Music industry fails to exhibit learning behaviour

Another sign that the music industry is living in la-la land, by Milena Popova

Image: CC-AT-NC Flickr: thinkpanama

The long legal struggle on the part of the music industry to kill yet another P2P filesharing platform - LimeWire is slowly coming to an end. In May last year, Judge Kimba Wood at the Manhattan Federal District Court ruled that LimeWire and its founder Mark Gorton were liable for copyright infringement and inducement to copyright infringement. In October last year, the court ordered LimeWire to stop distributing its software. Over the next few months, the trial will continue to determine the damages due to the 13 suing record companies.

However, even Judge Wood believes that the damages demanded by the record companies are “absurd”. Let’s put the $75 trillion into perspective:

  • As well as being five times the US national debt, $75 trillion is more than the revenues of the entire recording industry since the invention of the phonograph in 1877.
  • It would be roughly equivalent to every person on the planet having pirated $10,800 worth of music. Yes, that includes the 2 billion people who live on less than $2 a day, for whom medicine, new clothing and school books would not be on the priority list, let alone the technology required to pirate music.
  • And my personal favourite, at 4MB and $1 per song, $75 trillion equates to roughly 255 exabytes of storage - about the same amount of data we had globally in 2007.

Absurd doesn’t even begin to cover it. Of course the $75 trillion question is whether shutting down LimeWire will actually have any positive impact on record sales. Past experience would suggest that that’s unlikely. After all, if shutting down Napster had stopped piracy and increased record sales, we wouldn’t be having this conversation about LimeWire, now would we? The LimeWire case is even more hopeless, as filesharers learned from the Napster shutdown.

Unlike Napster, which was software, network and protocol all in one, LimeWire is only a front end for the Gnutella network protocol. Gnutella was specifically designed to be decentralised, reasonably anonymous, and immune to a Napster-like central shutdown.

While the commercial version of LimeWire is no longer distributed, and users of version 5.5.11 and higher have found their software disabled by a back door, lower versions still work just fine, and other clients, including a “Pirate Edition” of LimeWire called WireShare, are also available.

Having said all this, market research group NPD does report a 43% decrease in file sharing in the US in the last quarter of 2010. Techdirt points out that even if those numbers are conclusive (which is unlikely), we will probably not see a corresponding dramatic rise in record sales for the same quarter.

This is partly because many LimeWire users used the application more as a “radio replacement” than as a way of obtaining music. It would, therefore, be interesting to see what the impact of the LimeWire shutdown was in Europe, where the “radio” market it pretty much owned by services like Spotify, which are not available in America

I have recently been watching Looney Tunes (on a legally purchased DVD no less!), and the music industry’s continued attempts to shut down filesharing technologies remind me of nothing so much as Wile E. Coyote’s attempts to catch the Road Runner.

One would think that after more than ten years of failure, the industry would finally realise all it will achieve is to splat itself against yet another rock, and that maybe it would be more productive to focus on other activities. Reaching out to fans and offering quality services and products people are actually willing to pay for would be a start. When even the judge who’s just ruled in your favour calls you absurd, it’s perhaps time to fire the ACME lawyers and think again. Meep-meep!  

Milena is an economics & politics graduate, an IT manager, and a campaigner for digital rights, electoral reform and women's rights. She tweets as @elmyra

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Comments (2)

  1. Roger Lancefield:
    Apr 01, 2011 at 11:56 AM

    Please be advised that "la-la-land" is unlicensed use of a song lyric in a place of work. Please send cheque for £850,000 made out to MAFIA (Music Anticounterfeiting Fairness for Innovators Association) and we will unencrypt your website and arrange for the return of your civil liberties.

    Happy listening!

  2. Jim Killock:
    Apr 01, 2011 at 12:18 PM

    Thanks for your message Roger. Glad to be of service to a worthy cause.

This thread has been closed from taking new comments.

By Milena Popova on Apr 01, 2011

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