Jaclyn Easton: Welcome to MetaHollywood on LATimes.com. My name is Jaclyn Easton. I'm a weekly contributor to the print edition of the Los Angeles Times, as well as the host of the nationally syndicated radio show "LogOn U.S.A." What you are about to hear may forever change your view about art in the digital age. My guest is Jim Griffin, director of technology for Geffen Records. Jim contends that the digital distribution of art will be the most important development during our lifetimes. But Jim Griffin also warns that there is a gatekeeper looming that threatens to prevent this distribution revolution. It's called "copy protection." And while much of Hollywood is in favor of it, Jim claims that if copy protection perseveres, it will, and I quote: "Be a tragic and historic mistake." Welcome, Jim Griffin.
Jim Griffin: Thanks for having me.
Easton: Listen, the fact that you've been speaking just in the last couple of months at the Harvard Business School, at Stanford, at USC, at Berkeley, to name a few, we really appreciate you taking this timeout and talking with us here at LATimes.com. I thought it might be helpful for us, before we have a better understanding of why you're so anti-copy protection, if you would establish your definition of the digital distribution of art so that, you know, we have a foundation of your world view.
Griffin: Digital distribution of art . . . it's kind of a funny phrase that evolves because I used to always say digital distribution of intellectual property and of course that was a bit off-putting and my friend Dan Farmer implored me that I needed to change that phrase . . .
Griffin: Well, he said, you know, intellectual property just sounds so highfalutin and . . .
Easton: But it is.
Griffin: . . . grandiose--and it is--but it wasn't intentionally so. And then I got to thinking, you know, the real definition of intellectual property is art. The vast majority of intellectual property is art. And in fact, properly put, I suppose all intellectual property is better thought of as art. Whether we're dealing with the design of a computer chip--it could be the recipe for making some very ethicacious drug that would cure lots of illnesses or it could be the instructions to a piece of software or the way that a painting was painted. The image of the painting, the sound of a song, the text of a book, all of this is intellectual property and I'm just going to refer to it as art, to refer to creative expression. And when we talk about digital distribution it means digitizing or turning this content into a stream of zeros and ones and then distributing it online. Now, interestingly, almost all music today is digitally distributed.
Easton: How so?
Griffin: In the sense that on a CD it is nothing more than a stream of zeros and ones. It's . . .
Easton: But I can hold a CD in my hand.
Griffin: It's true, but those are zeros and ones that are recorded on that disc. And so it can be properly said that in the music business today, we digitally distribute virtually all of our products. And by the way, we do so without copy protection. So the status quo or the present system of distributing music is digital distribution without copy protection.
Easton: Now, if you're saying that you're already doing that, why aren't we able to download an album off the Internet. I mean, obviously there's the time consideration--fondly referred to as bandwidth--but we're seeing that happen right now. Capitol Records is doing their experiment with the Duran Duran single. How do you feel about that?
Griffin: Well, I think it's a very important move and I applaud Capital for their, ah, for this initial effort that they've made to digitally distribute a single from one of their top artists.
Easton: Actually, I should clarify that because you at Geffen Records were technically the first person to ever digitally distribute an entire song via online. The difference here is that Capital is now charging for this song.
Griffin: That's true and I, I don't want to take anything away from their accomplishment because I think that, yes, while we did distribute the Aerosmith song, "Head First" in 1994, and it was the first time that a full-length entertainment product was distributed online, nonetheless . . .
Easton: And weren't you nominated for an award by the Smithsonian for that?
Griffin: That's true. The Smithsonian did recognize it and that is all a fine thing. But I think we would have to say that what we did back then could be more properly viewed as an experiment or a test or an anomaly. And what Capital is leading now in 1997, I think, is really the first wave of a revolution of digital distribution that will affect consumers in a more profound way. I mean, to have one record label release one record for one week on Compuserve, yes, that qualifies as a historic first. But it's not the beginning of . . .
Easton: We're referring, of course, to the Aerosmith song?
Griffin: Yes, but that's not the beginning of a wave like this is with Capital--around roughly the same time Warner Brothers announced that it was releasing digitally the full length of 30 of their more important albums out of their collection for anyone who bought the RealAudio player. And so here we have two prominent record labels, Capital and Warners, deciding that they're going to digitally distribute their content. In one case, Liquid Audio was used. Capital, that was their technology that they chose to employ. And Warners is using RealAudio. I applaud both of these efforts. I think they're very bold and they're very needed. And I think it's the beginning of a wave.
