October 24, 2004 · William Fisher
Larry has kindly offered me the opportunity to host his blog for a week. My plan is to use the opportunity primarily to catalyze a discussion of the current crisis in the entertainment industry and what potential solutions to it are both attractive and practicable. I recently published a book on the subject: Promises to Keep � Technology, Law, and the Future of Entertainment. The Introduction, which lays out the argument of the book as a whole, and Chapter 6, which has proven to be its most controversial piece, are available online. The book itself can be purchased through any online bookstore.
I thought I�d begin by briefly summarizing the argument of the first chapter, and then ask whether, particularly in light of some recent articles and developments, the argument holds up.
Here�s the argument in a nutshell: In combination, three technological developments � digital recording and storage systems, compression/decompression systems, and the Internet � have created dramatically new ways of making, keeping, sharing, and enjoying audio and video recordings. Full exploitation of those new techniques would have many social and economic benefits: large costs savings (enabling consumers to get more entertainment for less or artists to be paid more); greater convenience and precision in the ways that recordings are delivered to consumers; a sharp increase in the number of musicians and filmmakers who can reach global audiences and make decent livings; enhancement of the diversity of materials available to the public; and a dramatic increase in the number of persons who participate in the making of culture (a trend for which I use the term [not of my own invention] �semiotic democracy�). The same developments, however, pose three serious dangers: corrosion of the systems by which artists and intermediaries have traditionally made money from their recordings; threats to artists� �moral rights�; and destabilization of the cultural icons in reference to which we partially define ourselves. The chapter concludes with the claim that we ought to strive, through a restructuring of the legal system and associated business models, to capitalize on the opportunities created by the new technologies, while minimizing the concomitant hazards. (The rest of the book then goes on (a) to argue that we�ve failed to achieve that goal thus far and (b) to sketch some ways in which we might.)
Before addressing the particular ways in which I and others have tried to solve the crisis, it might be helpful to consider whether my characterization of the crisis is fair and balanced. One potential line of criticism would point to the recent paper by Oberholzer and Strumpf, �The Effect of File Sharing on Music Sales (http://www.unc.edu/~cigar/papers/FileSharing_March2004.pdf) (which appeared after my manuscript was set) as evidence that I have seriously exaggerated the extent to which the new technologies (in this case, P2P services) have, at least thus far, threatened traditional business models. Another potential line of criticism would argue that moral rights (artists� interest in the integrity of their creations and in being given appropriate credit for their creations) are overblown � either in general or with respect to digital recordings, of which unlimited copies may be made. I�d be curious to hear reactions on these or any other pertinent issues.
Two unrelated procedural points: First, unfortunately, on Monday I will be on planes from roughly 1:00 am to noon Eastern time � and thus, unable, during that period, to respond to comments. But thereafter, I�ll be back online. Second, it may be impossible, given the importance and imminence of the election, to keep a conversation going this week about online entertainment. If so, I�ll have to adapt in some way.