The unusual alliance demonstrates a new tack being taken by the music industry to deal with the challenge posed by widespread music piracy. For years, the industry has been suing individual downloaders and file-sharing services, hoping to discourage the practice. In a tactic little known outside the music industry, record labels have also started to hire outside companies to plant “decoy,” or fake, files on the sites. (One such company, ArtistDirect Inc.’s MediaDefender, says it has deployed decoys for as many as 30 of the top 100 Billboard songs at any given time.) The decoy files frustrate users because they fail to download even though, thanks to the companies’ technical expertise, they often claim the top spot in search results for a tune.
But now there’s a growing recognition among some record executives and performers that the people who are downloading illegally are frequently huge music fans and that marketing to them may be more desirable in the long run than suing or otherwise harassing them.
Oddly enough, that’s what p2p users have been saying since the earliest days of Napster. Of course, it wouldn’t be the first time entertainment executives have been several years behind the curve in cultural developments. More on creative responses to copyright challenges can be found in the Jamie Plummer study we published last year.