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Squawk Box March 5 – Digital Music and Free Speech

This morning a couple of posts related to the music industry caught my attention.  First, there was the Nine Inch Nails story in the Register.  NIN have just put out their first new recording in ages, called Ghost, and have borrowed a page from RadioHead.  It's a 4 CD compilation.  CD 1 is available in 320 kbps MP3 for FREE as a download.  If you want the whole set, you can buy it for $5 from their website, and have your choice of 320k MP3, or lossless audio (FLAC, or lossless iTunes), DRM free.  The Register notes that people have already made it available on bittorrent, and thousands of downloaders are downloading it via the Pirate Bay. The questions I posed to the panel were:

  1. If you were Nine Inch Nails, how would you respond to this? 
  2. And what about if you're the music industry? 
  3. Can anyone make a living from recorded music anymore?

Related to that was a wonderful post from Kevin Kelly titled 1,000 True Fans.  Kelly's observation is that the long tail is good for content aggregators like Amazon, and good for the consumer, but delivers little benefit to the content creator. His thesis is that if you can find the 1,000 "True Fans" who will buy whatever you put out then you have a business model, and one which can grow. AND he applies this idea to music, blogs, novels… all kinds of art. So, large and small, content creators are learning to bypass distribution.  Will they need distribution in the future?  And what do distributors have to do to survive?

We finished up with one last, fascinating, free speech story.  The NY Times published a story yesterday about Steve Marshall, an English travel agent who lives in Spain and sells trip to Europeans who want to go to sunny places, including Cuba.  Last October, 80 of his web sites suddenly stopped working.  They had been online since 1998, and despite the fact that he sells travel to Europeans, and the servers were located in the Bahamas, his registrar was located in Bellevue Washington — the USA.  According to a Treasury Dept spokesperson, Marshall's company "helped Americans evade restrictions on travel to Cuba and was a generator of resources that the Cuban Regime uses to oppress its people".  He had made it onto a blacklist and eNom, his registrar, was required to shut down his sites.  Moreover, eNom has refused to release the domain names to him, effectively shutting down the business.

To me this raised all kinds of questions: Who really owns a domain name?  What process should be followed to put a web site onto a blacklist?  What recourse does the owner have?  And what value are constitutional guarantees of free speech?

It was a good and very nuanced discussion, with surprising opinions offered from many quarters.  

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