes are flowing through the networks and its legal uses are growing every day.

In case they haven't noticed, services like the new Napster and iTunes are wildly successful and new devices such as the PSP are bringing new meaning to the word convergence. I, for one, would be happy to pay a reasonable fee to instantly download an album over an illegal download. Reasonable, as in $8-10 for an album--maybe more or less depending on the length or number of tracks--not the sub-$20 range that they currently consider to be reasonable for a disc that costs pennies to produce. I understand that there is lots more going on behind the scenes and everyone needs to get paid, but with electronic downloads we cut out lots of the middlemen in shipping, packaging, and retail. I've heard so many bad things from artists online and in magazine articles about the RIAA being the equivalent of a big and greedy bully and there is a significant lack of alternatives.

P2P distribution could just be the tool the industry needs to topple the RIAA from its power monopoly... there are artists out there who are able to pay their bills using P2P and even a some big names that are happy to embrace this new frontier. Last year, REM released an entire album for free on their website and they're far from starving and homeless. Others include They Might Be Giants, Wilco, Pete Townshend, and Björk. All of these artists offer a variety of free downloads, from unreleased cuts to live sessions to complete albums, all without the annoying restrictions of DRM. (That's a topic for another blog.) There is even the Creative Commons that has a flexible copyright system to allow artists to offer up their downloads without worry.

The movement needs to start somewhere and I think that this case will get the revolution rolling. The big companies are already starting to break down and admit to things that aren't helping their case. Digital music is no longer the future, it is here now and the industry needs to open their minds up to this new delivery method before it's too late.


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