Easton: This is something you'd recommend that start to happen here at Geffen Records?
Griffin: Absolutely. We're certainly exploring this and we're making plans in this direction. Our plans are slightly different than those of our competitors. We're hoping to bring forth a more ubiquitous interface, one that can be used by anyone, very simply. We're a little concerned about any digital distribution process that starts with, "Well, first you have to download this piece of software and install it on your computer." Not to be patronizing, I'm sure that a lot of people can handle that. But there's at least an equal number who cannot, and it's not our goal to put hoops between the consumer and our products.
Easton: Speaking of hoops, let's get back to this claim you made that if copy protection perseveres with respect to the digital distribution of art, it will be a tragic and historic mistake.
Griffin: Yes, well there's a number of reasons why I say that and we could probably spend all day here going over the arguments and I want to point out right at the outset that reasonable people can and do disagree about this issue. And I'm not here to tell people that I'm absolutely right. This is simply my opinion. This is taking a look at it from where I sit right now. And I'm sure there's others who feel differently. And I would even tell you that there are people within our own company--perhaps within Geffen Records--but most primarily within our parent company in Universal Studios who differ. And this is not the official position of our company. But sitting where I sit as the director of technology at Geffen, I'll tell you I think it would be a tragic mistake if we were to make a predicate to digital distribution the copy protection of all the material that's digitally distributed. I think it would be quite a mistake, and I think the first place we can see that is when we look at history. Those of us who forget the past are condemned to repeat it. And the computer software business went through a debate about copy protection that started, well, a little over 10 years ago. Those of us who have been using computers since even before DOS say if you started using a computer like many people did in the early '80s and on you found that you could not copy a floppy disc from your A drive to your B drive. And even past the floppy disc age into hard discs, there were any of a number of copy protection mechanisms, and now it's the very, very, very rare software company that copy-protects its products.
Easton: And why did they switch?
Griffin: Well, switch . . . I mean it can be properly said that they abandoned copy protection and I would say merely due to two reasons. The first is competition. Quite simply, manufacturers realized that if they decided not to copy-protect the product that their competition was copy-protecting, that they garnered quite a few more sales.
Easton: How could that be, if people are pirating the software?
Griffin: Well that's the assumption--that people are pirating the software. It's instructive to note--I think there was an article on the front page of the B section of the Wall Street Journal about two or three months ago about McAfee software. And it pointed out that McAfee--a company that makes network manageable software and virus protection software and so forth--that they give their products away on the net. And they hope that companies decide to purchase it and send them money. And through the strategy they have grown from, it is approximately a $300 million company to a $4.3 billion company in about five years. And they asked the chairman, "To what do you attribute the success, the growth that your company has experienced?" And he said, "It's because we embrace software pirates as an extension of our field organization." Now, I'm not so naive as to think that all software pirates are an extension of our field organization, but it can be properly said that exposing consumers to our products is our No. 1 challenge in convincing them to purchase them. And so our company has always given products away. Over the radio, for example, we try very hard to have you enjoy the music that we make at no cost to you, at least at no direct cost to you. And I think that's a lot of the trick of distributing intellectual property.
Easton: So you're saying that we're better off, that a record company may be better off with people out there pirating audio off the 'Net because that could conceivably increase your sales . . .
Griffin: Yes . . .
Easton: . . . and that's the argument, one of the arguments, not to have copy protection?
Griffin: Yes, well, I'm not going to suggest that the notion that someone is a pirate is necessarily a good thing. I believe very strongly in copyright laws. I believe that we should enforce them the old-fashioned way.
Easton: And what is the old-fashioned way?
Griffin: The old-fashioned way is finding pirates, tracking them down, contacting them and . . .
Easton: And they live in the Netherlands. What're you going to do?
Griffin: If, for example, that person is distributing our products over the Internet we would contact their Internet service provider.
Easton: And what if they have their own host in their living room?
