War clouds gathering (again)…

Many of the current generation of Internet users may not remember the original network called Napster. It was envisioned as a basic peer-to-peer file sharing network. It wasn’t unique in any way; there were other such networks before it. But Napster caught the imagination of users when it (somehow) focussed on MP3s. Users could now locate individuals who had music and were willing to share it. Napster didn’t charge for this service nor did it host any of the content. But Napster lasted all of 2 years. A court order shut it down in July 2001. The villains were music companies who claimed the service was engaged in copyright infringement. At its peak Napster had 80 million registered users. In the context of the total number of Internet users at that time, it probably constituted 90% or more.

There is another (similar) idea that is now gathering attention and the usual villains are also back! There is a not-too-familiar service called ReDigi that has a simple offering. It offers to store and allow users to re-sell legally purchased digital assets such as music. Capitol Records in the US has filed and won a preliminary round against ReDigi.

The issue here is different from that of Napster and yes it is beginning to bother me.

If I purchase a music CD, listen to it for a few days, months, years, I have the right to re-sell it. Amazon, eBay are filled with such offers. But when it comes to a legally purchased MP3 track, I am being told, I don’t have the same right. I don’t get it. The simplicity of the premise is being complicated by safe-guards originally provided in copyright protection laws. One of them states (sic) Copyright is infringed if music embedded in one media, is transferred to another media. By this definition I cannot import my music into iTunes, I cannot play it on my iPod or iPhone or any other non-CD device. And yet I do all of these AND no one is suing me AND this sort of use is only growing. By the way, I can store my music on my own iCloud space, I can store it in another Cloud, I can save it in my back-up drive and I can store it on the moon if I have access to it (and can afford it)! But I am led to believe I can’t store it on ReDigi and worse still, I cannot resell it like I can sell any other used commodity on this planet.

I don’t get it!

I understand digital files make my life simple but is this simplicity being offset by a violation of my fundamental right as a consumer? Why are music companies threatened by ReDigi? Why are publishers (of all types) watching this case closely? There are complexities that threaten the very basis of making content delivery simple, I accept that. But is restricting fundamental rights the only way forward? I don’t think so. I don’t believe I have the answers and I certainly don’t want to add to the complexity. But I do want to raise questions and engage in debate. I have repeatedly said we (publishers) need to be partners with our content creators and content users. We cannot remain gatekeepers for content; we need to evolve and become pathways connecting creators and users.

I don’t know what happens to ReDigi or what happens to Capitol Records. But I do know that the question this case raises effects a larger universe of issues. I don’t think I am qualified to provide solutions but I certainly want to know what happens and follow every discussion that takes place.

This issue affects me.


About Vivek Mehra

I am currently the MD & CEO of SAGE Publications India. But I wear many hats that make me the person I am. Between the (public) professional life and the very deep and private recesses of my brain lies a universe of thoughts, actions and beliefs. These have been shaped by events, people and perhaps Karma. It's this universe I seek to put in words. When everything else failed me professionally, it was the power of my words that not just resurrected a career but brought back life to life. It is with these words that I continue to make a difference with those whose karma connects mine. Sometimes it's direct and most times it's not. But the essence of who I am never changes and I remain a person searching for himself. Update: In 2014 I published my first book on Kindle. It was written in 1999 and it never saw the light of day. Reader input welcome... http://tinyurl.com/7shadesofgrey
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2 Responses to War clouds gathering (again)…

  1. Amit Kumar says:

    Vivek, when a digital music file (for example) is resold by an user, is the artist getting the royalty for that sale? I don’t think so. Agreed that royalty is not disbursed to the artist even when a CD is resold (though it is considered to be a legal practice). In both these cases the real losers are the publishers as they are the one who invest in artists bring them under the arc light, making their art consumable. Artists, on the other hand are not so concerned about free distribution of their work, as it makes them more popular and these days most of them are earning their livelihood through live performances. The case is very similar to one being faced by the book publishers. Authors want their thoughts/ideas to be popular, their theories to be globally discussed and all these are not without a cause. They are definitely seeking something in return like plum postings in better institutions, promotions, awards, recognitions or simply more mind-share amongst the readers. Moreover, they make their earnings primarily through teaching assignments and it is easy for them to act like a sage. We publishers (be it music or books) exist for a reason, which is helping authors/artists in spreading their ideas or piece of work, which I believe is difficult for them to do. They can either practice hard and take their craft to the next level or spend their time towards finding audiences. And they know the answer (and that’s why publishers exist, I believe). Yes I agree with you that contents need to be shared between the originators and the consumers. And as publishers we need to ensure a convenient and cost effective way to make that possible. However that cost factor must be there, otherwise the cog of this wheel will cease to exist which will be detrimental to the craft itself.


    • Vivek Mehra says:

      Some valid observations no doubt. Here is the way I see the issues you have raised:

      1. Authors not really concerned about re-selling as they get publicity: I don’t think so. I have been part of the copyright amendment bill (in India) and one of the arguments came from lyricists and script writers that they didn’t get primary royalty nor did they get any subsidiary royalty (as in resale or licensing). So to my mind they are equally concerned about the resale business.

      2. Publishers are the ones that lose the most: well not exactly. If the publisher does his job there is no need to worry about secondary sales. We tried our best to block resale of books (there was a time it was illegal to lend or resell books too, but nobody followed it), but failed. In 2012 the US textbook market saw a dramatic increase in the number of used textbooks being sold, affecting the sale of new ones. And neither authors nor publishers could do anything about it. All I am saying is that as a consumer my right to resell has to be consistent; if I can sell CDs then I can sell my legally purchased digital product. Instead of trying to block this sale, we should be talking about verifying what the term “legally purchased” means. For example, if I bought a CD and want to sell a song from it, I have NOT made a legal purchase of a digital asset. I have purchased a CD and therefore can sell the CD legally. However, if I buy a song from iTunes or Flipkart then I have legally purchased a digital asset. This is what I am alluding to. Publishers will have to find ways to be legally compliant and protect their interests. One counter to the textbook sales in the US is to go for digital books. The per unit cost will drop dramatically but the P&L of the book will look very healthy.

      There is another critical issue to address. What should the ROI be for anyone? In the past, if a music company launched an artist, they basically bought a slave! Most great Western musicians of the 30s through 50s died paupers even though we acknowledge them as greats. That’s how agents stepped in and artists started getting their dues. Even in the 80s (believe it or not), musicians PAID record companies to make CDs! I can’t imagine what hell would break loose if we charged authors to make eBooks. Publishers should be able to get a return on their investment but certainly not at the cost of the author. Should the author wait until the publisher has recovered his cost before he starts getting his dues? And I don’t mean monetary dues. Here is an illustration to the point I am making: In India more movies make 100+ crores and yet we don’t have a single one of them celebrating a Silver or Golden let alone Diamond jubilee. So in which era was it more profitable to make movies, the time a Rajendra Kumar movie ran for 25 or 50 weeks (by the way, he was known as “SILVER JUBILEE KUMAR”) or a Dabangg 2 that ran for all of 3 weeks in the most popular cinema hall (probably a handful of halls in the country)?


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