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April 28, 2006
Follow the Money
Paul Graham cynically pointed out that once there's money involved, lawsuits will happen, regardless of patents. He might as well have said the same thing about DRM. Everyone's favorite target, Sony, is now on the receiving end of a lawsuit claiming that the corporate giant has been ripping off artists on the proceeds of digital download sales.
At present the suit is just a few bands but is seeking class-action status, which could lead to a lot of artists claiming that they didn't get their rightful shares. Specific charges are that Sony has been passing on a mere 4.5 cents of its 70 cent take from selling a downloaded single. Claimants The Allman Brothers and Cheap Trick assert that they were due to get 30 cents.
The question of whether the higher rate is due depends on whether you think the download is more like a license for use (such as in a movie or TV show) - expensive - or more like a CD sale - cheap. The artists claim the former; Sony is claiming the latter.
At this point, those of you who have been following along should be sitting up like me and saying "Wait, isn't the point of the DRM on downloaded tunes precisely to enforce licensing terms?" And "Wait, isn't the consumer complaint about DRM that it restricts them from doing with downloaded music what they're allowed to do with CD tracks? Hmmmm. Seems to me that's pretty much de facto evidence that the download is indeed much more like the license for use than it is like the CD. If in court the plaintiffs use and the judge buys this reasoning it's going to be sweet irony.
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