Rising Above the Noise by Creating It

3 years ago I was sitting in an airport bar in Austin when I met a guy at AOL whose job it was to prevent audio piracy. I told him I thought he was doomed - you can’t stop information any more. Looking back, I was right and I was wrong.

Though they were able to turn Napster off, content owners lost the greater war to more generic content exchanges using more distributed and anonymous models like BitTorrent. So yes, you can’t stop the flow of information any more (a post on the “great firewall of China” to come). But you can corrupt the source.

iTunes has proliferated, growing 77% last year, although still less than 10% of the album sales business. Why would you pay for music when you don’t have to? The number one reason based on my informal poll is convenience (I am sure your integrity and desire to encourage artists was a big driver, at least the one you pitch). The problem with downloading pirated songs is the quality is suspect. Half the time I would download a song and it would start off fine and quickly devolve into a cacophonous metallic skipping sound. I had to download the entire thing before I realized it was corrupt. Why would anyone share these corrupted files that looked just like valid MP3s?

The music industry decided it couldn’t stop the networks, so it made the information the networks shared suspect by corrupting the music files. Since your time is money and people pay for convenient, reliable service, iTunes has become an industry success. But the music industry had to create the problem first. In a sense, iTunes is simply a quality of service (QoS) provider. There are software services that validate the files (BitTorrent ensures the data sources are the same across users). There are private networks that are reliable and free, but few people know of them. iTunes has just made it so easy, unless you are a maven, why not agree to pay the money? After all your time is money too.

Sometimes the battle isn’t to rise above the noise, but to create it. And so goes an interesting commercial example of information warfare … at least through chapter 2.