sky-is-falling Intellectual property lawyer and scholar Mark Lemley has released a draft paper looking at the history of the content industry’s claims that disruptive new technologies were going to lead to the “death” of the industry. Starting with painters decrying photography, and moving on through recorded music, broadcast radio, cable TV, and beyond, Lemley highlights the industry’s repeated alarms that the sky was falling.

Lemley writes:

The content industry, it seems, has a Chicken Little problem.

It may, in fact, be the case that the sky is falling. But, if you claim that the sky is falling whenever a new technology threatens an existing business model, the rest of the world can be forgiven for not believing you when you claim that this time around it’s going to be different than all of the other times. Now, let’s be clear, each one of these technologies changed the business model of the industry. They caused certain revenue streams to decline. But they also opened up new ones.

He then offers a number of suggestions of ways the content industries could cope with their current disruptions (free websites vs. paid newspapers, the DVR, piracy, etc.). These include compulsory licensing, taking advantages of lowered production costs, giving consumers a reason to spend extra money (using the example of the 3D movie version of Avatar offering an experience consumers just couldn’t get at home), building a relationship with fans, and providing convenience to users.

One disruption Lemley doesn’t mention, but to which his tips could just as readily apply, is the e-book versus printed book uproar that has kicked into high gear over the last couple of years. A number of self-publishing authors are using some of Lemley’s very suggestions—pricing their books low to take advantage of lowered production costs, and building relationships with their fans to promote their sales.

It’s funny that the content industries seem locked into the same pattern that has played out over so many years. Will they ever get a clue and start trying to work with the tide rather than taking up arms against it? We can only hope.

(Found via Techdirt.)


  1. The problem here is that the sky have been falling since shakespearean times, because even back then copyright infringement, public domain and amateur actors were hampering the profit of some of the big gun and mostly those who werent stars but were hoping to make it big anyway.

    This have always been the game, one publisher around the turn of the 19th century had to build his new automated printing facility in secret out of fear that his typists would revolt against it. The singers tried to limit the the record and the record salesmen tried to limit the spread of the jukeboxes and the radio. Gutenberg himself werent popular among the media industry of his days.

    This is the stuggle you get when you have a “artificial” monopoly created by law, the profiteers always want more, the public dont want to pay, copyright have always been a pragmatic balancing act, and not a black or white moral issue.

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