"Some of the most greedy, desperate and stupid people... I ever met are employed in the entertainment sector..." As the music industry takes drastic action to block illegal downloads of MP3 files, Peter Cochrane wonders whether it'll do any good. And the industry won't like his conclusion...
Can you imagine having the money and power to purchase a vast fleet of automobiles to fill up all the parking lots, roads and freeways so you could purposely inconvenience the rest of humanity?
Or perhaps being able to clog the mail system with bogus letters and parcels?
Alternatively, how about paying huge numbers of people to fill all the train and aircraft seats again to create great inconvenience to those who really need to travel! Now wouldn't that really stupid! And would it soon be declared an illegal act? I think so!
But on the net we have at least one company paid by the music industry to clog up sites and servers with bogus MP3 files in an attempt to crush peer-to-peer file sharing. It ain't illegal - yet - but it might turn out to be mildly inconvenient for the vast majority. Why are they doing it? Well it all started with Napster, and the continued attempts of the music industry to destroy a new era of freedom and chance to create new business models.
Don't get me wrong, I am all in favour of artists, producers and distributors getting their due reward for their creativity and labours. But to combat or ignore change made possible by new technology is very dangerous. Some of the most greedy, desperate and stupid people (a very dangerous combination) I ever met are employed in the entertainment sector. They always deny the new until it is killing them. From wax cylinder, to plastic disc, magnetic tape, CD, VHS, DVD, analogue to digital, they have kicked and screamed across every technological and market threshold.
Hollywood spent millions of dollars trying to stop VHS - and today that technology earns them most of their annual $10bn income. The record companies similarly tried to stop audio-tape recording, and then made a fortune out of cassettes. And so each advantageous technology has been fought and forestalled until today, and now the ripping and stripping of CDs is seen as the big evil. Is MP3 pay-back time for decades of ripping off artists and public by the music industry? Is this hard justice for making us buy 15 second-rate tracks we don't like to get the two we really want? Could be, but I hope not. It is in no one's interest to destroy the entertainment industry. But equally, it is not in anyone's interest if those in the industry are trying to get a PhD in stupidity!
We all watched in amazement as the music industry decided not to embrace the Napster concept, to seize the opportunity to create a new style business of online music sales that would have been supported by most. Instead they attacked, killed the opportunity, and now they have 40 million Napsters they cannot control or kill!
Their next move was to be even more wild and stupid - the content-controlled CD cost millions in development, deployment, and follow-on damage. Here CD software allows hi-fi operation and disables all PC applications. So the kids got around this by re-digitising the tracks by linking hi-fi output to PC audio input. They then got refunds on the original CD because it didn't work correctly! The next work-around was even simpler and more ingenious. Just run a felt tip pen around the outer edge of the CD and the control tracks can be disabled. Yep - a 10 cent pen overcomes millions of development costs - I like it! (That particular trick won't work for much longer though - see http://www.silicon.com/a55293
In the meantime the movie industry has also been hard at work with the regionalisation of DVD distribution. Buy a DVD from the USA and it will refuse to play in the UK or South east Asia and vice versa. Now what possible reason could be offered for this practice? It can only be price, content and release control. Why as users would this be of advantage? It can't possibly be! As a frequent traveller I buy DVDs wherever I happen to be on the planet - and what fun this creates.
On my home DVDs I took care to purchase models that have already been chipped, or alternatively, can be easily software programmed to adapt to any region. If you don't do this it can mean additional expense to get the necessary hard wiring completed and/or software installed. But increasingly the box-makers have responded to customer demand for source transparency and fully functional multi-regional players are gradually becoming the norm. Customers = 1, Hollywood = 0. Game over - I think!
On my laptop and desktop machines I have DVD drives and players built in which automatically flip from region to region standard a limited number of times and then declare that they have been frozen in the last setting and that's that! Well they are several very simple get outs here. First you can reinstall the software and start again - messy but easy. Second, you can install multiple players - one for each of the three regions - very easy and convenient. Third there are software work-arounds and patches that by pass all this and allow your player to be multi-regional. Customers = 1, Hollywood = 0. Game over!
So what will the entertainment industry try next? How about embedded software on CD and DVD that worms its way into servers and individual PCs to destroy applications and operating systems? I suspect they are already working on it. But they really ought to start thinking. The companies they have employed to flood the net with bogus MP3 files are being bombarded by bogus sign-ups to pornography sites and denial of service attacks - and I fear that this is just the beginning. This is the story of David and Goliath. The entertainment industry is Goliath and there are over 400 million Davids. In the biblical story David was either lucky, an excellent shot, or divinely guided. We don't have to be any of these - with over 400 million slings one is bound to bring Goliath down.
This column was typed on my Apple G4 Laptop at the side of the Big Thompson River between Estes Park and Loveland CO emailed to my editor via my Motorola 280 TimePort mobile phone @ 9.6kbit/s over a GSM link I didn't expect to find available.