A deal with the original Napster was not possible, wrote the BPI’s Geoff Taylor in an op-ed piece about Napster and file-sharing at BBC News. How very true. Such an admission is refreshing because it is all too rare.
Taylor, BPI’s chief executive, believes the industry should have worked faster to deal with Napster, but admits there would have been numerous hurdles to prevent such a partnership. For better or worse, change comes slowly in this industry.
To make music fully and legally available on the internet meant clearing the rights in millions of tracks for a huge number of countries, agreeing how the revenue should be shared, implementing workable DRM (which everyone considered fundamental at the time), developing technology to track all the downloads for royalty purposes, as well as creating a quality user experience people would pay for.
Shawn Fanning and his P2P followers didn’t worry about any of those things, and weren’t prepared to pay fair royalties or to partner in a business model that could sustain investment in new music.
Why is this sort of thinking important? It acknowledges the structure of the music industry has been its greatest impediment. That’s not to say the industry has not mishandled its foray into digital music. Ten years ago there was a great deal of ignorance, trepidation, misunderstanding and lack of vision. But even if the industry wanted to move forward quickly, there were too many hoops to jump through and too many cooks in the kitchen.
And once that acknowledgement exists, there is a better chance history will not repeat itself. If the industry’s problem has been its inability to ingest disruptive technologies, then proper steps should be taken to enable better reactions. Imagine if a military was so large and cumbersome that it took months, if not years, to mobilize when faced with a threat. The industry will have more wars to fight.