Salem’s Fire #2: An Appeal for Sanity

An Appeal for Sanity

Right now the music and movie industries are convinced they have a big problem on their hands.  Right now thousands of dollars of music and movies are being downloaded the world over. Stay with me, I am not writing another, “RIAA, leave us alone!” article, nor another, “Down with the evil pirates!” article.  I?m not even going to try to be everybody?s friend and ride the fence. I have come with a simple plan, a simple program that can make this situation go away.

STEP 1: The RIAA and MPAA have got to pull back their support for a few of the more ludicrous laws in the US Congress. Congress will soon be considering a proposal that would give these two groups, as well as any other copyright holder, full permission to do just about anything they want to stop file sharing networks and remove illegally-acquired copy-protected material from hard drives, all with full immunity from the law should they mess up. In other words, Hollywood wants to become a hacker, and try to disrupt peer-to-peer networks while scanning your hard drive for copies of Metallica and James Bond that they think are illegal.  If those files happen to be perfectly legal, or if in doing this they delete some critical system folders, or in any other way hurt your system or your files, no one cares. Such an open assault on individual privacy by big companies should not even be considered in Congress. I lost track of this bill when went into committee. I am dearly hoping it died a painless death there, but I am not optimistic.

STEP 2: The music and movie people have to admit they cannot win with their current tactics. They cannot out hack the hackers. They are fighting people who do not make the same mistake twice, and who for the most part are fighting on principal and not for money.  Napster made mistakes, but now KaZaA and a dozen others are still around, and still chugging away, having learned from Napster?s mistakes. If you legislate against them, you drive these groups, especially the software geniuses who write and distribute their own methods for file sharing open-source, underground. Open your history books and read up on the prohibition. Making something illegal does not stop it from happening. Having a few big public victories does not win the war. The prohibition failed, and so will any attempt to squash illegal file sharing by legal force. Regulation may well have its place, but threatening to take individuals to court will accomplish nothing.

STEP 3: Listen to the market. Quit listening to big companies and to the lawyers. We do not want software companies telling us how we will and will not listen to our music. No company is going to able to force a technology down our throats merely because it gives better protection to copyrighted material. Go ahead and make the media players, but let us choose which one we want, and understand that we will choose.  Trying to tie us into using a certain application because it does a better job of support copy write protections is not the answer. Realizing that we will encode our music as MP3s, or as Oggs, or as WMAs, or even as WAVs if we want to, and that we will play our music with the media players of our choice is a step towards the answer. It seems to me that we want our music and movies in small, high quality file formats that we can play in a variety of portable and non-portable devices, on a variety of platforms. We want and will pay for useful features, and the ability to manipulate and move our music and movie files from one device to another with ease. We do not want to be told what we will and will not use, nor do we want to have restrictions placed on how and when we can use these files. Hollywood and the RIAA must realize this, and start catering to the wishes of the market, instead of trying to strong-arm the market into catering to their wishes.

STEP 4: Hire the best programmers, and put them to work for you. Find the folks writing the best of the open source stuff, people like the Ogg Vorbis project, the E – Donkey program, and the people at Winamp, and hire them. Pay them what they are worth, and put them to work creating codices and applications that are smaller, higher quality, more portable, more user friendly, more useful and more widely adaptable than anything else out there. Do market studies to find out what features we want, and what we have no interest in. Take the programmers, take the information, and take away the restrictions. Do not tell the programmers that only Industry applications are allowed to run Industry files. Give the geniuses full and total freedom to do the best they possibly can, and get out of the way. When the new codices and new applications arrive, copyright them, and sit on the copyrights. If your programmers are privately releasing new applications open source, let them.  Again, hire them to work, and let them do their thing, without restrictions.

STEP 5: Get a clue on pricing. Face it, the day of the $30 CD is over. People are starting to wonder how a CD, which costs far less to make, can be nearly equal in price to a DVD of an award winning movie.  Instead, figure out a pricing system based on what the customer will pay instead of what the recording industry would like the customer to pay. If that is ten cents a track, or five dollars a month, or some other system that no one has thought of yet, so be it. Unless the goods are sold at a price people are willing to pay, the goods will not be bought. Take a look at the gaming industry though; prices that used to be ridiculous for games are now routine. The customer will pay a premium for high quality, but first the customer must trust the company. Blizzard can ask $70 for Warcraft III and we pay in record numbers. The music industry will eventually be able to also sell their products for high prices. But first, like Blizzard, they must earn our trust.

STEP 6: Sell all new content, big artist and little known garage bands, at affordable, reasonable rates, encoded in the new ultrahigh quality codices. Offer for download basic versions of the new Super Media Player, and make high quality versions available for a fee. Allow the codices to be played on MP3 players and computers, as well as whatever relevant systems are around by then, with out inconvenient restrictions. Then watch people sample, and buy. If it is high quality and in affordable and usable formats, we will pay for what is available for free. This is a generation that will pay for quality, and for the features we want. Companies like Apple and Blizzard have made a fortune on this principal.

The key to all this, is that people will pay for convenience. The RIAA will beat the file sharing networks at their own game. The courts will merely make people mad, and angry people will go on doing what they are doing now. Give the people the ability to pay for what they clearly want, and I think they will pay. Fire the lawyers. Hire the hackers. And ultimately, start listening to the market.


Disclaimer: Salem’s Fire was written by Luke Blaize and hosted by The opinions expressed in these columns are those of the author, and not necessarily those of

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