CNN article on recent rulings against Grokster by the recording industry giants. While I agree with Mauriat's assessment that the recording industries are taking their existence for granted (the Pony Express probably did too), to me the big news is that the courts now equate doing nothing to prevent copyright infringement with actively promoting copyright infringement based on how a company markets their product or if they could easily prevent copyright infringement.

I don't know enough about grokster to say whether I would judge them the same (i.e. how they market their product), but I think this decision sets a dangerous precedent. Now anytime somebody FEELS something promotes copyright infringement they can sue with an active precedent if they have enough muscle...and that's just scary.

The courts are now saying that the difference between P2P filesharing and recordable media is more than just the ease at which the former can now be done (whereas the latter you have to physically pass media around). The more important difference (to the courts) is that P2P filesharing does not do enough to discourage/prevent copyright infringement. It's a relative comparison that has now been legislated.

I've written about this a little here, but I guess now is a good time to continue my exposition/thoughts on this matter.

Before mass media and mass distribution of media (let's say more than two hundred years ago), there were niche cultures that were isolated to locales. There was no effective way to spread a culture/interest beyond word-of-mouth, books/novels, and by travelling artists (such as parades, carnivals and minstrel shows). In fact, minstrel shows were one of the first forms of pop culture in the U.S. Artists at these times were probably making a modest living doing what they enjoyed, with some more at the upper end and most at the lower end.

Newspapers began to change that. With newspapers and mass publications, nearly everybody could learn what others were doing in other parts of the country/world. Exposures to cultures/interests became easier and some cultures bubbled up to the surface, became popular and were accepted by the masses. The problem is that not everyone could afford to publish and distribute their own newspaper, so those who controlled the newspapers controlled what became "pop culture" to a great extent. This isn't to say that I feel newspapers were part of some big conspiracy. I think for the most part, newspapers were reporting on things that were general popular enough within smaller cultures and this eventually drove things to mass market level. In a lot of cases it was just luck that a reporter saw a show for Artist A and not Artist B, both being of equal caliber/talent. Of course there must have been artists/managers/troupe owners who bribed reporters here and there, but my gut says that the earlier history of mass media, things were generally a reflection of cultural items. I think this because, at the dawn of mass media, not too many people understood the profound effect that it could have on defining pop culture and the financial benefits that could be reaped from it, at least initially. But maybe that's the "old-timer" in me wishing for a rose-tinted past.

The advent of the phonograph and the radio at around the same time took mass media to a new level. Now an artist did not have to only perform for a live audience, they could be recorded and broadcast nationwide. The problem is that not everyone could afford to broadcast radio station or record their performances to vinyl. This means that only the select few were able to get their art to the masses. Generally a publisher/distributor with financial backing was needed to get this level of exposure.

By the 1950s, television/records hit the scene. TV/LPs are really only evolutionary steps from the radio/phonograph. No big change in the model/culture there. Just an increase in the amount of exposure (visual exposure is powerful, now that teeny-boppers could see Elvis shake his hips) but the distribution model remains the same. Television is more expensive to produce (i.e. cameras, actors need to be good looking) and the recording industry is only bolstered by these new technologies, not weakened because now they are needed even more.

We don't actually see the model changing until the last half of the 1990s. At this time, the internet reaches the "tipping point" and becomes mass media itself. But this time, anybody can afford to put their art up unto a website for $20 a month and get worldwide exposure. By this time, technology is (relatively) cheap to record music/video and turn it into digital media. It opens the doors to artists everywhere, but at the same time, the distributors are caught with their pants down. Now they are no longer a key link in the chain for national exposure.

What we are seeing in the start of this century is the beginning of a decentralization of pop culture. I read this great blog entry only a few days ago and it fits in here perfectly. Read what The Long Tail is about. Niche cultures are back on the rise and mass popular culture, while still there for the young and the sheep, are waning. The need for physical media and expensive distribution models are slimming and THIS is why we see such frantic efforts by recording industry gunning for legislation.

So that's my take on the recording industry's dilemma. Unfortunately (for them) the answer is that eventually the recording industry as we know it will fade away. Sales will continue to dip, they'll spend more and more money on legislation/lawyers (causing an increase in physical media sales) and eventually there will be nothing left. There will just be artists making their art and people enjoying their art.


Except, the issue with the internet is that people generally find stuff only through... search engines, that's right. Currently search engines control much of what is popular on the internet. In many ways they are the "recording industry" for the internet. Pay enough money (in terms of marketing and seo) and you will get listed on Page 1. We can see companies are realizing how important this is by recent movements in the search engine front (MSN Search, Yahoo buying AskJeeves).

The good news is that even THAT model is starting to change with blogs and subscription models like Atom/RSS. Microsoft's recent RSS announcements show that they realize this too and they want to figure out how to get a piece of that pie. The model of the internet has gone from Browse to Search and will eventually migrate to Subscribe (got this slogan from a Microsoft project manager in their RSS announcements).

So what we'll see eventually is that we're all going back to the model of word-of-mouth in niche cultures. The difference is that those niche cultures are not localized anymore, they can be spread worldwide and this will only strengthen them.

§114 · June 28, 2005 · Entertainment · · [Print]

Leave a Comment to “The Evolution of Entertainment Part Two”

  1. Mauriat says:

    Good analysis and I think your point are very valid, but a slowly dieing bohemoth will struggle violently till its last breath. Point being is that I question how quickly these industry’s business models will “fade away”. Time will tell. … Good use of keywords too 😉

  2. […] Kurt Cagle gives his view of the paradigm shift on the internet in the recently couple years. It fits in nicely with some of my thoughts here. […]

  3. […] Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for artists getting reasonably paid for their work, it’s all the other fat cats that make their money off the artists that piss me off. Along comes this story which brings up memories of three months ago when I first heard about the frightening MGM v. Grokster verdict which ruled that Grokster was at fault for promoting illegal file sharing because it did not explicitly discourage illegal file sharing. […]

  4. […] I’ve written a little bit about the impact of The Long Tail before I even knew what The Long Tail was. If you have some time, read the excellent 1-year old essay here by Chris Anderson. It illuminates the way things are going to work in the new market and the rules that companies must follow: […]