Griffin: Well, there's always someone who is feeding them Internet service. Somewhere up the stream there's a responsible business that's feeding them packets and taking the packets that they create, and distributing them for them. And that businessperson invariably is more interested in protecting their franchise than they are that pirate's ability to illegally redistribute our products. And it can be positively said, I think, that enforcing intellectual property rights in the digital age in some ways is an easier task than in an analog age because, after all, today there is a--let's say a wholesale pirate who's created a CD production facility in the far reaches of some Third World country--it's very difficult for us to run down every alleyway in the world in pursuit of say a pirate, but in the future in cyberspace, in the online world, there are no alleys that we can hide behind. And in fact, there's really a correlary, I think, that's developed in my conversations with these pirates. When I discussed this with them they often say, "Well, you know I could go hide. I could do this again, and you wouldn't be able to catch me." To which I think we can all agree that the more they hide the less accessible they are to the public. And the less they hide the more accessible they are to the public. And so the correlary becomes the more important it is that we catch you and the easier it is to catch you in an online world, and the less important it is i.e., the more obscure you are, the less copies that you distribute, the harder it is for us to catch you. And that's really the way it ought to be. But in an analog world it's not that way at all. Somebody could be making a million copies of CDs out of a CD pressing plant that we can't locate.
Easton: Let's go back to the precedent that was set with respect to software sales decreasing at a point that copy protection was included. Are you therefore saying that if copy protection is included in digital art that that will decrease the sales of that art . . . that art being books, music or video?
Griffin: It's certainly very possible, and let me, I . . . without telling you absolutely what will happen in any particular case, because you really can't. You can't say it will help or it will hurt. It really depends on each individual case. Even I will concede that there are places where copy protection's appropriate and there are places where I think, in the main, it's not. And I'm also willing to concede that, in the future, we may evolve methods of copy protection that are very, very easy to use. And that makes a great deal of sense. So my comments really go to the here and now, to our current situation. But I would point out for example, that even our copyright laws in the United States provide an exception called fair use. They say that if one is seeking to criticize or engage in scholarly analysis or report on a . . . let's say a piece of copyrighted art . . . that it's OK for us to excerpt from that art. For example, we can print a picture of a painting that we're criticizing, if we're analyzing it for some scholarly or newsworthy purpose. Similarly, we can take an excerpt from a song and we can reprint the lyrics in a review or play a little piece of the song if we're evaluating it. All of these kinds of analysis, reviews and criticism, they help sell these works. They expose the public to it. And I think it can be positively said that there are very, very few people who walk into a store and purchase a record that they have not heard a note of. And if we were able to completely copy-protect our content and make it impossible for it to be even used for fair use, we would find ourselves in the position where we have protected our content so well that no one was exposed to it and therefore no one purchased it. I think that would really adversely affect the life of that intellectual property.
Easton: Well, let's skew to the other side. You said there are times that you do believe that copy protection is appropriate. Give us some examples of when that is.
Griffin: Well, a great example is when you really want to protect something, when your goal is is that no one see it.
Easton: Oh, that's a namby-pamby answer. I want something specific, Jim Griffin.
Griffin: No, yes, no, I'm being quite specific. I'm working my way to it. If you have a secret you don't want me to know, you'd be smart to encrypt it.
Easton: I'm talking about with respect to art.
Griffin: And similarly, let's say someone is in the midst of creating a work of art and they're transporting it about or editing it and so forth, and they don't want anyone to know what they're working on. I think there it makes sense to encrypt it. Or, perhaps we have a piece of art that people understand quite well what it is and there's really no need to expose people to it, but really our only goal here is to protect it. Again, I think that copy protection makes sense there; encryption of some kind. It certainly does keep the public a distance from your work. I think that's the point. If you want to keep the public away from your work, encryption and copy protection make a great deal of sense. If you want the public to be exposed to your work, if you believe that mindshare leads to marketshare, I think that you will think twice before you encrypt it.
Easton: Do you believe that once digital distribution becomes a greater reality, in other words, we all have the bandwidth and we can theoretically download the new Carly Simon CD in 20 minutes over the 'Net to a recordable . . .
Griffin: You mean like if we were a college student at an average university today.
Easton: In which they're doing it. Actually, I am going to digress for a minute because you just brought up a really important point. We know that these Web sites that host these personal pages such as Geocities . . .
Griffin: Yes, mmm-hmm.
Easton: . . . and America Online are really hotbeds of copyright infringement. What are you doing at Geffen Records to stop this? And by the way, you were actually the first one that alerted me to Geocities . . . How did you guys determine that that's where it was and what actions have you taken to try and eliminate the problem?
Griffin: Well, like I said, we believe that copy protection is one of those things that you at least have to go about it the old analog way. So we surf the Web and we look for people who might be violating the rights of our artists.
