This just in: suing your own customers is a bad idea!
News that Sony BMG will soon become the last of the big four record labels to drop DRM technology should put to rest the idea that attacking individual consumers for downloading music is not a viable strategy.
That's good news for consumers -- and for emerging artists who like to create songs that sample older tracks.
Whether it will help save the music industry in anything resembling its current form is a bigger question. With record sales down another 15% in 2007 to half a billion units, the music giants need an answer to it, and fast.
Having missed the first wave of digital music technology while hiding in their bunkers, Sony BMG, EMI, Warner Music Group and Universal Music Group also missed the chance to expand their market using the Web.
It took Steve Jobs and iTunes to convince them that you can sell music over the Web if you make it easy enough. But now that the free- or nearly-free music genie is out of the bottle, finding a way to sell Internet music AT A PROFIT may prove a Herculean task.
I wonder how many soon-to-be unemployed music executives wish the industry had worked with Napster and Kazaa to "figure out this Internet thing," rather than trying to crush them with lawsuits.
I would love to have been a fly on the wall when someone first stood up at a meeting and said "now that we've taken care of Napster, let's start suing their users."
Whomever did that may want to go back to college and re-take marketing 101. Why no one in that meeting had the wisdom to see that those users were potential customers is evidence of the kind of shock that can overtake an industry threatened by new technology.
But while the existing industry writhes in agony, artists and entrepreneurs are using the Web to create a new one.
For just one example, check out the embedded video from Mixmonsta, a Pennsylvania startup that's a member of the Vator.tv community.
The company, which says it has 36,000 registered users, makes a Flash plug-in that helps fans find, chop and mash their favorite music video clips to create their own custom videos.
It's way more fun than a lawsuit.