A Merit Badge For Docile Consumerism? - InformationWeek
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Infrastructure // PC & Servers
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10/26/2006
10:47 AM
David  DeJean
David DeJean
Commentary
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A Merit Badge For Docile Consumerism?

The news story about the Los Angeles Area Boy Scouts' cooperation with the Motion Picture Association of America to create a merit badge for respecting copyrights points up just how badly the entertainment industry needs new ideas. Handing out merit badges for docile consumerism isn't going to cut it if the music and movie businesses are going to have a future in the Internet Age.

The news story about the Los Angeles Area Boy Scouts' cooperation with the Motion Picture Association of America to create a merit badge for respecting copyrights points up just how badly the entertainment industry needs new ideas. Handing out merit badges for docile consumerism isn't going to cut it if the music and movie businesses are going to have a future in the Internet Age.The record companies in particular remain in total denial. They cling to the old ways while technology marches past them. The largest U.S. record store chain, Tower Records, is in bankruptcy, and the reason is apparently the Internet. But it's not the piracy that has had the record industry foaming at its collective mouth for so long. It's simple economics.

"Music-download retailers like iTunes from Apple Computer have played a major role in displacing traditional retailers. Nielsen SoundScan, cited by Tower in bankruptcy court filings, said legal digital downloads grew 200 percent in 2005 as album sales fell 7.8 percent," said a news story in the August 22 New York Times about the bankruptcy.

Technology makes it increasingly easy to copy and distribute entertainment content. Today that mostly means music because the file sizes are manageable. But it won't be long before it'll be as easy to rip and reformat a movie or a TV show as it is to do a CD now.

So what's the industry response been? To frantically try to criminalize exactly the activity that technology makes easier and easier. The International Federation of the Phonographic Industry filed 8,000 more lawsuits against file-sharers in 17 countries last week. What do you think the net effect will be? Zero? Less than that?

The music industry needs to get a clue and acknowledge that some form of universal licensing is the only way recording companies are going to stay in business. In fact, a universal licensing system already exists and is quickly taking over the music business. It's called iTunes. As the months pass with no new ideas from recording companies, it becomes more and more inevitable that Steve Jobs will run them all some day.

I wonder if the materials for the Respecting Copyright merit badge include sections on Fair Use and being a smart consumer of copyrighted materials. I'm sure they bear down on how evil it is to rip a CD and give copies to friends, but do they point out that ripping a CD isn't in itself illegal? Do they point out that used copies are cheaper and usually just as good? That public libraries often have great collections of music and movies that can be enjoyed for free? I'll bet not. I'll bet the pamphlet focuses on piracy and stops just short of urging Scouts to fink on their friends who share files. That's how smart the music industry has been in this fight--and no smarter.

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