Creative Commons Doesn’t Cannibalize Sales

NIN Frontman Trent Reznor (Photo by Capital M)
NIN Frontman Trent Reznor
(Photo by Capital M)

Chris Anderson recently posted “The best selling MP3 album of the year was free” on The Long Tail blog. Apparently, Nine Inch Nails’ Ghosts I-IV was the best selling MP3 album of 2008 despite being released under a Creative Commons license that allowed for free, legal sharing.

The album grossed more than $1.6 million in revenue duing the first week in release.  Creative Commons blog has more:

NIN fans could have gone to any file sharing network to download the entire CC-BY-NC-SA album legally. Many did, and thousands will continue to do so. So why would fans bother buying files that were identical to the ones on the file sharing networks? One explanation is the convenience and ease of use of NIN and Amazon’s MP3 stores. But another is that fans understood that purchasing MP3s would directly support the music and career of a musician they liked.

This would seem to be another big win for proponents of alternative models to the traditional intellectual property attitudes stemming from the physical goods economy.

RIAA Strong-arms ISPs Instead of Customers

Image by chazlarson
Image by chazlarson

TechCrunch today reports that the RIAA is changing tactics:

Instead of dragging music downloaders and file-sharers into court, it has somehow convinced ISPs to take on the role of digital policeman (and jury and judge).

The original story in the Wall Street Journal has full details, but the gist is that the RIAA will provide ISPs with IP addresses of file sharing offenders.  Those offenders (or accused offenders) will be warned and, after three strikes, have their internet service disconnected.

It beats sueing “several single mothers, a dead person and a 13-year-old girl,” but details are unclear as to the appeals process.  At least the court system is set up to handle disputes like this.

Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem: DRM done right? Or yet another failed attempt?

Here’s what we know so far. DECE will announce details at CES in January. The general principle is something along the lines of a digital rights locker in the cloud that keeps track of what content you have purchased and have rights to play.

Burned (read: Destroyed) DVD Image from Night Star RomanusThe major goals of the project are interoperability, allowing users to copy content onto household playback devices (as opposed to streaming only) and to enable writing to physical media.

Sounds like an ambitious project, and maybe a pipe dream given the walled garden approach that most content providers have been pushing thus far. But with a list of players that includes most major media corporations, some serious technical expertise, the device manufacturers of both HD disc technologies (and then some), and at least one major retailer, this might have a chance to get past the conception stage.

The list of companies signed on so far is Best Buy, Cisco, Comcast, Fox, HP, Intel, Lions Gate, Microsoft, NBC Universal, Paramount Pictures, Philips, Sony, Toshiba, VeriSign, and Warner Bros.

What does this mean for indie producers? That remains to be seen, but for most of us, there’s already an alternative. What else supports interoperability and portability of content to offline and physical media? What lets viewers watch what they want, where and how they want to? Anything without DRM. Just sayin’.

Anybody who Legally Downloads Music is an Idiot…

Steadicam Operator
Photo by Carolyn Coles

That’s what record store owner John Kioussis told Steve Guttenberg of The Audiophiliac.

Do you agree with Kioussis? Is legal digital music so bad that it’s not worth obeying the law?

Certainly there have been arguments made that draconian DRM has limited the appeal of legal sources for downloaded music. If media owners and creators do not or cannot provide their media in a format which meets consumer needs, the consumers will find an alternative source for that media.

Consumers in the digital age expect to have flexibility in when, how, and where they consume their media. The popularity of DVRs is driven by the desire to watch programs when it is convenient for the consumer instead of when the broadcaster decides to air it. Podcasting allows consumers to choose when and where to watch or listen. DRM that locks media to a particular device or method of viewing limits the consumer’s choice and, ultimately, pushes some percentage of those users to seek out less regulated formats of the same content, or other content entirely.

There are also the issues of fidelity. A 128kbps MP3 is not the same quality as a 44,100 Hz audio CD. Most legal sources of downloadable music don’t offer lossless file formats (excepting a notable few). There are, however, lossless file formats, such as FLAC, that are extremely popular among concert bootleggers. Thus, fidelity is another justification used by downloaders who choose alternatives to the legal avenues of music distribution.

As for John Kioussis? The rest of that quote is “You can get it for free, why pay for it? Download it illegally, who’s going to catch you? Legal or illegal, they sound the same.”

Regardless of getting caught or not, the best reason to find a legal option is to support the hard work of the artist(s) who created the media that you are enjoying. After all, without continued support, artists wouldn’t be able to continue to produce their art (excluding the independently wealthy and famously successful minority).

Traditional record deals don’t benefit the artists nearly as much as they do the studios, but changes in technology are bringing about a new wave of digital distribution options that allow artists to cut out the middlemen and connect directly (or in a manner closely approximating directly) with their fans.

So, if you want your favorite artists to keep producing art, maybe downloading music legally doesn’t make you an idiot. In fact, by searching out sites that offer the best deals to artists and supporting them, you can help shape the landscape of direct media and further the trend of direct connections from Artist to Fan.

Legal IP Issues and Staffing Up

I’ve been considering how and whether to copyright this project. My inclination is to license it under Creative Commons or another open source license, but I will have to check on the feelings of people involved and the potential problems that might cause in bringing it to festivals or distribution.

In fact, it would be great to have someone to look into the different possible modes of copyright/non-copyright/licensing and make suggestions. That will be my next goal after finding writers.

I have decided to target multiple writers for the project since most of the ones on my list can’t afford to dedicate the amount of time that is required. I think a group process, while potentially abrasive, will lead to interesting group dynamics and potentially a very polished final product. Not to mention that my favorite part of all of this is finding the right people for the job and guiding them to work together towards a single goal. To this end, and because I myself don’t have the momentum to sustain a one-man blog, I will be bringing new crew on-board shortly.