Sunday, November 9, 2014

FT: The Days of Music Being Distributed for Free Are About to End

FT writes:
Taylor Swift’s new album, 1989 – named for the year of her birth – is enjoying some remarkable numbers. Since the start of the week it has sold 1.3m copies, almost a quarter of all LPs bought in the US...
By attacking the concept of free music the singer, born shortly after the Berlin Wall came down, is anticipating a new era of internet paywalls. Access to premium content – Swift prefers to call it “art” – will require a fee. The argument is not so much about the pricing of albums as the pricing of music. The dangers lie on Spotify’s side. Swift has set a precedent. Other A-listers may feel they, too, must prove they are bigger than the streaming service by leaving it. Until the likes of Spotify and iTunes are able to break new talent they will remain dependent on record labels. Having reacted to the onset of the digital age in the manner of panicking Mafiosi, the labels are trying to undo past blunders, finding ways to accommodate the tech upstarts or push back against them. Swift is taking the latter approach. She is gambling that Spotify needs her more than she needs it. The leader of the Taylor Nation, a global community bigger than Spain, is surely right. An era of protectionism is dawning. For pop’s top names, the days of music being distributed for free are set to go the way of Swift’s braids.
I have no particular insights into music marketing, what FT forecasts may or may not occur, but the debate itself highlights the question of ownership of creative works.

If Taylor Swift creates a musical work, why shouldn't she set the terms under which it should be released to others? How is it not extremely arrogant and totalitarian to tell her that she must release her creative work for free "to the people" or that it becomes somehow "public" because someone failed to honor the terms under which Swift agreed to exchange her work for money?

Ultimately, the most that anti-IPers can argue, and even this is a very weak argument, is that after someone breaks a contract with Swift, Swift's works is then a legitimate free for all, open for everyone to use. In other words, the anti-IP position is built on the notion that once theft has occurred the creator has no legitimate control over the creation.

But what should prevent Swift from going to those who obtained a copy of her work through a broken contract, i.e. theft, and saying, "Please do not reproduce what you have. The copy of the work you own is the result of theft and I have no desire to release my work for free to the world."?

The anti-IPers response would appear to be, "Well tough luck, I got this from a thief, not from you. You still have your copy, and I am going to do what I want with my copy because of the initial thievery."



  1. Bravo Bob... Good one.

  2. "But what should prevent Swift from going to those who obtained a copy..."

    How would she know who had a copy?

    1. It would be hard to explain without going into some new concepts and I don't have the room to do that here. But, suffice it to say, it is possible to protect intellectual property non-coercively and completely without the state. It is not only do-able, it is the right and moral thing to do.

  3. "...after someone breaks a contract with Swift, Swift's works is then a legitimate free for all, open for everyone to use."

    What if the first person doesn't break the contract when he allows another person to obtain a copy? For example, what if the purchaser who has a contract loses his copy and another person gets their hands on it?

    Now the whole world has it and no contract is broken.

  4. To me, music is sometimes just a reminder about appreciating the beauty of the world that we live in and provides that little lift that we occasionally need.