Paul Caplan argues that the music companies are missing the point

The first thing to say is that reports of the death of Napster are certainly exaggerated. When an online movement has grabbed the public's imagination in the way music filesharing has, it cannot be surgically removed.

Bertelsmann - not the most radical company - realised it. Even though their response was that of a traditional media giant - buy it - the company grasped one part of the situation. What they and their rivals seem unable to grasp is that they <i>shouldn't</i> as well<i> can't</i> stop it.

Analogue taping didn't destroy music and research has shown that MP3 sharing has not damaged CD sales. People will always want the physical product (CD) to give and collect in the same way they demand prints from digital images. The convenience of browsing, selecting and putting a CD on in social gatherings is part of our culture. Booting up a computer or network device is a different cultural practice. But these are negative reasons to leave well alone. There are positive reasons to actively nurture peer-to-peer systems.

Firstly, like fan sites before it, the music sharing 'community' offers a huge unpaid marketing resource for the music companies. As tracks pass around the networks, names and brands are created and the fabled 'buzz' created.

The Napster phenomenon is just the latest example of how the networks are creating new ways of doing things. As a complex adaptive system, the network economy evolves new practices and new economic relations. And these relations are not necessarily bad for the music industry. File sharers, like Open Source software developers work collaboratively to create something powerful: a movement (maybe even a community) around the music that the publishers can use, learn from and even make money from. These consumers have been empowered by the network economy, they can react against those who try to limit their power but more importantly they can swing that power behind those companies who ask them.

It's not a matter of searching for the Holy Grail of secure file formats (watch them get hacked) nor trying to stretch the law to fit the new realities. It's a matter of working with even nurturing the file-sharing movement, making them part of the music business not its target.


Published 13 February, 2001 by NMA Staff

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