Easton: And how do you do that? Are you going to a search engine and looking for MPEG3 files?
Griffin: Oftentimes we go to a search engine. And once we get one good lead inevitably there's that links page on that pirate's page that says here's where all my friends have similar pirated material and it's pretty easy to hunt those people down and you get in touch with them.
Easton: And what do you do when you get in touch with them? What do you say?
Griffin: We explain to them that this isn't acceptable to us and that we'd like them to stop immediately.
Easton: And do they?
Griffin: And they do. We haven't had a single instance where an individual continued to distribute this material or went back to doing it. And we do follow up and we do check. And so we look at it, at least initially, from this old-fashioned standpoint: look for these people, notify them, educate them and, if need be, compel them to stop. And in every instance it's worked for us.
Easton: But, do you ever go to America Online or to Geocities and say, "You guys have to know this is happening. Why aren't you stopping it?"
Griffin: Well, sure, that did happen. Because we found as we went to some pages that were operated by people who were distributing our music without authorization that they would write back and say, "Well, I'm not distributing it, I simply have a link on my page to someone else who is distributing it." And we found that most of the time those pages were hosted by Geocities or AOL. And, in fact, it's our suspicion that that very person who is running the page that had a link to another page had put their content on Geocities servers or on AOL servers and they basically stashed it there and disclaimed any responsibility for it. I think that in our discussions with Geocities--which were very fruitful--we found that it wasn't to their benefit either. That they see no advantage in being a place that merely serves up multimedia files for pirates. That's not their goal. Creating the kind of communities that they hope to build is an admirable goal and we would support that.
Easton: Doesn't multimedia just take up an awful lot of server space and bandwidth? I mean, you would think that it would be really in their interest to get rid of it because it would lighten up their load.
Griffin: It does. It makes it very difficult for them to go about their task of creating the virtual communities of people and content and so forth when so much of their bandwidth is then hogged by people who are redistributing songs and videos that are not their own to redistribute.
Easton: But aren't they at least demonstrating to us that we have a potential level economic playing field here, that if they were distributing their own art, their own music that they had created, that they have a worldwide audience now that they didn't have before? And I say that to you rhetorically with the followup question: Do you think we're going to see the end of record companies as they currently exist?
Griffin: No, I, I think that this is highly unlikely and in fact I think it's actually more likely that this will strengthen the hand of current entertainment content providers.
Easton: Why is that?
Griffin: I say that because, at least to my view, the role of a record company or a movie studio or whatever, whatever entertainment content provider we'll talk about, that really they have two primary goals: that is to help people make better pieces of art, and then to help cut through the clutter of the marketplace--to make the public aware of that art, to market that art, to bring some economic rewards to the artist. And these are the primary functions of an entertainment company. Now, in a marketplace that is far more crowded, that has many more people deciding to distribute their art--going on the Internet and so forth--and in a marketplace that has old art that is not currently distributed coming back to life, and all of this new art getting a life that it wouldn't of otherwise had, that this truly is a marketing challenge of a proportion that we haven't seen yet. And this will require even more resources and marketing expertise and making still-better products. And as those are our primary functions, and as that is what our company is really devoted to doing well for the artists, I would say that we have a role well into the future. Now, I would agree with you that to the extent that an entertainment content provider has relied upon the size or the might of their distribution networks for advantage that they will find the playing field leveled somewhat.
Easton: Give us an example.
Griffin: Well, I don't have an example of a specific company. I will simply say that there are those companies that are not so good at marketing, and they haven't . . .
Easton: I mean, you know the examples. You just don't want to say what they are . . .
Griffin: No, I really don't. I think that's a matter of opinion to everyone . . .
Easton: I see.
Griffin: . . . and I'm sure that every artist has their own opinion: "This record company didn't help me make a better record" or "This record company wasn't so good at marketing" and "The reason we signed with them was that they had a really good distribution network--they could get our record in every store that was out there." I think that that advantage is going to disappear in the future. It really will require entertainment companies to focus upon marketing products well and helping make better products. Distribution will not be the great advantage. Owning a fleet of trucks and lots of warehouses will not be the key to success in the future.
Easton: What content do you believe lends itself best to digital distribution, right now, just looking at maybe the next 24 months?
