Essay: Digital Distribution
Date Created: September 16, 2011  Date Modified: September 21, 2012

READERS NOTE: This is my original work was originally posted on my no-longer active Murdoch blog on April 14th, 2010.

I have decided to post my MCC124 essay here on the blog so you may comment and critisize it. Its fairly short of the required 1500 words so I dont expect to be given a high mark for it. Before I paste it into here I would like to share a quote from the song “Evolution” by 311:

Evolution has expontential timing it’ll be
Half as long til the next breakthrough that
blows are mind
It’s up to the people to brave on with
experimentation
Move forth the species by using our
imagination

But can we handle it
Could we dismantle it
Or should we fear the void and just be
para-paranoid
If it’s understood it could be used for good
and would
If you will believe in all we can conceive

Describe the impact of piracy, p2p and/or file sharing on the digital distribution of media.

In 2007 Radiohead, a popular musical act released their seventh studio album, In Rainbows in a way not seen before from such a well known musical, act: They made their album available to download, at a cost decided by the consumer, from the bands website—as well as making a hard copy available to be purchased by fans in conventional music stores1. It was big music conceding defeat in the digital distribution war.

The distribution of media through piracy, even p2p is not a new phenomenon. Video piracy was widespread with the consumer availability of VHS recorders, software piracy plagued developers since programming shifted from hard-coded chips to the floppy disk, and music piracy was no different2. With technological advances come new methods of breaking the law, it must follow then that legislation needs to keep up-to-date with emerging technological trends.

Digital distribution of music was not a new concept for the music industry3 in 2007, the time this white surrender flag was waved. By 2007 the case of Napster was long in the past and Apple’s iTunes store was now five years old. The music listening public had made their choice and it was up to the artists and record labels to catch up—people were not going to stop downloading music, (no matter what the cost?).

Not so much that’s it was the musicians themselves, as most of them shared their voice with the people in the battle cry for digital distribution, Acts as diverse as pop music’s Moby4 and Prince; New Metal band Slipknot; and the anti-establishment political rap group Public Enemy5 had been long advocates of digital distribution; In the case of Public Enemy, this stance put them up against their own label: Def Jam6. The record label, the face of the enemy.

Recording companies were the biggest opponents of digital distribution, primarily because it was seen to undermine their position in the music industry heavyweights, the generals and brigadiers leading their elite squads of musical acts in the pursuit of money and fame. The record companies saw digital distribution as synonymous with piracy and responded with legal actions against its proponents—both those end users downloading music, but also those that put in place the infrastructure to accomplish this.

Sony was one recording company that had tried, and failed horribly to counter digital distribution in 2005 with their DRM software7. People who had brought compact disks legitimately, were the casualties, a root-kit installed on a users computer once the CD was inserted into the optical drive, making the users computer vulnerable to malicious code. It was the wrong approach, for the kids of generation Y, downloading music was seen as a rebellion against an over-zealous corporate establishment8. Punishment for rebellion would only prove counter productive.

Apple, makers of designer electronics, had taken a different tact. Unlike Sony, Apple did not see digital distribution as a threat to their existing business model. Apple may not have had the massive back catalogue of music it owned rights to, but it did have dominance over the MP3 player market, so the choice to embrace digital distribution with its iTunes store could be seen as less of a risk. By October 2007, Apple had secured rights to distribute “digital” boxed sets from 1970’s super group Led Zeppelin9, people would still download music, even if they did have to pay for it.

Legislation was seen as something that needed to be brought into line with the emerging technologies, legislation that was fair to both user, creator and publisher. After the Napster case hit US courts, a “Digital Recording Act” was proposed10. Without a legal framework corporate interests would still look at digital distribution with an eye of mistrust, they needed a guarantee of return-of-investment on their stockpile of music11.

What the success of the Apple model of distribution, over Sony’s DRM failure taught musicians was that the old paradigm of selling music was becoming obsolete, and it followed that the record companies themselves were obsolete. Artists could do away with the corporate drill, and take on their own means of getting their music to their audience. Bands had taken on this endeavor before, as militant anti-government rap group Public Enemy had done. But popular music had yet to free itself from the corporate hierarchy—that was until an internationally known pop band Radiohead released “In Rainbows”, in its first month online over a million copies were downloaded taking US$3 million, from 40% of those users choosing to pay. At an average of $6(US)12, proving digital distribution can still be lucrative for the artist.

What the significance of In Rainbows had to the digital distribution of media was not a technological one, but a larger cultural paradigm shift. Indy bands, and militant rappers had embraced the technology before, but this was confined to smaller sub-cultures. The mass adoption of digital distribution had been proven effective, and it wasn’t until In Rainbows was this acknowledged by anyone from within the corporate music mainstream. This act meant not that the battle lines had been redrawn, but that the war was finally over.


References

  1. Wikipedia, “In Rainbows” en.wikipedia.org/wiki/In_Rainbows
  2. Kembrew McLeod, 2005, “MP3s Are Killing Home Taping: The Rise of Internet Distribution and Its Challenge to the Major Label Music Monopoly”
  3. Sean Ebare, 2004, “Digital music and subculture: Sharing files sharing styles”
  4. Moby, “Napster” 2001 www.moby.com/journal/2001-01-29/napster.html
  5. John Borland, 2000, “Rapper Chuck-D throws his weight behind Napster” news.cnet.com/2100-1023-239917.html
  6. MTV News, 2000 “Public Enemy Leaves Def Jam, Will Distribute Next Album Online” www.mtv.com/news/articles/1427080/19990114/chuck_d.jhtml
  7. Molly Wood, 2005, Cnet News, “DRM This!” www.cnet.com/4520-6033_1-6376177-1.html
  8. Carrie James, 2009 “Young People, Ethics and Digital Media”, Page 53, MIT Press
  9. Apple Co, (Press Release) 28th October 2007, “Led Zeppelin Digital Box Set…” http://www.apple.com/pr/library/2007/10/23itunes.html
  10. Raymond Shih Ray Ku, 2001, “The Creative Destruction of Copyright: Napster and the New Economics od Digital Technology”, University of Chicago Law Review.
  11. Jeevan Jaisingh, 2004, “Piracy on file sharing networks: Stratergies for recording companies”, Hong Kong University of Science & Technology.
  12. Wired Magazine, 12.18.2007, “David Byrne and Thom Yorke on the Real Value of Music”, http://www.wired.com/entertainment/music/magazine/16-01/ff_yorke?currentPage=all#ixzz0jlXr4Ley

Related Posts

One thought on “Essay: Digital Distribution

  1. Pingback: [VIDEO] How could have I missed this on rights-free? | Byron Levene

Comments are closed.