Friday, May 11, 2007

Sipping the Corporate Kool-Aid

Yesterday I gained some new insight into the workings of corporate culture. I attended a presentation by a major electronics manufacturer, showcasing their new line of receivers. The trainer was talking about their new capabilities, including a USB port that let them play music from thumb drives.

He then pointed out that since his company was also in the music business, he was duty-bound to remind everyone that copying music was illegal -- you should only use these devices to play songs you've purchased. The caution was delivered with a bit of a wink, suggesting to the audience that he knew full well the realities of music usage.

Later in the presentation he demonstrated the capabilities of these receivers to stream Internet radio stations and subscribe to podcasts. He gave us a brief overview about all the wonderful topics podcasts covered, and then said "but of course there's no music podcasts."

After the presentation we had a chance to talk, and we used the receiver to "tune in" to a music podcast. He was well aware of the many music podcasts listed in the menus, but had assumed they were all discussions about music -- because it was illegal to use music in a podcast.

Now that's partially true. RIAA members refuse to let their music be used for podcasting. The logic goes like this:
  • A podcast is distributed as an MP3 file.
  • If it's used in a podcast, our music will be put on that distributed MP3 file.
  • People steal music by distributing it on MP3 files.
  • Therefore, allowing podcasters to use our music is the same as letting people steal our music.

The trainer was surprised to discover that many of the music podcasts listed were chock-full of music. And it was all legal, as these podcasts used songs from independent artists and labels who either granted permission for usage on an individual basis, or granted blanket permission by either designating their tracks "podsafe" and/or posting them with a Creative Commons license.

Why did someone who used podcasts regularly not know about music podcasts? Because the corporate culture he worked in shared the premise that major label music couldn't be used, therefore no music was used. The culture created a blindspot.

And that's the takeaway from this story. Many of the people who work at the major record labels and the RIAA aren't evil -- they're simply so steeped in the assumptions of the corporate culture that they see things differently than those on the outside, which is where the conflict comes in. They've all taken a sip of the corporate kool-aid. It's the ones who drain the glass and ask for a refill that one needs to be concerned about.....

- Ralph

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