Griffin: Well, whether we deal with the next 24 months or further into the future or a more short-term future, I think it can be said that we are making a mistake when we think that this is how we will receive the next Guns 'n' Roses album or the next U2 album. Any of these artists who are in the top 200. The role of digital distribution in my opinion is not to replace or supplant traditional distribution. Where traditional distribution works, we should continue to use it. And so I would say that the role of digital distribution is to enable the distribution of content that we would not find in traditional retail channels. Now there's really, I think, three kinds of content that are most susceptible to digital distribution. The first kind of content would be new content. New artists, new art, where we are not sure if the cost of distributing that art will exceed the rewards of distributing that art. That's that tough decision that every entertainment content provider makes: "Is this going to be profitable for me to do or not?" And where the answer is an uncertain answer, or where the answer is a negative answer, then that art never gets a life. It never gets out to the public. I think digital distribution will make it possible for that art to have a life it wouldn't have otherwise had. Because reducing the costs of distributing the art, which digital distribution does--down dramatically really toward zero--enables almost all art to have a life, to have a chance to garner an audience. So I would say that is the first kind of art that's susceptible to digital distribution.
The second kind of art would be old art, art that's dead. And, in fact, I think the most important statement that can be made about digital distribution is that it means that art need never die. And art dies on a regular basis today. We have record albums at Geffen that we made, vinyl records that never got pressed on CDs. We've made CDs that we don't sell anymore. We've made the decision that the costs of distributing those works exceed the rewards of distributing that art. And so that art has no life anymore except in, say, used record stores, or in peoples' homes who happen to already own the disc. I think it's very important that we bring all art back to life. That we say positively that we will not allow art to die in the digital future. And so, yes, I think back catalogue, old catalogue, the music that we once enjoyed but cannot find, the books that we'd like to read that are no longer accessible to us. This sort of thing really is ripe for digital distribution.
Easton: Now, you said there were three.
Easton: The first being new art, . . .
Griffin: New art.
Easton: . . . now old art . . .
Griffin: . . . old art . . .
Easton: . . . and your third is?
Griffin: Unusual art. Art that doesn't lend itself to traditional distribution. For example, we've usually thought of, say, a musical artist expressing themselves through individual albums that would be released. And yet that same artist will perform hundreds of live performances over the course of several years. Or over the course of their career, thousands of performances. And if they tape all of those performances they could then digitally distribute them in the future. For example, we could have, if Elvis' managers had been so inclined and had taped all of his performances, we could say we'll sell you every concert Elvis ever did. And if you ever saw him live, you could buy the show you were at.
Easton: So we should curse them for not having seen the future of the Internet in 1955?
Griffin: Well, let's not jump to any conclusions. We don't know what Colonel Parker has in his safes.
Easton: That's true.
Griffin: But the point being that we can distribute many different kinds of art, and that's just one example of unusual art. There are many different kinds of unusual art and I wouldn't pretend to be able to anticipate or describe them all. I would simply say that we will see many kinds of art that don't lend themselves to traditional distribution.
Easton: In this description you were talking about one of the advantages of digital distribution is that the cost is nearly zero.
Easton: Don't you believe that the reason that people do not feel guilty downloading this pirated material is because they know that the value is almost zero? And how do you change that perception? And I guess the classic example would be if my cable company accidentally feeds me a premium cable channel--like this has never happened--I'm not running to the phone to tell them to shut it off because I know that it's costing them no more to feed it to me as it is to not give it to me for free.
Griffin: Sure. I think that there's that phenomenon. Certainly people see that where the cost of distributing art goes down, they expect to see a dramatic reduction in its price. I think that that's a misnomer, for one thing. I think the cost of replicating art certainly doesn't represent anywhere near the cost of creating it. And so the cost of replication is merely one small factor in a really long chain that has lots of expenses related to creating that art. But I want to get away from the issue of cost for a minute. I want to get away from the issue of price because it's not about money.
The notion that artists should be able to control the distribution of their art, regardless of what they charge for it is very, very important. The idea that you ought not redistribute my art without my permission is a very, very fundamental and important concept. And it really has nothing to do with the price, the cost, the value or the money that's involved. For example, I may be concerned that an organization adopts my song as their theme song, even though I don't support the goals of that organization. I may be concerned that my art should not be distributed in, say, South Africa during the troubles in South Africa. The right to control the distribution of one's art I think is often confused with price and money. But it's not about price or money, it's about values. It's about the right of the artist to determine the destiny and the distribution of their art. And price really becomes only one factor in determining who ought to be able to distribute it.
