Napster Wars revisited

In diesem Artikel von Cory Doctorow (BoingBoing.net) geht es ja eigentlich um Youtube und um die Klagen rund um Copyright-Verletzungen, aber er zeigt auch sehr schön die Geschichte und die Fehler auf, die die Musikindustrie im Kampf gegen die P2P-Technologie machte. Liebe Musikindustrie: Lesen. Auswendig lernen. Anders machen.

The disastrous thing about Napster wasn’t that it it existed, but rather that the record industry managed to kill it.

Napster had an industry-friendly business-model: raise venture capital, start charging for access to the service, and then pay billions of dollars to the record companies in exchange for licenses to their works. Yes, Napster kicked this plan off without getting permission from the record companies, but that’s not so unusual. The record companies followed the same business plan a hundred years ago, when they started recording sheet music without permission, raising capital and garnering profits, and then working out a deal to pay the composers for the works they’d built their fortunes on.

Napster’s plan was plausible. They had the fastest-adopted technology in the history of the world, garnering 52,000,000 users in 18 months — more than had voted for either candidate in the preceding US presidential election! — and discovering, via surveys, that a sizable portion would happily pay between $10 and $15 a month for the service. What’s more, Napster’s architecture included a gatekeeper that could be used to lock out non-paying users.

The record industry refused to deal. Instead, they sued, bringing Napster to its knees. Bertelsmann bought Napster out of the ensuing bankruptcy. Later, Universal followed the same patttern, when it killed MP3.com in the courts, then brought home the corpse on the cheap, running it as an internal project.

After that, the record companies had a field day: practically every venture-funded P2P company went down, and the record companies made millions of dollars.

But the record companies weren’t ready to replace these services with equally compelling alternatives. Instead, they fielded inferior replacements like PressPlay, with limited catalog, high prices, and anti-copying technology (digital rights management, or DRM) that alienated users by the millions by treating them like crooks instead of customers. These half-baked ventures did untold damage to the record companies and their parent firms.