The Evil Film/Music/Media Conglomerate

While reading slashdot, you can’t escape the

rants like this
about the evils of the MPAA and RIAA. People respond in great numbers to postings like this, and everytime they do, I am baffled by the lack of clear thinking on the subject. This rant will try to isolate a few of the ways that they are stupid and wrong thinking and I am correct and right thinking.

The first set of wrong thinkers are just thieves. They oppose the RIAA and MPAA by stealing their copyrighted works
from them. They typically say things like “if they made stuff that wasn’t shit, I would pay for it”, as if that actually is an excuse for
larceny. I actually have more respect for those who merely admit that
what they are doing is illegal, they know it, and just don’t care.
At least they avoid the hypocrisy of having collected 57 gigabytes of mp3 files, all of which are crap. I have
better uses for 57gb of disk space.

The second group of wrong thinkers are what I call recyclers. Recyclers refuse to by CDs and the like from
retail outlets, and instead buy them from used stores and friends. They think that because they are buying their CDs from
used dealers, they are hurting the profits of the record companies but still getting the music they want.

This is wrong on two levels. First of all, record companies only promote artists which make them money. It isn’t because they are evil, it is simply that they are in business, and businesses exist to make money. When you choose not to buy a record of an artist you enjoy, you decrease the incentive of that artist to produce new works and the incentive of the record company to promote them. Net result: you don’t hear as much of the music that you enjoy.

The second thing wrong with this idea is that even if you do buy from second hand outlets, you are still creating demand for the record. Some people will buy records and
enjoy them for a time, and then pass them onto the used market and recoup some of their initial investment. If you didn’t
buy these records in the secondary markets, retailers wouldn’t
buy them, and demand for them would fall off in the primary
markets as well.

The third set of people are fatalists. Fatalists believe that people just can’t live without their influx of music and artists, and therefore nothing will ever change. Therefore, they go out and spend their money and then come back to their keyboards and complain about the state of affairs on slashdot.

In the end, the fatalist merely complains, but has no new ideas to offer. His thinking is too limited to actually imagine other solutions, but that doesn’t keep him from complaining about
the problems.

My own views on this matter is one of pragmatism. If I want to go see the new Two Towers movie, I go see it, and I don’t complain about the vast media machine that builds such movies. Indeed, it is hard to imagine how such epic movies are constructed without the backing of immense media empires, so I accept that as the cost of entertainment. Do I think that Tom Clancy or Stephen King deserve the huge amounts of money they earn? Well, I’m willing to buy paperback editions of their books, so I’m willing to trade my six fifty for their book. If a few
million people think the same way, then I guess they really do deserve the millions that they get paid.

Lastly, we should realize that much of the human experience has become watching rather than doing. In older cultures, activities such
as singing, music, cooking, painting, sculpture and the like are
things that are done by people, not watched by
people. I volunteer time to teach telescope making each week
because I want to encourage people to build and use telescopes, and pursue their own understanding of the universe
around us. My friend Tom schedules and performs music concerts for small audiences so that he can participate in music rather than merely consume it.

If you are opposed to the music industry and complain about
the quality of acts that they promote: make some different music and promote and distribute it yourself. The internet makes such
distribution very inexpensive. Yes, you aren’t going to be the next Britney Spears, but we already have one of those. If your
interest is in making music and sharing it with others, then make music and share it with others. Join the producer side of the equation rather than the remaining on the consumer side. The RIAA exists only because they think they can monopolize music production, and for the moment, they seem to be correct. If you
change this supply vs. demand equation, the viable business models that the record companies rely on will change as well.