When Good Consumers Go Bad… [Are you a criminal? Got a modem?]

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Head-honcho Michael Greene spent several uncomfortable moments at this year’s Grammys awards ceremony to drone on about how bad technology has become for the music industry. Remember the Sony Walkman? When did it become Mr. Greene’s responsibility to decide how much technology is too much?

He called the concept of music downloading, “the most insidious virus in our midst”; forgetting, perhaps, that the vast majority of the cash cows seated before him have donated vast amounts of time, talent, money, and their commoditized names fighting another disease that might just possibly be more real, and more insidious.

MSNBC complains that there were more blank CDs sold last year than commercially-produced music CDs… forgetting perhaps that at least some of these were used to hold backups of data?

Steven Levy has posted an article called, “The Customer Is Always Wrong“. He notes that in a recent Senate Commerce Committee hearing, Senator Fritz Hollings exclaimed, ‘When Congress sits idly by in the face of these [file-sharing] activities, we essentially sanction the Internet as a haven for thievery,’ said the committee chairman, charging ‘over 10 million people’ with stealing.”

Hollings wants to make the technology found commonly in PCs today (CD burners, blank CDs, MP3-ripping software) illegal to manufacture and sell; or at least hindered to prevent their common usage.

It is ironic that at this same year’s Grammy awards ceremony, Apple won for ‘outstanding technical contributions to the music industry and recording field’. “We love music and are thrilled to play a part in how music is created and enjoyed,” noted Steve Jobs. “We are honored to be receiving our industry’s first Technical Grammy and we look forward to making many more contributions in the years ahead.” He didn’t seem to be worried that later that evening, he would be called a criminal.

When the whole ‘Napster thing’ was all over the news, I had mixed feelings. As a musician, I thought Napster was a great channel to be heard, and to hear music that I otherwise might not have been exposed to (read: albums that I probably wouldn’t have opened my wallet for). I agree that passing around copies of music illegally is a problem, and that it probably happened more than it should — that’s human nature.

But I also know that if I were your garden-variety Britney Spears fan (OK, she’s not exactly Country, but a decent enough musician who understands the business of the music business), you can bet I would be a little more than put out if I found I could no longer transfer her latest boppings to my MP3 player. And when Britney sees her sales plummet, you can believe that she’s going to be anxious for the expiration date on her Big-Name recording contract.

When Michael Eisner and the other Fat-Pockets realize that the artists are fleeing, it will be too late for them to back-pedal.

Personally, I’m looking forward to it. [Looking for a new label, Britney? Call me…]

Dan Oblak

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