Time for the Boston CD Party?
You will recall the problems that ensued from
days when the UK government attempted to impose unwelcome taxes on
the citizens of the north American colonies? The tea tax led to
Boston Harbour tasting of Darjeeling for a brief while, and marked
the started of more significant rebellion. So thanks for the idea
I suggest that we dress up as Native English
People and intercept the next shipment of CDs from US-controlled
media and software companies and toss them in the Thames. Perhaps a
troupe of Morris Men – sorry, Morris Persons – could be pressed into
services from the depths of some Oxfordshire village.
Now, I realise that a tax is generally a
government imposition, but I think it’s plain from the political
stance of the US that the high cost of its “intellectual property”
is part of a government-lead strategy to maintain artificially high
prices for “IPR” – which includes everything from music CDs to
pharmaceuticals. The argument put forward for the need for companies
to make vast margins in order to invest in research – both for
pharmaceuticals and music talent – deserves closer examination
If a new cancer cure were to be discovered
tomorrow (by a commercial company) that could be produced for £5, do
you imagine it would announced while conventional chemotherapthy is
raking in £20k a course? And talented musicians can expose
themselves to the market on the internet perfectly well without the
anachronism of traditional music publishing A&R.
The whole minefield of patents and copyright
has become vastly more complex and fraught with the explosion of
information exchange resulting from the internet, and shows no signs
of improving. The meltdown in software as open source spreads into
every area of application is inevitable. In the early days of the
dotcom era this nonsense probably peaked with numerous efforts to
patent the basic idea of an auction., and the only winners were the
lawyers, as usual.
In case you hadn't noticed, the music business
is not a big fan of a lot of the manifestations of online file
sharing; but any business that is predicated on 95% gross margins
(the retail cost of CD versus the cost of making it) is vulnerable
to competing technology that isn't quite so greedy.
So it’s not surprising that a software
developer like Roxio, whose ubiquitous CD burning software has
steadily grown to encompass all things DVD, hails from Germany – a
land famous for hackers, Linux aficionados, weak beer, and general
exasperation with stuff that doesn’t work.
When recordable CDs turned up at about £3 a
blank, at least half of all attempts to write didn't work, and we
all began to gather a collection of costly coasters. But I now have
to report that Roxio version 6 Platinum Edition is now something
that my gran could probably have used to copy her collection of
Henry Hall 78s to DVD. What more do you need to know?
So now with 20p blanks and 99% certainty in
writing, the music CD game was well and truly up, even without the
help of MP3. And the snoozing music publishing giants have been is
all sorts of disarray for several years when they began to realise
that the public were not keen to continue to fund their lifestyles
of cocaine and stretched limos.
In the US, where money from the media interests
buys the voice of politicians, the latest wheeze is a suggestion
that MP3 “borrowers” should have their PCs invaded and trashed -
remotely! You have to admire the Americans – if they can't bust your
door down or machine-gun you from afar, their finest hackers will
now squeeze up your internet connection and disembowel your PC.
This is no small town backwoodsman either, it
is no less than the Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee,
The US has a fine record of stifling innovation
where it can enforce a monopoly through IPR and market protection –
its indifferent cellphone business is the classic example of
business persuading politicians to act against the interests of the
And the late Douglas Adams had some very
piquant observations on US-made dishwashers that reminded us all
that an ability of the nation to drop a cruise missile into Saddam
Hussein’s outside toilet from a thousand miles had no bearing on the
ability of traditional US domestic appliances to perform simple
tasks that we Europeans take for granted.
So we had better send in the Morris Men while