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Arrogance: RIAA

The DNS camp's inability to face reality is matched only by the RIAA's arrogance. But more of that in a moment. First, what are people willing to pay for on the Net? The craze of the moment is the push for paying for content. Buzz! Wrong! It's not gonna happen, folks. People will not pay for content. They will, however, pay for connectivity.

The current attempts to make people pay for content on the Internet will sink like our Titanic friend. Why? We don't pay for content in the real world. We get free network TV because we're willing to sit through 10 minutes of snake oil pitches every hour in order to view our favorite TV programs. You might pay for a cable connection, but that's not paying for content—otherwise, why would there be advertising on cable channels? And our printed news media is heavily supported by advertising dollars.

We will pay for access to content but not the content itself. And any attempts to force us to pay for content on the Net will eventually fail. Free content is not the exception on the Net—it is and will be the rule. (See my earlier article, "Captain Kirk Was Right!") I agree with Andrew Odlyzko, who wrote in his article "Content is Not King" that people will pay more for point-to-point communication than for the content they receive.

And what does this have to do with the RIAA? I'll get there in a moment. First, ponder this.

The music industry has had quit a racket going over the last 75 years or so. First they sold us vinyl records that played on record players. Then they gave us the eight-track tape, which played on its own player. That was quickly followed by cassette tapes played on cassette recorders. The last incarnation was the compact disc—which, of course, needed another new player. Every new medium needed a new player to hear the music, and each time we shelled out our hard-earned cash to "upgrade" to the new technology. This was definitely a plus for the recording industry; every time you and I wanted to upgrade our Beatles White Album from vinyl record to eight-track tape to cassette tape to CD, we had to pay for that very same Beatles album again and again and again. And as long as the recording industry can keep the daisy chain of new media and players coming and cloaks itself in the concept of copyrights and intellectual property rights, we're stuck with paying for the same music over and over again.

I have no problem with artists getting paid for their work. My question is this. Did the artist get paid for the transfer of his music to each new medium, as he did for the first time he recorded it? I highly doubt it. Sure, they received some kind of royalty for the transfers, but probably nowhere near as much as the original payout. So if the selling price of each medium is the same, who is making all the extra profits? The recording industry, of course. And why should we pay for the same music again and again when we've paid for it once already?

Until recently, we've had little choice. But what the recording industry doesn't understand—or refuses to accept—is that the party is over. The end of the daisy chain has been reached. The last medium is here, and so is the last player. The final medium is digital, and the last player is any Net-enabled device. In its arrogance, the recording industry is trying to control this last type of medium and how it's accessed and played. But this attempt will fail. With the blessing of the RIAA, the recording industry has rolled out scheme after scheme of charging for downloading their music from the Net. But they will all fail. The applications to distribute music are too easy to build and share, and the players range far and wide, from PCs to PDAs to pocket PCs to cell phones and MP3 players. Whether or not the RIAA likes it, they can't stop the sharing of music files over the Net.

And this is just the tip of the iceberg. Using point-to-point technology that can easily bypass the most visible centralized keepers of content on the Net (which are also controllable by the RIAA), people will find and share through current and future search technology not only music files but any files—video, images, or data. People who create information, such as writers (like me), can sell their products from their own Net-enabled devices directly to buyers, and those buyers in turn will be able to share this information with their friends across the online community.

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