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Establishing a Balance Between Rights & Trust
By Eric de Fontenay (Founder & Publisher)
(more articles from this author)
2003-03-10
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While the allure of 'free music' certainly sounds like the main culprit for the music industry's ills, it disregards the fact that we often pay even a premium for free or low-cost products, water being the classic, though far from only, example.

But we are only willing to pay if we can have assurances on the nature of the product, it's level of quality and specific uses over time. Where there is uncertainty or perceived risk, the willingness to pay will quickly melts away. Take Wall Street. Everyone bought in to the Enron & WorldCom because they believed that there were guarantees, from Arthur Anderson to the SEC, to back up any claims they might make. But once that confidence was shattered, investors bailed screaming "SELL!"

Music buyers also felt they had an understanding with the music industry which is often referred to as fair use. There was no actual law stating that consumers had fair use rights, but some key court decisions, easy and cheap availability of copy as well as playback devices, and common practice reinforced a perception that consumers also had rights over the music products they purchased, that the long-arm of copyright had some limits.

Would consumers have bought as many CDs in the 80's & 90's if they hadn't been able to make a tape copy for their walkman? What if they were told that the music would 'expire' after a certain date? What if they could only use it on one type of CD player? Not likely you say, but that is exactly what the music industry has been pushing, whether through over-restrictive copy-protection, wrong-headed legislation such as the Hollins bill or just ill-conceived PR & litigation.

Consumers will buy music (with some added bells & whistles of course) if they can be reasonably assured that they can enjoy it, at least as they've grown to expect over the past few decades. The unfortunate fact, though, is that even if the industry made snazzy PR announcements on how they would respect consumers' rights, no one would believe them. No one trusts the industry at this point and who can blame them. Would you trust Bernie Ebbers with running WorldCom ethically today? Did you believe Trent Lott when he announced he was now for affirmative action? Shall I go on?

In the case of Wall Street, nearly everyone agrees that the only way to regain investor confidence is through strong legislation backed by an SEC not captive to special interests. In the same vein, the BALANCE Act introduced by Rep. Lofgren, if it were to become law, would give consumers much needed confidence to part with that $.99 per download. What the industry could do for its part is support such legislation and show consumers that it's not all about the money. It's also about trust.

Related News from Mi2N:
» Lofgren Introduces Legislation To Protect Consumers Rights In The Digital Age
» Business Software Alliance Shares Rep. Lofgren's Objective, But Opposes Proposed Copyright Legislation


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