(besides, you cannot "steal" digital content, it's just a bunch of bits; I flip mine to look like yours, and I have a copy. Which is why SaaS is so popular, of course: what is sold is now the actual service, rather than a bunch of bits.)
The scarcity of good music is real, and it’s not found in its distribution model. You’re neglecting to acknowledge the complexity of the process that goes into the creation of that product in the first place. Sure, you can duplicate an MP3 with next to no cost. But duplicating a digital file that nobody enjoys is not the point. We’re talking about duplicating something that hundreds of thousands or millions of people want.
To even have that file to duplicate, we have to go back to the 5 year old kid who first picked up the guitar. Let’s account for the thousands of hours they practiced their craft until they were good enough to even begin to be capable of making something people will enjoy. The number of people who will enjoy a recording of just one guitar playing is very few, so they work with group after group of other musicians, failing to create a product that a lot of people like.
One day, at around 25 years old, this person stumbles into a room with 3 other people who have spent thousands of hours practicing their own instruments, and, for the first time ever, they start creating music that will have mass appeal. They spend months writing music together. Sometimes those people don’t get along, but they fight through it because the product they’re making is that difficult to create with other people. After months writing, and more months practicing, they finally have the blueprints for a product that people will enjoy and want their own copy of. But it’s just in their heads.
Now, these people either invest their own money, or they go through painstaking lengths to attract an investor by way of a record label. That record label, in exchange for an investment in them and for lending them connections and years of expertise, takes a significant percentage of the returns from their sales. Or, they go it alone, keeping the lion’s share of their sales, but having to invest all of their own money and their own time managing the business side of what they bring to market.
After weeks or months in the studio, working with a producer, several professionally trained production engineers, a mixing engineer, a mastering engineer, and other highly specialized experts in their field, they finally have a high quality recording.
Now, they take that recording, the sum total of 4 peoples’ years of practice, their creativity, talent, dedication and hard work, and they make a CD of it. They pay for duplication of CDs and make digital downloads available online. All the while this was happening, they were building up fans by touring, engaing in social marketing, fliering clubs, and doing anything else they can think of or get their friends to help with to spread the word about their upcoming album. When the album is ready, they hit the road, touring endlessly, stuck in a van with people who they may or may not even like that much, living on pennies as they try to make people aware of their music.
This, my friend, is the “assembly line”. It is not the duplication that happens in the computer. The product is assembled over 15-20 years of intense work, combined with a dozen strokes of luck culminating in the right people meeting, creating that product, and getting the necessary financing to roll it out to the public.
Now, you think it’s not worth $0.99 because it doesn’t cost anything to make extra copies? Even if that were remotely true, if you want this magical process to happen again, you might want to make sure these people can eat.
If you can see this then why can you not see that absolute adherence to copyright is baseless?
Production -- effort, resources -- is scarce. Copies are not scarce. That means we should be paying for production, not copies. The ideal structure is: we pay producers the funds they need, and then let all copies of the product be freely available to all. Everyone producing is paid appropriately, and everyone can maximise the benefit. Is that entirely acheivable? Maybe not, but the point is it sets the upper bound on what we should be looking for.
Copyright only makes sense if there is no suitable alternative, and if it is not too onerous, wasteful, or counterproductive itself. The problem is that it is onerous, wasteful, and counterproductive now. The solution is not to keep hammering away at a dead old way of doing things, but to come up with good alternatives.
Plumbers are not born as such, they invest money and time to become skilled professionals; but when they fix your boiler, they don't ask for royalties every time you turn the boiler on, do they? They perform a service, you pay for the service, and everyone's happy.
For example, there is no reason why the entire process shouldn't be monetized. A lot of people would pay good money to see those recording sessions, turning a risky long-term investment into immediate profit; the musician would sell a service, like any tradesman.
But no, an "artist" should be able to struggle a couple of years, then watch the money flow in for the rest of his life (plus 70, exactly like a plumber's son... not). Why, it sounds a lot like rent-seeking, that most laudable of economic forces; should we really promote it with such draconian laws?
Btw, to go back about your point about good music being scarce: music that fits the mainstream canon developed by a certain industry in the last 50 years is indeed scarce, probably because it was developed around a model based on scarce distribution resources -- so you over-design one item and make it as marketable as possible to a wide demographic, because your distribution costs are high so you want to make them as repeatable as possible (i.e. you want to make one album and sell a million copies, not ten albums selling a hundred thousand, because you have to modify the physical production line for each album and re-do the whole marketing push through centrally-broadcasted mass-media).
In a world where such limitations are gone, music tastes will develop in different ways. The over-produced album has already been done with -- people buy single items now. Over-production of those single items will probably change as well, as people want faster and faster "updates". Changes in broadcasting are fragmenting tastes, making it very difficult to appeal to everyone, so the "waterfall model" of music production is producing increasingly diminishing returns. The industry will have to move to different models, like quick iterations (you write a song while you tour, and modify it depending on public reaction).
What's so "wrong", so unbearable about all that ? The fact that the Rolling Stones might get a reduced pension? Yeah, they really should be rewarded for ransacking the blues tradition...
There is a perfectly good reason why "the entire process shouldn't be monetized". It's a super big fucking distraction to have people at your recording studio when you're trying to do something that is already extremely difficult. The entire process IS monetized, because you're supposed to pay for the copy of the work you take when it's over.
And for the record, many artists do take songs on the road, try them out, and change them based on public reaction. Then, they come home, spend money and record it. You want a copy? Pay for it.
"Last I checked, no artists are selling MP3s to consumers on a per stream royalty basis. "
Still, every time the record is aired in public (bars etc), royalties are paid. And even when selling to consumers, they'll sell a vinyl disk, then a cassette, then a cd, then an .mp3, then a .wtf... and every time, it's the same damn recording, and if you try doing the format shifting yourself, they'd like nothing more than throwing you in jail.
And let's be honest: most record companies and artists ALREADY make more money from merchandise than they make on recordings, the same way comic book publishers make more money from toys than from actual comic books. This myth of the starving artist being robbed of revenue by downloaders is just that, a myth.
Now, where's that cassette that killed music back in the 80s...
Should the plumber charge $0.05 + a small profit or should the plumber charge $0.05 + a large profit to offset the cost of developing the robot? Once the robot is available, it costs the plumber basically nothing to fix your problem, but it took the plumber a sizeable investment to create the robot in the first place.
And I've already wrapped my head around the fact that I'm going to have to be agile to keep figuring out new ways to earn my own paycheque, so that I can afford that $1 repair.
No. A plumber wants to be paid for work, your musician wants to be paid a rent. A plumber wants to be paid once, your musician wants to be paid for every copy.
If your musician comes to me and offers to make a song, and I agree to pay to fund it, then fine: we make an exchange just like a plumber and customer. But a plumber does not then impose restrictions that I cannot copy their pipes and stuff, or cannot allow anyone else to use them.
A plumber is not given special monopoly privileges -- that is the difference. Now, such privileges might be pragmatically justifiable as a market mechanism (as is the contention of copyright), but there is clearly a difference between having them and not.
Buying an album from a musician is similar to buying a book about plumbing that a plumber wrote, and I imagine that most such plumber-writers would indeed have interest in protecting their copyright on their books.
These are entirely different business models, and we software engineers should understand them immediately. It's the difference between running a consulting business and running a product business.
The problem here is that a "product business" in the online world is hardly sustainable, because enforcing artificial scarcity of your product is basically impossible. Which is why the entire software industry is quickly shifting to SaaS models and consulting as fast as they can. The music business should do the same and stop whining.