It's Saturday morning, and I'm not planning on hanging around on this blog all weekend. However, I couldn't resist this next story even if it means two posts in one day.
To understand where I'm coming from on this item, I need to make a confession.
I'm not a big television person. I don't have cable, and I never watch situation comedies or reality shows. Except for House, NCIS and Boston Legal, I don't even keep track of the prime time lineup. And I never watch daytime television . . . with two exceptions: Who Wants To Be a Millionaire and Judge Judy.
Every weekday afternoon, I stop what I'm doing around 3:30 and settle in for ninety minutes of daytime viewing (Judge Judy is an hour).
I adore Judge Judy. She is arrogant and funny and extremely practical in her approach to justice. Like the irritating (and far more arrogant) Dr. Phil, she has a bunch of axioms that she repeats over and over to the poor slobs who come into her courtroom. One is, "This is some great America" when talking about the U.S. welfare system. Another is, "Beauty fades, but dumb is forever."
I was reminded of the "dumb is forever" comment when reading this next story.
First, you need to understand the upheaval that has occurred in the music industry over the last five years. In my most recent "Industry Matters" column (go to http://www.mayareynolds.com and click on "Articles" to read it), I quoted Nielsen SoundScan: "Total album sales are down 19 percent since 2001, while CD sales have dropped 16 percent during the same period . . . Sales of single digital music tracks have jumped more than 1,700 percent in just two years."
You don't have to be a rocket scientist to understand what this is saying about the music industry. All you need is a grammar school knowledge of arithmetic. The industry's delivery system has shifted (not "is shifting"--the move has already occurred) from the purchase of CD hard copies to digital downloads.
So, who wins my prize in the "dumb is forever" sweepstakes?
A leading contender has to be Doug Morris, the head of the world's largest music company according to the Los Angeles Times. On Thursday, Mr. Morris, Chief Executive of the Universal Music Group, went after the Internet's social networking sites like MySpace.com and YouTube.com.
Instead of recognizing that these websites permit young people to discover new musical acts and hype favorite songs, Mr. Morris was quoted as saying, "We believe these new businesses are copyright infringers and owe us tens of millions of dollars . . . How we deal with these companies will be revealed shortly."
It just makes my head hurt.
It's been eighteen months since the Supreme Court ruled against Grokster in the lawsuit for copyright infringement brought by MGM Studios, and the music industry hasn't learned a damn thing since then.
Even though MGM prevailed in the highest court of the country, they should have realized that Grokster was only the beginning. Mark Cuban did. In the same way he challenged Wal-Mart's hegemony in the DVD world with his simultaneous release philosophy (read my blog of October 30 and the three posts I did in January on Mark Cuban for more information), Cuban offered to finance Grokster's lawsuit in the Supreme Court.
Now, compare Doug Morris to Mark Cuban. Hell, compare Doug Morris to my previous post this morning about Wal-Mart. Here's the biggest retailer in the world, which accounts for one-third of all DVD sales in the U.S., and they're prepared to walk away from that business because they can see the handwriting on the wall with respect to the digital revolution.
An entertainment analyst suggested that Morris' statement was a negotiating ploy. Let's be kind and agree that it was. Even so, it indicates that the industry is not forward-thinking. Instead of moving ahead and embracing the new technology, the industry is still using old tactics and fighting old battles over and over.
I gotta believe that at least one member of the Supreme Court has a Mp3 player by now. If I'm wrong, I'm willing to bet that all of them (Okay, maybe not Justice Souter) have grandchildren who do.
The Supreme Court is NOT going to buttress the music industry against the barbarians at the gate forever. Like everything else, copyright law changes with the culture. Unless Morris and his peers wake up and smell the bacon burning, their house is going to go up in a ball of flame.