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"The music industry encourages stealing by making people feel justified in doing so. For that, the industry in its present form will also be shut down—not by the courts, but by the laws of economics and the market."
—Esther Dyson, L.A. Times

BIZ HITS IN COURT, TAKES HITS IN PRESS

Commentators Slam Film, Music Industries’ Initiatives Against Netcos
As the entertainment industry racks up victories in its court battles against Internet usurpers, it appears to be racking up its fair share of bad press.

With a possible affirmation of Judge Marilyn Patel's injunction order against Napster coming up soon in appeals court and a big interim victory for the film industry in the case against a hacker site that linked to a DVD-cracking protocol, the film and music powers-that-be feel vindicated in what they see are necessarily aggressive efforts against online theft of copyrighted material.

But high-profile press attacks on big entertainment players' strategies in this sphere are growing in frequency, reflecting a widening chasm between film and music companies' self-justification and what an increasingly vocal array of outsiders see as an inordinately anti-progress and anti-consumer stance.

"Napster…encourages stealing by making it too easy. For that, it is likely to be shut down by the U.S. courts, despite a recent reprieve," avers Esther Dyson in a tech commentary in today's Los Angeles Times. "Meanwhile, the music industry encourages stealing by making people feel justified in doing so. For that, the industry in its present form will also be shut down—not by the courts, but by the laws of economics and the market."

Dyson blames record-biz "greed" for its impending demise, asserting that it is alienating customers with its litigiousness and distrust of ordinary music fans at a time when technology could make its middleman contribution unnecessary.

Though elements of Dyson's argument are dubious in the extreme—the industry's ability to market, position and distribute artists has yet to be seriously challenged, and even the predominance of Napster has apparently not dampened record sales—her larger concerns reflect an increasingly prevalent view.

Elsewhere in the same issue of the Times, commentator Jeremy Rifkin predicts file-sharing applications like Napster will transform the music economy and are "likely to set the pace for the way companies do business in every field." While less damning of the industry than Dyson, Rifkin regards the court battles of our time as "an epic struggle between two great economic systems," with the existing entertainment industry representing the old model that will be forced, inevitably and irrevocably, to yield to the imperatives of the new.

Charles C. Mann of the Atlantic Monthly, meanwhile, worries that the entertainment congloms' court victories could adversely affect the growth potential of the Net as a global town square. "Allowing the travails of a single industry—no matter how legitimate its concerns—to decide the architecture of that arena," he writes, "would be a folly that could take a long time to undo."

Such critiques are hardly anomalous; outside of trade journals, the press is consistently and often harshly critical of what it tends to portray as a blinkered, rapacious and intransigent industry. Mainstream publications like Newsweek have regularly presented a quasi-populist view by siding with Napster and taking the record business to task for losing touch with consumers.

Clearly, regardless of short-term successes achieved in court, the biz has a way to go to persuade not only rabid Napsterphiles but Net-friendly journalists of the validity of its claims. Otherwise, it runs the risk of winning a few battles and losing the war.

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