PS Consultants - ideas & solutions

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 and precedent.

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 before acceptance.

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, Orrin Hatch.

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 consumer.

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 we can.