I spent the first part of last week in New York at Jupiterís annual Plug.in Digital Music conference. One of the dangers with an online music conference is that you get to hear the same people saying the same old stuff year after year. The music industry has been notoriously slow to change and evolve in the online space.
To a degree this was true of Plug.in this year, but only to a degree. It really does seem like progress has been made. The debate has moved on from whether the Internet is a valid distribution medium. Everyone seems very focussed on just how to extract revenues from online ventures and how to limit the impact of the illegal sector. However, some issues seem unresolved. Labels, content aggregators and technology providers alike talked about the need to get content online but with little reference to the composers rights. The memorandum of understanding with music publishers that effectively allowed MusicNet and pressplay to become a reality has had the effect of pushing publishing issues off the main page in the American online music market. There was talk about similar agreements needing to be in place to facilitate innovation with other business models. However, as one rights society attendee intimated, the MOU was a stop-gap compromise to facilitate the development of legal alternatives to file sharing. Yet it is beginning to be treated by many as a definitive document, or at the very least, a definitive statement of how composers rights are treated and recompensed online. The publishing industry certainly needs to change a lot of basic practices if it is to translate its revenues online, but that does not mean that they should be treated as 2nd tier laggards.
Highlights of the 2 days were key notes from Chris Gorog of Roxio and Larry Kenswill of Universal. Gorog was primarily pumping the soon to be launched Napster 2.0 service. Although he didnít let many details slip he did effectively say that they would simply be putting the Napster stamp on an eveolved version of the pressplay service. He finished off his presentation with three very cool animations charting the life of Napster, but the final instalment in which Napster got its online licences by default doesnít tell the whole story. Roxio may have secured major label licenses through the back door with its purchase of pressplay, but there is still lot of negotiating to go if they want to incorporate the sort of CD burning Roxio will want to bring to the service.