Now The Music Industry Is Acting Smart

According to a lawsuit filed by the record labels, XM Satellite Radio's XM + MP3 service is causing "Massive Wholesale Infringement."  Ooo... that sounds bad!  The suit, filed May 16, 2006, alleges that the service is an improperly licensed "download service."  Ouch!

Having come from the music business, I get a little insulted when businesspeople accuse recorded music industry executives of being, um... less than smart.  After all, these are the very people who have pioneered suing their customers and who are world-famous for totally ignoring any possible warning signs of technological change.  But I digress.

This lawsuit can only be about one of two things.

1) It is possible that the record companies are really too stupid to realize how digital files are moved over digital playback systems.  (You know, first you make a file, then you send the file, then it is "stored" in either random access memory or on a hard drive, then it is converted from digital to analog for you to hear.)  Did they not know that if there was metadata available in the file that it was that very metadata that would be used during playback to identify it?  They may have simply signed the deal, with XM thinking that the data would be used like regular FM radio signals.  It is a little confusing XM, FM ... it sounds like radio, doesn't it.  Perhaps they weren't paying attention in digital audio class on the day that "a file is a file is a file" was discussed.  That could be it, but even I can't imagine any group of industry professionals being that technologically inept.

2) It is much more possible that this is a negotiating tactic.  Hey, XM, we're mad as hell and we're not gonna take it anymore.  Your contracts for public performance and sync rights are almost up, and we're going to drill you now!!!!!

Yes, I like option No. 2.  The record companies finally woke up and realized that they could torture two fledging companies, XM and Sirius Satellite Radio, into paying for the ills of the entire technological world.

It's heartening to know that a few smart executives have jumped on this important issue. 

XM Music Lover: But wait ... you can't move the .mp3 files off of the XM platform and if you unsubscribe, the data is lost. 

Record Industry: Oh, don't try to confuse us with the details. 

XM Music Lover: But, wait. People who discover new music in this format are several times more likely to purchase entire collections of songs from their newly discovered artists. 

Record Industry: Yeah, we've seen the research... technocratic propaganda!

You can give it any name you like, but the "music business" will always be characterized by the famous meeting of the blind rabbit and the blind snake in the woods.  The snake says, "I'm blind, but I want to know what you are."  The rabbit says, "OK, well, you can feel me."  The snake says, "you're warm, you're fuzzy, you have big ears ... you must be a musician."  The rabbit says, "I'm blind, too--what are you?" The snake agrees to let the rabbit feel him, and the rabbit soon says, "You're slimy, you're cold, you're slithering on the ground and you have no ears... you must be from the label!"

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