Easton: When Capital Records was distributing the Duran Duran single at their Hollywood and Vine site, they had two available. One was the standard radio edition of this song for 99 cents, and then an Internet-only mix for $1.99. And I was bothered by the fact they were charging more for the Internet-only mix because I felt that if I had wanted to buy this single I was jumping through enough hoops just to download it and that I was now being dinged an extra buck for wanting something different. When, in fact, I as the customer that was willing to play in their experiment should have been rewarded for that and maybe given a choice or even charged less. What would your recommendation in that situation have been?
Griffin: Well, I think that there we're focusing on price and not value.
Easton: Well, it's hard not to sometimes.
Griffin: Well, perhaps. I would simply say that the artists and their representatives have to decide what they think the value of any particular piece of art is and that they charge accordingly. And I think that the buyer has to beware and decide whether they think it's worth purchasing for them. I would hesitate to say that any price is too high or too low. From my artificial distant perspective, I think that what someone pays for a painting or what they decide to pay for a piece of music, or for a video, is really a very personal decision. Whether we choose to go see it in the theater for $8 or $9, or we wait for it to come out on video or out on cable, this is an array of options we have and we're lucky for that and I think that's a product of living in a free-market economy.
Easton: What do you believe are the most important aspects of the digital distribution of art that Hollywood professionals should bear in mind?
Griffin: Well, I think that we have to realize the great promise of this medium. I think we have to realize the power that is available in the friction-free capitalism of art, the notion that art can have an unlimited life, for example. I think that this should spur the creation. I think we could see a renaissance of creative expression once artists realize that the rewards that can be garnered from their art can last far beyond their lifetime and can accrue to their heirs. And that this sort of financial incentive could reward them even more during their lifetime from people who would advance them royalties against those that will come over an extremely long period of time. I think it should lead to even more creative expression because new artists will get an audience that they wouldn't have otherwise had. I think that there are so many different examples of this. But one of them I would offer is a fine author of books named Edward Tuft who was turned away from book publisher after book publisher who didn't find it economical to print his very, very detailed explanations of how we communicate information in our society. So this first book [in which] he had the visual display of quantitative information he had to print himself, and create his own press to do it. And now, subsequently, it's become a financial success and he's released additional books. Without people taking control of the medium, without them finding a way to distribute art that might not otherwise get a life span, I think we're deprived of all sorts of important creative expressions. And I think it's wonderful that, in the future, content providers will be able to offer far more music than they've been able to release in the past. Not only out of their archives but out of new selections, new things that you'll get a chance to decide for yourself. Whether it's to your taste as opposed to a gatekeeper performing that function for you.
Easton: We've focused so much on music, I'd like to shift over to film if I could for a minute and address the same question. Because we have focused on music and because right now it is more viable to digitally distribute music given the bandwidth considerations, how do you see film working into the whole digital distribution of art?
Griffin: Well, I think it will follow much the way that it has with many of the technologies in the past. It's simply a more difficult proposition to digitize video, save it, find the bandwith necessary to distribute it, and do it to a very large number of people. But I would say that audio is on a continuum towards video. Clearly, text is the easiest. Books would be the easiest to digitally distribute, and we've advanced now to the point where we can do music. And video is not far behind. I really don't see the issues as being all that different except that it's interesting that the video industry has embraced technological change more than has the music business. For example, the video business, some predicted, would be crushed by the arrival of inexpensive recording devices--VCRs--and the suggestion was that this would place the makers of movies in financial peril. And yet, we found over time that that's not the case at all, that allowing consumers the opportunity to rent videos has not destroyed the economics of making movies. It's in fact enhanced them.
Easton: Isn't that the same argument that television would also, in general, eliminate all moviegoing when it first appeared?
Griffin: Sure. Some people make dire predictions of all kinds. And that's why I find the current debate about copy protection to be so interesting. It's because it seems to have very little institutional memory, for what we've gone through in the past in trying to protect our products. There are many, many amusing analogies. I'm struck because if I go to the store and I see a container of iced tea that costs $1.50, I realize that I have a friend who can make iced tea for merely pennies. And I could do that in my own home if I chose to do that, and yet I continue to pay this fee that's almost in some cases a hundred times larger than what it would cost me to do it at home. So consumers can easily replicate many different things that there are large markets for in society and I find that kind of funny that if we look at the different analogies that are out there in society that we continue to make lots of money. You know what would happen if there were no public libraries, absolutely none, and we lived in this world without libraries and tomorrow I announce that we were going to create them. I think you could properly expect many people to denounce me as a Communist for using government funds to appropriate their videos and their books and their audio recordings and make them available at absolutely no cost to the general public. They'd say, "You propose to give them the books we sell, to let them borrow them and then return them so that yet another person can enjoy our book without purchasing it?" You know we would hear a hue and a cry. Many people would be predicting the demise of the entertainment industry if we really did build all these libraries. And yet there's a street in Los Angeles that has both a Blockbuster on it and a public library. And the public library rents videos.
