Note to the RIAA and MPAA: Enforcement Alone is Not Enough

The RIAA and MPAA recently made a joint submission document to the United States Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator.  You can read the entire document here.  The document is comprehensive and covers a lot of already well trodden ground. There are a couple of details however which have triggered visceral responses from the likes of the Electronic Frontier Federation.

These include a suggestion that ISPs should consider using: “consumer tools for managing copyright infringement from the home (based on tools used to protect consumers from viruses and malware).”

The RIAA, MPAA, BPI, IFPI, NVPA - and all other acronyms of recording industry bodies that are lobbying governments – are right to focus on bringing their respective local legislative and judicial frameworks up to date.  However it is crucial that a balance is struck The emphasis should be on establishing this bedrock upon which new service and product innovation can flourish, rather than simply trying to stem the digital tide King Canute-like.

Digitization threw scarcity out of the window. The simple fact is that the relevancy of the rules and business models that brought music, movies and news sales prosperity in the 20th century was shattered by the digitization of content. As soon as consumers had tools such as CD ripping, file sharing and web browsing, the power shifted irrevocably from the content owners to the audience.   Scarcity went and so did the content companies' monopoly of control. Music and other media still have massive intrinsic value.  What needs to happen now is a process of product innovation and business model reinvention.

Music is still the business, but the current music business is not.  Focusing purely on fighting the fight will deliver diminishing returns.  The history of file sharing shows us that every time the content industries catch up with one network the problem has already long since moved onto another one.  It’s a veritable game of digital whack-a-mole.  So even if the RIAA and MPAA managed to get every one of their preferred measures in place, all they would achieve would be to force the ardent ‘pirates’ off-network. 

Focus on nurturing business partnerships. The onus must be on making the perceived miscreants - i.e. telcos - into partners, stakeholders in the new digital value chains. In the UK the government has rushed through the Digital Economy Bill which thought it received a lot of criticism – some of it well founded – could be the foundation for exactly this sort of cooperation.  If the labels and the ISPs consider the facets of the legislation as a new digital framework for cooperation we might yet see the UK set the global standard for label – ISP cooperation.  And that makes most sense for everyone.  The future of content businesses in the digital age will depend upon successfully monetizing consumers’ access to content and the ISPs are a glaringly obvious tier 1 partner in such a paradigm.

The content industries can carry on whacking the moles, or instead they can start laying turf in a new field.

If you're a stakeholder on either side of the debate I'd love to hear your thoughts.  Do you feel that  viewpoints of those on the other side of the fence simply too far from yours to enable productive business discussions? Are record labels demanding too much? Are ISPs doing too little?