Grokster Ceases Operations

You may have heard today that file-sharing service, Grokster, who recently lost a Supreme Court ruling finding the company infringed on copyrights for allowing the sharing of movies via its p2p software, shuttered its web site today. More news on the story can be found at Yahoo: http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20051107/music_nm/media_grokster_dc
and an intersting comment about the effects of this decision on software developers can be found at the Ohio Free Culture blog.

This decision is quite onerous for software developers of filing sharing applications, no longer able to rest on the argument their software is capable of non-infringing uses. Although many people may disagree with me on this, I’m actually going to side with the industry here. Whereas the 1984 Sony decision protected the VHS over BetaMax, there was no central network giving the end user the ability to send and receive content over an Internet. What people did with VHS in the home wasn’t able to be constricted by any outside party. The difference in the Grokster ruling was that the company marketed their product in such a way, it could be perceived they knew what was going on through the network was illegal and they did nothing to stop it.

Although you can use Grokster for non-infringing purposes, it’s not the point. The liquor industry must abide by the law of the land that prevents them from selling alcohol to minors. There are liquor stores everywhere, but the rules say you can’t sell to them. There are some who do and get away with it, but the majority abide by the law. Liquore stores know under-21 persons enter their establishment and that it’s their responsibility to check that young person’s license. The same can be said for Grokster, who must check the license of every work distributed to insure that the proper rights holders are getting paid for their work.

I don’t agree that music should be free. I think it’s been a lot of fun for many people to get something for nothing now, but at the end of the day, file sharing has put a lot of good people out of work, and impacted a whole industry negatively. I know change is good, innovation breeds new services, etc… Do we need to find new ways of selling music online? New pricing models? More power in the hands of the recording artist and consumer? Sure! But knowingly enabling the theft of music, then claiming you can do nothing about it isn’t the solution.

I don’t have the answers. If I did, I’d be rich. I’ll let Groksters demise pass without shedding a tear. Building a business based on theft of other people’s work isn’t in the artist, label or consumer’s best interest. Consumers get poor quality, artists receive nothing for their efforts and labels lay off employees because they can no longer afford the overhead. Sure, release some track for free to promo the artist and get the word out, but basing your career on giving away your music for free and just collecting money for performance doesn’t take into consideration the many artists who may not get the chance to perform at all. What happens to their music if it’s distributed via the web for free? Where does their revenue come from to help fund their efforts?

That’s just my take on it, for what it’s worth. Sure, I’m conflicted. Do I use file-sharing services? I have in the past. Sometimes, I might surf around and see what’s out there, but I’m finding that the label system is better suited to my personal needs. I get new release information from the marketing by labels, I find those tracks at the online store of my choice, I download them and I own them. That’s fair.

DRM on the other hand, I’m not too fond of. If I buy music, I should be able to purchase it in any format I want and have portability. If you restrict to AAC, Windows or Real and I don’t have interoperability or buy once, play anywhere in this digital age, I feel like labels are restricting my freedom of expression. I bought it. What I do with it is my business. To control the transaction after the sale in a digital media world is simply just not an effective use of anyone’s energy. I know why its important, but I’m just not a big fan of restriction on merchandise after purchasing it. If I buy a loaf of bread, I could put it in the microwave if I wanted to , even though I know it should go in the toaster, but that’s my choice.

I know I just can’t go and copy and paste a New York Times story in this blog posting, changing the words to reflect my personal beliefs. I’d be breaking the seal, so to speak. But I can quote and reference it anywhere I want, without changing the writing, if I so desire. I can rewrite it on paper, as long as I attribute to the source. Plus, they sold advertising based on my eyes viewing the annoying banners and boxes. Therefore, I paid for the content in some way, so I should be able to do with it what I want, as long as I don’t give it away to millions of other people for free.

There are arguments for and against DRM, I’m leaning towards against, even though I can see the benefits of for. But that’s my own personal opionion, however ill informed it may be.

Tony Z.

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