Burkart and McCourt’s reading analyzes the legal case of A&M Records et al v Napster from 1999, also revealing the ultimate goal of the “Big Five” record labels (EMI, Universal, Sony, Time Warner, BMG): to control distribution.
Oligopoly isn’t just a funny-sounding word, it also represents a dangerous reality in any business-consumer marketplace, and like monopolies, should be avoided to provided the best conditions for the consumer.
Steinmetz and Tunnell’s article describes a study of “digital pirates” and their motivations. Motivations were found to include their want to distribute content, to be able to sample music before making a purchase, to access content they would normally be unable to afford, as well as to avoid copyright laws.
One possible solution to the dilemma of music piracy is the concept of “Street Performer Protocol”, introduced by John Kelsey and Bruce Schneider. This idea essentially collects “donations in escrow, to be released to an author in the event that the promised work be put in the public domain.” This means artists will be able to say “if fans can put together $XXX, then I will release a new album”. Once that album is released, it can be freely distributed. If the fundraising goal is not reached (or the artist subsequently fails to produce the promised creative work), the money is returned to the users. This scheme ensures that artists are rewarded for their efforts, but also eliminates the need to control the distribution process through copyright enforcement. Interestingly, Kelsey and Schneider’s proposal was made in an academic paper in 1998, but a similar idea has recently seen widespread adoption, with the popularity of Kickstarter, IndieGogo, and similar “crowd-sourced” fundraising sites.
Kelsey and Schneider also discuss why copyright enforcement will be so difficult in the future. Advances in technology have allowed information to be copied and shared efficiently and at very little cost. This, combined with advances in encryption software and storage technology eliminates the previous dependence on larger, expensive and noticeable piracy factories.
Kelsey, K., Schneier, B. (1998). Electronic Commerce and the Street Performer Protocol. The Third USENIX Workshop on Electronic Commerce Proceedings
McCourt, T., P. Burkart. (2003). When Creators, Corporations and Consumers Collide: Napster and the Development of On-line Music Distribution. Media, Culture & Society. 25 (3), pg. 333-350
Steinmetz, K., K. Tunnell (2013). Under the Pixelated Jolly Roger: A Study of On-Line Pirates. Deviant Behavior. 34 (1), pg. 53-67