Dave Rosenberg’s column will fill you in on the details, but Sony Pictures CEO Michael Lynton had this to say in front of an audience of journalists and students at a breakfast at Syracuse University:
“I’m a guy who doesn’t see anything good having come from the Internet…(The Internet) created this notion that anyone can have whatever they want at any given time. It’s as if the stores on Madison Avenue were open 24 hours a day. They feel entitled. They say, ‘Give it to me now,’ and if you don’t give it to them for free, they’ll steal it.”
No one argued with Lynton that media content, like Sony Pictures’ movies, were flowing through the internet without the original creators making a dime. The problem here, is that with the internet around, you CAN have the stores on Madison Avenue open 24 hours a day. The marginal cost of distributing a piece of music, text, or video is essentially zero, so you’ll have a hard time selling something that consumers know is pure profit. Instead of using the technology to its full potential, he wants to impose legal roadblocks that keep technology at the level that his business can use forever.
This isn’t the first time that Sony has caused controversy with their remarks towards the internet. Sony was also responsible for including a root-kit on CDs that interfered with the vital functions of computers that tried to play them. One of the attorneys for Sony BMG famously stated:
“When an individual makes a copy of a song for himself, I suppose we can say he stole a song.” Making “a copy” of a purchased song is just “a nice way of saying ‘steals just one copy’,”
The current controversy is reminiscent of previous legal battles over new technology, such as VCRs, audio cassette tapes, even terrestrial radio. In each of these circumstances, media companies were able to make billions without resorting to the kind of restrictions they were howling for in the first place. Why do we keep having this debate every time media distribution gets easier and cheaper?
On the surface, you could say that people don’t want to spend any money that they don’t want to, so any change, good or bad, is going to be fought tooth and nail by any business. I think the problem runs deeper than that. Most of the cries of indignation do not come from the artists themselves, but from the companies that represent them. In other words, they are the people who press the plastic discs and make all the deals necessary to get them to the stores. They are the sales people. Artists aren’t happy playing the same songs or acting the same lines over and over again, but salespeople would gladly sell you five copies of the same movie or the same album.
The real reason salespeople don’t want their business to change is that they do not consider what they do to be real work. If they wanted to do work, they would get into carpentry, engineering, or flower arrangement. Workers in those industries have to compete with each other to produce better products, but not salespeople. They’re happy to sell the same loaf of bread in a different bag, and will fight tooth and nail against doing otherwise. We as a society allow this state of affairs because we expect no better of salespeople. We don’t consider sales to be real work either. If a product gathers more sales because it has a better name or packaging, we consider it cheating. Our media is flush with stereotypes of sleazy salespeople who will do anything for a buck except work for one. We consider the ability to “sell ice to eskimos” as the mark of a good salesperson.
The truth is that sales IS real work. The cold calling, the knocking on doors, the networking, all of it. We need to enforce the idea that responsibility of the deal lies not with the producer, the consumer, nor market that created it. It lies with the salesperson himself. If you can’t sell this product, find a better one. If you can’t find a better one, improve the one you’ve got. If you can’t improve the one you’ve got, include a free gift. Salespeople will do what they have to do to make a living, but the fundamental fact here is that the central relationship in a salesperson’s professional life is between him and his consumer. Invoking the powers of government to maintain your bargaining position is no substitute for this kind of rapport. I’m not saying that giving movies and music away for free is the answer, but trying to hobble technology for pure profit is not the answer either.