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Published on October 5th, 2007 | by Tom

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Music Industry and Musicians Heading in Different Directions

Two events this week point to the diverging interests of the music industry Establishment and the artists they depend on. But more, the split illustrates just how Jump Point economics will begin dividing industries in new ways.

First, from Duluth, Minnesota, the town that gave us Robert Zimmerman, aka Bob Dylan; a big, fat Pyhrric victory for Big Labels, as a federal jury punishes defendant Jammie Thomas by ordering her to pay $222,000 for sharing copyrighted music online.  The jury fined her $9,250 for each of 24 songs she downloaded onto file sharing service Kazaa in violation of current copyright law.  For this pay-check-to-paycheck young woman, that means up to one quarter of her salary could be garnished–for the rest of her life.  That’s a heavy hit just to keep the members of Metallica in leather pants for the rest of their lives.

According to the Associated Press, the music industry titans have have filed some 26,000 lawsuits since 2003 over file-sharing.  The problem is, the RIAA estimates that file sharing is going on in some 8 million homes in America.  Better pack a lunch, this could take awhile.  The reasonable question to ask at this point is, does it really matter?  Do these draconian actions against kids and grandmothers really deter something that cannot be stopped?  Information will not be bound by legislation.  It is gameover and someone over at Big Labels needs to get the memo.

By wondrous contrast, let’s look at the bold move made this week by rock superstars Radiohead.  The critically-acclaimed English group announced that its new album, "In Rainbows," would be available for download October 10–at whatever price you want to pay.  Yes, that’s right, they believe so deeply in the quality of their artistry and the integrity of their customers that they have laid it all out there.  What a contrast to the control and mistrust paradigm so vigorously defended by Big Labels.  The band knows that no true fan, no long-term loyal fan, will stiff them–and certainly knowing that the band is selling the work directly itself makes it less likely people will take the tunes for free or share them with friends casually.  Stiffing Big Labels is one thing, violating the artist fan compact is another.

Besides the inevitable impulse to share information without restriction, the desire for "radical trust," like that exhibited by Radiohead will be a big part of the post-Jump Point world. 

Regardless of your musical tastes, on Wednesday I encourage you to download and pay generously for Radiohead’s new album.  It will be an act of defiance heard ’round the world.

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