If It Looks Like A Duck, Music Industry Edition

| Tue Aug. 4, 2009 10:36 AM EDT

Joel Tenenbaum has been ordered to pay $675,000, or $22,500 per song, for downloading and sharing a few dozen songs on Kazaa. That sounds unfair because it is. It's also incredibly stupid. The Recording Industry Association of America's litigation strategy can only work for so long. Soon, electronic storage capacity will be so great that you will be able to fit every song ever recorded onto a single flash memory drive. You'll be able to hand your friends every song ever over lunch in the school cafeteria. That kind of piracy won't be legal, but it won't be traceable, either.

The music industry's big problem is that its business model relies on selling copies of something that can be copied for free. If you could duplicate Lexuses in the comfort of your own home for free, Lexuses would be a lot harder to sell, too.

Journalism has a similar problem. The marginal cost of reproducing a newspaper article on the internet is zero. Command-C, Command-V. But you don't see the New York Times suing grad students who are printing out its articles or copying and pasting them into Word documents. And you definitely don't see the Times convincing juries to fine people hundreds of thousands of dollars for sharing its articles with their friends.