Category: Music

Will the current lawsuits against file-sharers work?

Lawrence Solum tells us no.

Here is an early part of his insightful, multi-tiered post:

On the one hand, the RIAA simply cannot bring enough lawsuits to create a real deterrent effect. First, the number of suits is so small that the actual risk of becoming a defendant times the cost of settlement equals a miniscule amount. Second, the perception among users of P2P programs is that one can avoid any risk of suit by keeping the number of files shared on any one service below a threshold (usually thought to be 1000 files). On the other hand, there is no evidence that the RIAA is changing copynorms.

His recommendation?

When the RIAA sends the message, “copying is theft,” they are fighting the norms. No one believes that copying is the moral equivalent of theft, because everyone thinks that private, noncommercial copying is just fine. Even the RIAA seems to have thought that when they agreed to the provisions of the Audio Home Recording Act that permit noncommercial analog copying. And the fact that copynorms diverge from norms about theft is rooted in the underlying economic reality–consumption of intellectual property is nonrivalrous, whereas consumption of tangible property is rivalrous.

So here is an alternative message that the RIAA could try:

Share with your friends, not with strangers!

In other words, the RIAA could try to get the public to see that P2P programs are the moral equivalent of giving away hundreds of videotapes or compilation tapes. Those activities are not socially acceptable. They may not be socially unacceptable either. Mass giveaways are rarely a social problem, because the cost is high enough to deter the behavior without either legal or social sanction. That is what the P2P technology changed. P2P enables the low cost mass gift.

It is worth reading Solum’s whole post, I might add he is one of the smartest bloggers out there.

File sharing helps some music labels

No, I am not one of those people who thinks you can fund an entire music industry through the sale of T-shirts. But file-sharing appears to have been a boon for some indepedent labels, which otherwise have a hard time getting their music to customers. Here is a money quote:

Today he [Mr. Egan] says – seemingly counterintuitively – his label simply would not exist without file-sharing services like Napster and its successors KaZaA and Morpheus.

Even as the major labels of the music industry pursue file traders for copyright infringement through lawsuits and the court of public opinion, Vagrant and many other independent label owners cheer them on. File sharing, these owners say, helps their small companies compete against conglomerates with deeper pockets for advertising and greater access to radio programmers.

“Our music, by and large, when kids listen to it, they share it with their friends,” Mr. Egan said. “Then they go buy the record; they take ownership of it.”

The New York Times offers the full account (registration required).

Arguments against micropayments

Why not use web technology to charge people very small bits for downloading songs, or reading blogs for that matter? An earlier note of mine discussed mental transactions costs — having to ponder the small charge each time — as a potential problem. An excellent post by Daniel Davies provides further, and better, ammunition against the micropayments idea. His key point: at some point micropayments have to clear through real financial institutions and the real shuffling of paper. Right now we don’t have the technology to do this more cheaply than credit card companies do, and they don’t find very small transactions to be worth their while.

Addendum: Here is a good response in defense of the practicality of micropayments.

Why do ticket sellers allow scalping?

It is a common economic puzzle why the prices for various events, such as Super Bowls and rock concerts, do not always clear the market. Why sell tickets cheaply, thereby allowing scalpers to buy them up and later resell them at higher prices, reaping the surplus for themselves?

Canadian Ticketmaster wondered the same, and now they are doing something about it. For many concerts they will auction off some tickets at market-clearing prices. Most groups, however, will auction off only a few of the best tickets, rather than all tickets.

One concert promoter had reservations about the scheme: “From a fan’s point of view, I don’t think this would be fair,” he said. “Obviously, everyone should have equal access to tickets, especially if you’re a fan that lines up overnight. It should be fair and equitable.” Comments of this kind show that either he or I, or perhaps both of us, do not understand this market very well.

Thanks for Eric Crampton for pointing the link out to me. And speaking of musical concerts, it is sad to report that Johnny Cash has died.