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How Many Times Will Content Industries Claim The Sky Is Falling Before People Stop Believing Them?

Publication Date: 
August 12, 2010
Mike Masnick

Professor Mark Lemley's working paper,"Is the Sky Falling on the Content Industries?" is highlighted in this blog post by Mike Masnick on Techdirt:

Michael Scott points us to a fantastic draft paper by respected intellectual property lawyer/scholar Mark Lemley recapping the long history of content industries declaring that the sky is falling every time a new technology hits the scene. From photographs (going to destroy painting) to musical recordings (going to destroy live music) to radio (going to destroy recorded music) to cable TV (going to destroy regular TV) to the photocopier (going to destroy books) to the VCR (going to destroy the movie industry) to audio cassettes (home taping is killing music) to the MP3 player (ditto) to file sharing (ditto) to the DVR (killing TV) and onwards -- the content industries seem to have a problem in immediately declaring that the sky is falling... when it turns out it's never actually falling at all. The paper is a quick read and quite enjoyable. Now, I should admit that I had no idea that the paper gives me an all-too-kind and surprising name check at the end, which I didn't know about until I reached that part of the paper, but I had actually already started writing up this post, so hopefully no one thinks that influenced my decision to write about it.

There isn't necessarily anything new in the paper. Many of you probably know all of these stories, and they've been discussed at length over the years in posts and comments here on Techdirt. However, it's nice to put a bunch of them together in a single document just to highlight the same pattern over and over again:


And, yes, many of these technologies did require changes to business models -- which may have meant that some legacy players went out of business. But failing companies and failing industries are two totally different things. It's important to remember that. As Lemley notes in the paper:

The content industry, it seems, has a Chicken Little problem.

It may, in fact, be the case that the sky is falling. But, if you claim that the sky is falling whenever a new technology threatens an existing business model, the rest of the world can be forgiven for not believing you when you claim that this time around it's going to be different than all of the other times. Now, let's be clear, each one of these technologies changed the business model of the industry. They caused certain revenue streams to decline. But they also opened up new ones.