A Venture Capitalist's Approach to Fighting Piracy
-- Fred Wilson made Billboard's Power 100 list ( at No. 86) for two reasons: he helps builds digital startups and he is one of venture capital's more prominent thought leaders. In fact, his blog is such an important gathering spot that the startup Engagio was birthed out of a conversion in the comments section between Wilson and entrepreneur William Mougayar.
So when Wilson offers an alternative to two failed pieces of anti-piracy legislation -- SOPA and PIPA -- it's worth taking a look. Speaking to media executives at the Paley Center for Media on Tuesday, Wilson proposed that Internet companies self-regulate themselves by creating an independent body to maintain a list of approved and disapproved websites. A black list of bad actors and a white list of good actors.
The blacklist approach would be softer than the site blocking proposed by SOPA and PIPA. Instead of preventing Internet users from accessing certain sites, Internet companies that are part of this independent body would warn people trying to access sites of questionable legality and push them toward approved sites instead.
This proposal probably means different things to different people. Music companies and their trade groups would surely love an enforcement mechanism with more teeth. Supporters of total Internet freedom surely want both government and business to take a laissez-faire attitude and allow no restrictions or warnings.
People in the middle -- those who see a need to protect intellectual property without hurting websites with some legitimate purposes -- may view Wilson's proposal as a sensible alternative to government action. After all, several not-for-profit entities already help form the backbone of the Internet. The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), for example, is a not-for-profit public-benefit corporation with a board of directors with a wide range of stakeholders. The Internet Society (ISOC) is a not-for-profit, non-governmental agency that provides directions for Internet standards and policy. We've trusted independent bodies to run the Internet so far, so why not allow companies steer users away from undesired websites?
Technology companies may view self-regulation favorably as it is often a more desirable outcome than regulation imposed by government. However, collectively these companies -- ranging from Google to Tumblr with plenty of small players in between -- helped defeat SOPA and PIPA. There isn't much incentive to self-regulate when you can so successfully thwart attempts to be regulated.
Timing could also be an issue with this kind of proposal. Self-regulation was a more popular notion before the financial meltdown that led to the world's current economic malaise. Contrary to what former Fed chairman Alan Greenspan believed, the financial market was not able to regulate itself. These days people aren't too keen on letting companies pick the rules by which they will play. Technology companies seem to get a lot more leeway in this respect, but that may not always be the case.
And how will this independent body determine what belongs on the black list? "We all know who the good guys are who are truly licensed and are operating legitimately," Wilson said, according to CNET. "And we know who the bad guys are."
Well, yes and no. Sometimes the difference between good and bad isn't clear until a court makes a decision. Take Grooveshark, for example. The music service has been sued by three of the four major music companies. Others labels complain about its business model, and EMI Music Publishing sued last month for breach of contract. But Grooveshark argues it's no different than YouTube and Veoh, two video sites with similar business models -- they allow user-uploaded material -- that have successfully defended their business models and practices in court. (Veoh won a pyrrhic victory, however, as the cost of the lawsuit led to its downfall.)
Wilson's idea makes for a nice thought experiment, but it's not exactly shovel-ready. "Google should do this," he said. "They won't but they should." And that's why content companies will continue to fight for legislation.
Digital Albums Sales Get Grammy Bump
-- Super Bowl and Grammy sales bumps overlap on this week's digital album charts. Grammy sales will have a bigger influence on next week's charts after a full seven days will be have passed since the awards telecast. Some albums' CD sales picked up because of Grammy coverage, but this week we're looking at impulse digital sales related to Sunday night's telecast.
The digital album to get the biggest Grammy bump was the Civil Wars' "Barton Hallow," which jumped 320%, according to Nielsen Soundscan. (The Civil Wars also had the shortest performance on the telecast, but it got viewers' attention.) The Beatles' "Beatles 1" rose 267% and Bruno Mars' "Doo-Wops & Hooligans" rose 190%. The 178% gain by Adele's "21" is notable because it was already selling very well -- it moved 31,000 digital albums in the previous week, according to Nielsen Soundscan.
Some digital albums got a bigger Super Bowl bump because they had a full seven-day week of sales (the Grammy bump came mostly -- but not entirely -- from Sunday evening's telecast). Elton John's "Rocket Man -- Number 1s" rose 683%, OK Go's "Of the Blue Colour of the Sky" jumped 436%. James Taylor's "Greatest Hits" rose 423%, although that was due to his announcement of a summer tour.
Kim Garner Leaves Universal
-- After more than 16 years at Universal, senior VP Kim Garner has decided to leave the company. Most recently, she was senior VP of marketing and artist development, a role that saw her working with Rush, Van Halen, the Who, Prince, 3 Doors Down, Jack Johnson, Amy Winehouse and Florence + the Machine, among many others. Prior to her Universal stint, she was head of marketing, among other roles, at SRO Management/Anthem Records. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.