Economy class cabin seats KLM
The economy class cabin just as passengers were boarding the aircraft in Amsterdam. Photograph ©2014 by Brian Cohen.

Why a Possible Lawsuit By Music Companies Against Airlines May Be A Foolish Decision

“U niversal Music Group (UMG) looks as if it’s prepping for warfare against American Airlines over rights to in-flight music”, according to this article written by Steve Cohen — no relation to me — posted over at FlyerTalk. “A ‘standstill agreement’ with the music titan is set to expire on November 10, at which time a copyright lawsuit could be launched as the latest front in what is looking more and more like a coordinated effort by music industry heavyweights to garner higher revenues from the biggest airlines in the U.S.”

I personally believe that initiating a copyright lawsuit against American Airlines would be a foolish move on the part of Universal Music Group — who was a client of a client of mine at one time where I trained some of their employees at a facility in southern North Carolina where they created compact discs for distribution — for the simple reason that they would be denying an audience to listen to music which they might eventually want to purchase, which could possibly mean thousands of new customers per year just from music played during flights.

After all — isn’t that what radio has been all about for decades? Playing music to which listeners can hear for free and then run to the “record store” to purchase what they liked?

In the modern world of social media, people and companies are eager to get the word out about their products and services through many different channels in the hopes of increased sales and revenues. In this particular case, a music company is attempting to squelch and suppress having future customers listen to their products?

A side effect of a lawsuit could be bad publicity. Remember some years back when music companies were going after individuals whom they believed pirated their music? While they may have had a right to go after the individuals, the tactics they reportedly used garnered controversy and some negative publicity. Social media these days could fuel the potential controversy and negative publicity faster and wider if the music companies do decide to sue airlines and handle this issue the wrong way.

When I was a passenger aboard a Boeing 747-400 Combi airplane operated by KLM Royal Dutch Airlines on a flight from Amsterdam to Seoul, I mentioned that there were “literally hundreds of ‘compact discs’ of music” amongst the vast variety of entertainment options — meaning that if I found a song I had never heard before about which I was curious, I could listen to the song in its entirety; and if I liked the song enough, I could note the title and artist in order to purchase at a later date.

How much better could this free advertising get for the music companies?

Unfortunately, record companies — they are still called that today, aren’t they? — seem to allow greed to get in the way of potentially profitable business decisions.

I can understand if the airlines were giving away the music for free to passengers and allowing them to download songs onto their personal electronic devices. That would clearly deny record companies and artists the compensation they deserve…

…but the in-flight entertainment systems provided by airlines is no different than listening to the radio — other than the fact that the listener can play the song on demand for as many times as he or she wants.

On an airplane operated by Delta Air Lines, Happy by Pharrell Williams was part of the boarding music being played — and it was the first time I had heard the song, as I had not seen the movie in which the song was featured. As I was comfortably seated, I witnessed several passengers passing by me, bobbing their heads to the song and smiling as they danced down the aisle.

Now, I am not suggesting that having that song as part of the collection of boarding music provided by Delta Air Lines is the primary reason why the song became a hit single — but it certainly did not hurt, did it?

What about the link I just provided to the video posted on the Internet? Does that not help to promote the song as well? Should a music company sue me for even linking to the video? It is not like I am giving away the actual song or its intellectual property — if the term intellectual should even be used for that song, which I neither like nor dislike.

There has been a surfeit of disruptive technologies in recent years which have significantly contributed to the downfall of a number of industries, to be certain. For example, the majority of graphic artists now need to know code in order to be able to create their work; they need to rent software instead of own a license; and anyone with a computer, some software and a cheap camera can be a designer or a photographer — even if in their own minds…

…and anyone with a computer and some software can create music — again, even if in their own minds. Purchase a microphone and that music can be customized with vocals.

There was a time where musicians would record albums where a few of the songs were good and the rest were considered “filler” material. If there was a song you wanted which was not a hit single, you had to purchase the entire album in order to be able to have it. That has largely been eliminated these days with the advent of purchasing music via the Internet.

I guess what I am trying to say is that although disruptive technology has indeed affected the music industry, I do not see how allowing airlines to offer music on in-flight entertainment systems will negatively impact the income of music companies and their artists. Besides, I believe that disruptive technology has in a way helped the music industry to benefit. Now you can purchase that song which is not a hit single from a number of sources via the Internet. I know that when compact discs were the primary way to purchase music, I would not purchase an entire album for as much as $15.00 just so that I can have one song which I like — and I am sure that I am not the only person who felt that way.

Perhaps I am missing something here; but I just do not believe that engaging in costly lawsuits is the answer — not that I am sure what is the question in this case — so I will ask you: where am I wrong? How does an airline providing music on its in-flight entertainment system harm music companies and infringe upon copyright laws? Don’t the benefits outweigh the disadvantages? Is this a possible case of excessive greed as a result of overprotection of intellectual property; or do the music companies have a viable and legitimate case?

What are your thoughts?

Photograph ©2014 by Brian Cohen.

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