$75 Trillion … WTF

Thanks to the increase in high quality streaming services like Spotify, BlinkBox, and LoveFilm, file sharing looks like it might have started to decline recently, however that hasn’t stopped the music industry from filing a frankly ludicrous claim for damages from LimeWire.

According to NPD Research closing LimeWire down did lead to a drop in the number of US citizens sharing files – from 16% to 9% last year, however this week, we’ve seen the record industry claim that the volume of material shared over Limewire entitles them to damages of up to $75 trillion.  That’s around one and a half time’s the entire worlds GDP.

Thankfully the judges reading the case threw out the claim for damages that had been filed, instead putting forward a proposal that Limewire pay a fixed amount per title shared, rather than per file shared. however given that Limewire are essentially bankrupt, the record companies are likely to end up with no more than their already hefty bill for legal expenses.

P2P is still a big threat to music company revenues.  While sales via iTunes and Amazon might be huge, and in theory have a lower cost per unit than physical media, the record companies have seen huge losses mount up over recent years, and they’ve been laying the blame at the feet of consumers.

I’m no fan of stolen content – I put work into this blog, and it frustrates me when I see content being republished elsewhere by other people without my permission, but I’m also conscious of the fact that we live in a world where sharing is becoming the norm, and that when you buy a new iPod with 64GB of storage, you’re going to want to fill it up.  At 99p per 4MB music file, it would cost you just under £15,000 to do so.  Although when you think about it that way, you end up with a total of 16,000 different songs stored, which would take you almost 6 months of listening to get through.

That’s not to blame Apple and other manufacturers though, simply putting temptation in people’s way is no excuse for them stealing content – you don’t go “ooh, my 100 litre petrol tank is empty, I’ll just steal £135 worth of petrol to fill it.

There is an issue of social convention that has caused the problems.  People would go and buy a CD, not necessarily consider the content on it.  So much investment went into the packaging that in some ways the music has been devalued.  We live in a civilisation where form has overtaken function and where labels mean more than the product.

When you emphasise the container, which is what has happened with CDs, the assumption will be that it is that which costs the money, and as such, the actual content has little or no value.  Physical objects are easy to appraise, ephemeral objects like data are much harder to assign a definite value to.

People do not steal music because it is too expensive, they steal music because it appears to be too cheap.  The record labels have not done enough to promote the value add music that they produce, and have instead pushed disposable pap, churned out to fill a void in the market.  The likes of Rebecca Black or any of the other faceless teen toss that is being released to be discarded immediately devalues the work of anyone else in music.

By creating content that is disposable and packaging their product in such a way as to add value to that packaging, the music industry essentially wrote their own obituary.  When you buy a genuine Rolex, you are buying a product that has been hand made by craftsmen and designed as a piece of art.  When you buy a fake Rolex, you are buying something that has no value and is garbage.  It might look the same, but it isn’t the same, and the owner will not value it to the same extent.  Music is the same.

There are no statistics I can find to provide me with an accurate number for the most shared stolen  music via P2P, however I’m willing to bet that it wasn’t a track by an artist.  More likely it was a piece of music that was already devalued in the minds of the downloaders due to its nature.