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Fiona Apple saga shows Sony's core dilemma

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But what about the fans, and the 18,500 downloads? Doesn't that indicate significant suppressed demand? "Look. Right now, online is only about 2 per cent of our business. It's still just a piss in the ocean. The whole underlying media theme for the past five years or whatever is that the record companies had their heads up their arses and ignored the online element. But actually when you add up the amount of time spent in meetings about the digital space on the subject by people at Sony and other labels in the past five years, it's ridiculous, compared to where the business was really coming from. Which is bricks and mortar stores up and down the UK."

Which leaves us where we came in, with an artist who has willing buyers, but no way to reach them; a record company that has a conduit to put the artist and buyer together, but prefers to keep them apart; and a cadre of fans who have used a technology that the US Supreme Court might declare illegal to cut out the middleman.

So nobody wins. Fiona Apple's album goes mostly unheard. Sony gets no revenues from its being downloaded. And all because the idea of selling music online has to be made to fit into the strategies used for 90-odd years. You've adapted your job and your business to this interweb thing. But the record labels still think the Net should bow to their thinking.

Oh, and there's a final irony in it all. Sony, the company at the centre of all this, should be celebrating whoever wins that case. For it's arguing on both sides. That's right. Check the dockets at this page and you'll find that one of the "petitioners" (379KB PDF) along with MGM is Sony Music.

Look further down at those "supporting respondents" (ie backing Grokster), and you'll find the Consumer Electronics Association's amicus brief (273KB PDF). And among the members of the CEA? Sony Electronics.

So you could look at it this way. If MGM wins, Fiona Apple might get her album released some time, because there'll be less "piracy" eating away the record companies' profits (assuming you buy their claims that P2P ate their breakfast, rather than their insane use of "groups" and "artists" from "talent" shows), so they'll feel safe putting tracks online.

Or if Grokster wins, then Sony Electronics can sell lots more gizmos that will store songs. Such as those you downloaded via BitTorrent from Fiona Apple's unreleased third album. It's a mess. The sort of thing you never expect to find from listening to a bit of radio. ®

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