Commentary > The Bottom Line
Is it nice to share, or not?
The recording industry loses a case in court, but the battle over digital music still rocks on.
August 12, 2003: 1:35 PM EDT
By Adam Lashinsky, CNN/Money staff writer

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MENLO PARK, Calif. (CNN/Money) There's a new digital divide in the United States: those who think it's OK to "share" intellectual property that doesn't belong to them, and those who don't.

The former group won a small victory Monday when a federal judge in Massachusetts ruled that two local schools the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Boston College don't have to cough up records that would help the Recording Industry Association of America determine which college students may have illegally shared music online.

Read beyond the headlines, however, and you'll see that this one is far from over. The judge threw out previously issued subpoenas because of a jurisdictional issue: They were issued by a Washington, D.C., court, not one in Massachusetts. A little setback like this isn't going to deter the music industry, which is planning to file hundreds of lawsuits against people it alleges have shared music they never paid for.

Care to get a sense of just how deadly serious the music industry is? Read an exhaustively reported article just out in Fortune magazine that explains how, even years after Napster folded up its tent, the music industry still is waging a $17 billion legal battle against one of the Napster's backers, Bertelsmann.

Don't confuse this new digital divide, by the way, with opposition to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which I wrote about here six months ago. This law has its strengths and weaknesses, and being against it doesn't make you in favor of stealing music.

The fact is that young people and a handful of older ones still don't see that the music industry, flat-footed and bellicose as it may be, has a right to demand that people pay for its products. That you don't like the price of a CD is no reason to steal it, any more than a socialite saying the cost of a fur coat is too high so she steals it.

The music industry flunked a test Monday. The final exam is a long ways off.

Bottomline-let, Part I: Hewlett-Packard's size

Dow component Hewlett-Packard threw a party in New York Monday to unveil a whole bunch of new products. The Wall Street Journal Monday noted that Carly Fiorina, HP's CEO, "has long groused that the company isn't recognized as one of the world's largest consumer tech firms, even though it takes up more than 10% of the world's retail shelf space."

A different stat about HP in a recent Forbes article tells a different story of HP's relative size. Forbes notes that although the annual revenue at IBM, another Dow component, are only $9 billion more than HP's $72 billion, IBM's market value is more than twice HP's. Thanks to the higher-quality value of its consulting business and its software operations, IBM also is far more profitable than HP.

HP talks a lot about how the soup-to-nuts technology game has come down to only itself and IBM. The talk will be a lot more impressive when the Silicon Valley company can match IBM's profits and its stock value.

Bottomline-let, Part II: Here's some sharp headline writing

"Indonesia Walks a Knife's Edge"

-- The Wall Street Journal; Monday, Aug. 11, 2003, p. A7.

"On Knife Edge, Liberia Awaits Taylor's Move"

-- The New York Times; Monday, Aug. 11, 2003, p. A1.  Top of page

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