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The Music Wars: Here’s One for Their Side

In Consumerism, Culture of Corruption, Freedom of Speech, Misc., Music, Technology on February 16, 2007 at 5:41 pm

The International Herald Tribune reported today that Universal Music Group is narrowing in on a negotiated settlement with the website Bolt.com over – what else – copyright infringement. For those not in the know, Bolt is basically a hybrid MySpace/YouTube site that allows users to create profiles, message, and upload and share various types of media. Seems like the standard story from the last couple of years, but there are some ominous overtones nonetheless:

To pay for the settlement, which will combine cash, stock and advertising credits, Bolt has agreed to sell itself to GoFish, a smaller rival, for as much as $30 million in GoFish stock.

“This deal is economically painful to Bolt shareholders,” Cohen said. “It is setting a precedent that companies that violate copyright at minimum risk litigation.”

Universal, a unit of Vivendi, hopes the settlement will set a precedent that will help its ongoing case against MySpace, the vast social network owned by News Corp., and against Grouper, a video sharing site owned by Sony. Universal has sued both for copyright

Bolt.com had about 8 million visitors last year which accounted for a minuscule fraction of Universals potential revenue from royalties in it’s fiscal year, and that’s being overly generous. Yet by bankrupting this little no-name site, they’re gaining a powerful tool to use in future lawsuits. Once the deal is done, it’s fairly likely that we’ll be seeing more of this in the coming months and years. There is no dearth of small media sites that have neither the representation, nor the resources to defend themselves against the onslaught of litigation wrought by these multi-national conglomerates. Given any “infringement” case the sharks over a the legal departments of UMG , Warner Bros., Paramount, Conde Nast, or any large media company can basically waltz in and dictate whatever terms they see fit and waltz out with a precedent that not only would have cost them ten times the manpower if they’d have picked on someone their own size, but can also be used to deal a crushing blow to their larger enemies.

It seems that the Music “Business” has come to rely less and less on the content created by their artists while increasing its reliance on lawyers and settlements to replace their “lost” revenue. Granted, whats the point spending to produce content if it’s simply going to be stolen anyway, but did it ever occur to these people that the answer to their prayers might have something to do with their actions and not ours? Case in point, UMG is suing MySpace because their songs are on people’s pages and their not getting a piece of the action. Their resident mouthpiece, Pete Lofrumento, took it a step further:

“…copyright law doesn’t give people the right to engage in the massive infringement of our content to build a thriving business and then, after the fact, avoid exposure by saying they will prospectively start to filter.”

Where does one begin? The copyright law he invokes is actually the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998, which will no doubt become a defining piece of legislation of our generation. I’m not well-versed enough to speak on his legal issues, but I find it the highest kind of arrogance to believe that UMG’s content, or any mainstream media content for that matter, had a major role to play in the success of MySpace. Murdoch’s billions went to purchase an already vibrant network of DIY websites that were mostly populated by user-generated content. Not to say that there aren’t Jay-Z songs on people’s pages, there are tons of people who upload their favorite songs to their profiles. That being said, these tracks and already existing content is not the main event of anyone’s profile; they’re window dressing on an already lush environment of personal pictures, comments, music and video. Big media wasn’t giving us what we wanted so we made it for ourselves. The notion that the creators of MySpace somehow hijacked someone else’s products to create a phenomenon is bogus, as is the Major Label contention that they are somehow owed something now that the site is successful. If anything, Majors should be encouraging and facilitating access to their catalogs on MySpace, not actively working to have them removed or “filtered”. The fans are online by the millions, all craving content on an unprecedented scale. Until these suits are willing to trade old hang-ups for new money, they can shut the hell up about their royalties and keep their lawsuits to themselves.

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