Easton: They actually, you can borrow them for free for 2 days.
Griffin: Yes. And they don't do anywhere near the business that Blockbuster does down the street. So I think we can see pretty clearly that lots of this move towards copy protection and fear of what consumers might do with intellectual property I think is, is really just reactionary and it's without consideration for the past and without consideration for the great promise that digital distribution has to offer.
Easton: You've been talking about this to the leading business schools all across the country. It's so much the antithesis of our thinking that it should be . . . that this intellectual property that's being distributed digitally should be watermarked, should be encrypted and so forth. So you're obviously coming in with a diametrically opposed world view to the people who are sitting listening to you talk about this. Which makes me wonder: after you talk, give your world view about this, what is the most common question that you're asked?
Griffin: Well, you know, the amazing thing is that I'm really greeted not with people who disagree but with mostly young students at the business schools, for example--relatively young students--
Easton: Compared to us.
Griffin: Yes, that's for sure--who've grown up in a world that anticipates the arrival of these technologies and that have seen great profits in spite of predictions of doom, and advances in technology. To these people, when we go forth and say "Well, you know, digital distribution ought to occur even without copy protection," this seems to be natural to them. They understand very, very well that they're expected to pay for software and that, at first, they get a free try, they get to use it for a little bit and find out if it's what they want, and then later on they make a decision to purchase it. They've seen a world in which there was, at first, copy protection. And now where there is no copy protection--for example, for computer software for any of a number of the games that they once enjoyed--they see that the manufacturers of these artistic products are making far more money than they used to make in the past. So I think they've seen--and they know the ways in which their behavior can both help and hurt this industry--and they know that it will help it. And so you know you get really knowing smiles from these people. And they realize, too, that there are some young people, some college students who act in a contrary way, who will try to distribute things. But I think they realize, too, that these people are not in the mainstream, that they are not going to prevail over time. So I've gotten a very, very good reception. And, you know, their minds are quite facile. They figure these things out very, very quickly. College students laugh and say, "Well, you know, if you were able to copy-protect your digital distribution, what would it matter? You know the stores are full of your current CDs which are not copy-protected at all. And unless you're going to take those off the market, there's always an easy way for us to copy something." I think they look at us as people with our heads in the sand and they have seen the future and they know that it's profitable for the distributors of art and intellectual property. And so they say let's be on with it, let's make it happen.
Easton: In closing, what do you believe is the most important concept that people should take away, having listened to you?
Griffin: I think that what we--and I think most people--do understand this, really I do. I think that we need to understand that the way to give life to art is to distribute it, to get it into people's hands. That it's very rare that someone buys a record album they haven't heard or that they attend a movie that they know nothing about. Or that they pick up a book whose plot or writing style is uncertain to them. And that giving people a taste of art is the thing that leads to their appreciation of it and their being a consumer of it. And that there's nothing more profitable for us in this industry than putting our products in front of consumers for their benefit and allowing them to taste of it. Because once they have a taste, if it's to their liking, they really do become addicted to it. They enjoy it and they find that this art enriches their lives in so many different ways. And so I would say that like an overprotective parent we need to be careful that in protecting our art that we may be depriving it of a very, very rich life that it might otherwise have. And so I think savvy marketing people realize this. After all, our industry goes to great lengths to expose you to our music on the radio; and to ensure that you read about it in the newspaper and in magazines and so forth. And I think ultimately the economics of the business dictate that that will continue. And we will find that probably, if we were successful at copy-protecting art, that would be the thing that led the quickest to the demise of copy protection. Because we would very soon see that by depriving ourselves of this audience, that we had lost a great deal in the way of profits and a great deal in the way of giving this art the life that it deserves.
Easton: Jim Griffin, thank you very much.
This is Jaclyn Easton. We've been talking to Jim Griffin, the director of technology for Geffen Records for LATimes.com.
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