Mr Label's nightmare: what really, really scares him
Author’s note: I wrote the short “novel” below in… June 2004. For several reasons I didn’t immediately publish it online, then it went lost on my hard drive. I found it again only some weeks ago, and I think the basic idea is still valid, so here it is.
Last night I had a dream.
I was Dr P, the official psychoanalist of top executives, the one curing them from the phobies of All Things Which Must Never Happen. I could not even mention who my customers were. The mere admission that they had fears could make them true, if just the public had known. In the dream I was reading the newspaper in my office, when my secretary told me on the phone: “He’s here”. “Let him in” I answered. Even for me, this was an exceptional patient. Mr Label, president of one of the biggest music companies of the planet, desperately needed my help. But why?
“Good morning, Mr Label. Please lie down and relax. How may I help you?”
“I’m scared, Dr P, really scared. I can’t stand it anymore. You’re the only one who can help me”
“What is scaring you?”
“Young people? Oh, I understand. You mean all those boys and girls that say music is too expensive, right?”
“Those who share…” I said, then saw fear back in his eyes but continued, trying to relax him: “…share thousands of titles without giving a penny back to you, right?”
“I share, if I can say so, your concern, Mr Label. You are right to be angry. All that endless sharing, going on day and might across the Internet and inside campuses. It must be a continuous pain…”
“NO! NO! NO!” - He jumped up on the couch, shaking, unable to stop tears - “You don’t understand at all, do you? You haven’t the faintest idea of what the problem really is, have you? Of what could happen if they… Oh, God. I can’t even say it. Sharing. Puah. Sharing doesn’t scare me at all.”
“But you all say all the time that sharing makes you lose money! What is it that is scaring you then?”
A barely audible whisper came from the couch: “The possibility that they… stop”.
“STOP?!?” - said I, now at a complete loss - “I beg your pardon? Surely you don’t mean that you want millions of unpaid, unauthorized copies and downloads to continue, do you?”
“Of course I want that, you dolt! It’s the best gift all those brainless ninnies could make to us. Can’t you really see it?”
“N-no, sir: please let it out” (never make them stop talking).
“Unauthorized copies are illegal. With the current law, as long as someone legally sound of mind has signed a contract stating that we can redistribute his work as we like, sharing copyrighted stuff is flat out illegal. Nobody can deny that in court.”
He paused, waiting for signs of understanding on my face. I was still in the dark, but could not let him wonder if 500 bucks an hour were too much, so I nodded gravely: “I see”.
“You’d damn better do it! As long as they share and copy, courts are forced to support us and governments to approve laws that become better for us every year. We don’t have anything to do, as long as people are so morons to go themselves on the wrong legal side. But what if they stop? They could. Music and video are certainly not essential to survive, like food or water. We’d be left with nothing to yell about, nothing to justify more restrictive DRM laws or international copyright treaties. And nothing, which is the ultimate disaster, to which apply them. Those kids could happily outlive us using only live music, and…”
At this point I interrupted him, to look as good and competent as my hourly fee:
“But surely sir, they’re not smart nor self disciplined enough to get along for years without using anything of your precious content, are they? They could go on for some weeks, some of them some months, but you need not be so worried..”
“Oh, I don’t need, do I? Just some months, you say? Corporations look strong, but they aren’t. Can we afford to tell Wall Street “Sorry guys, sales this quarter dropped 90%, but relax, it’s only some months…”. Investors would run away like cheetahs.”
“Yes, Sir, I realize that even a temporary problem could be much more serious for you than I imagined”
“Temporary, uh? Who says it would be temporary? This is like smoking: if you can stay the first month without it, you’re free forever. If you live for just some days with independent radio stations, where you can interact with the DJ, or with the music albums you already have, you can’t help asking yourself “what was the big sharing deal again?”. If you replace illegal downloading with live music, you feel the difference. If, by some darned chance, all this replaces the illegal downloading and those ridiculous flash mobs and netstrikes as the cool and trendy thing to do, we’re doomed.”
“But you would still have the artists under control, wouldn’t you? Eventually, kids can listen to them only through you, right?”
“To the artists we have now, yes. But what about the others? The next cute face to squeeze next month?”
“Well, what could they do?”
“Live without us!! As long as they believe that one every thousand gets stinking rich, they come to us first. But if the average Joe switches to radio, live or directly distributed music, artists will go straight to him. No need for us anymore”
“But, Sir, your army of lawyers would surely come out with some trick, some cease-and-desist letter, something…”
“Cease and desist what? Can you seriously tell somebody to stop from not making anything illegal just because it screws you up?”
“Er..well..I’m not a lawyer, but…”
“Illegal file sharing is a demonstration of weakness. Of addiction. It is an admission of defeat. It means “you’re wrong, but I’m too spineless to fight you in the only way that would work”. Some of these people download so much stuff that they couldn’t listen to it all if they gave up sleep completely. Power to these sheeps. I mean, future customers. We need them”
“Yes, but you can surely find some workaround..”
“Think about it: as long as they believe that they need what we have every day, it is terribly easy to control themm: you make them spend money, or take some of them to court if they grab the stuff without paying. It takes a full revolution to change that. But the moment people don’t pay nor download our music anymore, we’re toast. Forcing somebody to enter your store and give you his money for nothing in return is pretty much slavery. We can’t make that pass. File sharing can be made completely illegal, it’s easy. Boycott cannot. Simple as that.”
An internal call from my secretary saved me. Or so I thought:
“Yes, what’s up? I’m busy!”
“I’m sorry, Dr P., but it’s really urgent. Mr Movie, the Hollywood CEO, just stormed in the waiting room. He’s going to have an heart attack any minute if you can’t calm him immediately!”
With an ominous chill in my spine, but the most confident tone of voice I could manage, I asked:
“What’s the problem?”
“I don’t know, sir. He keeps babbling that he’s mortally scared about some kids that could stop “sharing”, so he says, any minute now…”