In “The Record Industry’s Decline,” the authors examine the state of the music industry at what may have been the most important turning point. Written in 2007, the article focuses on the Napster “revolution,” how the public accessed music online, and how industry executives missed their opportunity to survive the changes. “Napster” in these years became identified with any technological pirating of new music, and because Hank Barry’s site led the way in encouraging people to download music for no charge. From the 1990s on, when technology and file-sharing sites like Napster offered free alternatives to the public, the music industry faced a threat to its basic survival, and the article essentially holds that the failures of the executives to directly address the challenges led, even by 2007, to the collapse of the industry: “In 2000, the ten top-selling albums in the U.S. sold a combined 60 million copies; in 2006, the top ten sold just 25 million” (Hiatt, Serpick). 2000 was as well the year when record company CEOs had the opportunity to work with Napster and restructure the business. When the reader realizes that the article is nearly 10 years old, the damage seems all the more dramatic, as a billion-dollar industry seems to have “sat back” and witnessed its own destruction. The main point of the article is that, as experts in the business claim, it is a destruction that could have been avoided.
The Rolling Stone piece is thought-provoking, and on several levels. To begin with, it is interesting that, even by 2007, the earlier outrage over Napster and other file-sharing sites is barely mentioned. In a sense it seems that the idea of copyright was eliminated, and simply because technology allowed universal access to music. Personally, the violation of copyright is a serious issue to me, as any artist should have the rights to their work. At the same time, however, nothing has more revolutionized the world than the Internet, and there is no escaping the reality that the technology was and is too universal to be ignored; plainly, people will be inclined to take what they can get for free, and this is a reality all involved in music should have fully accepted. It is not a matter of Napster as having been right or wrong; it is more that the sheer and massive opportunity to obtain music for free was overwhelming, and the “wrong” was likely minimized in users’ thinking. Nonetheless, it is also likely that few actually want to steal, and this should have been the core of the industry’s approach. In 2000, the CEOs had the chance to create licensing deals with Napster and charge users a minimal monthly fee. This they failed to do, and the legacy lives on as what was the music industry desperately seeks to stay alive.
In my eyes, the Napster scenario is a perfect case of how, when ease of access to copyright-protected material is suddenly universal, there must be a radical change in how copyright itself is viewed and legislated. Since 2007, other industries have faced similar threats, as the publishing business is frantically adapting to a world where e-books are increasingly the norm. Then, popular cable TV shows are uploaded on public Internet forums so, as with music, exposure is vast but there is no real copyright income generated. All of this means that the traditional definition of copyright must change, if only because, as history has so often revealed, people do not turn away from any technological advance providing access to what they want. Just as technology rendered the music industry as it was structured obsolete, so too were executives responsible for seeking alternatives and realizing that, clearly, there was no alternative. Ideally, the companies should have quickly turned away from traditional production and marketing, and established inexpensive sites of their own, which would have protected artists’ copyrights to an extent and continued profits. It is a matter of volume; instead of six million buyers spending ten dollars for a CD or album, the companies could have attracted hundreds of millions of users spending ten dollars a month. With technology evolving, piracy was and is unavoidable. However, most people will not breach the law or ethics when adhering to them is not a strain, and this is the ultimate reality that should have been recognized, and that may still save other entertainment industries today.
- Hiatt, Brian, & Serpick, Evan. “The Record Industry’s Decline.” Rolling Stone, 19 June 2007. Web. 18 Jan. 2016.