A recent made-for-TV movie opened with a scene that showed how far the recording industry hasn't come in 20 years. It was the 1980s, and an industry lobbyist was trying to win a reporter's support for a sales tax on blank cassettes, arguing that the labels were losing millions to consumers who bought blank tapes and "dubbed" copyrighted music.
Today, the fight is over internet file-swapping, but the accusation is the same: A new technology is illegally empowering consumers to trade music without paying for it.
So far, the labels have succeeded in shutting down Napster, the technology's prototype, but what have they gained? CD sales are dropping (by 9% last year alone), and the industry's image is suffering badly. Why? Because record labels have declared war on their own best customers, attempting to suppress a popular technology - one that shows no signs of going away.
If you remember, Hollywood had its own fight back in the '80s, trying to police the emerging home-video trend. Studios feared they would lose millions to people taping movies off television. But today, the home-video market has revolutionized the industry, reaping enough profit to render losses from home taping a non-issue.
Technologies are now emerging that allow consumers to download films and TV shows over the internet. And how are the studios reacting? Not by seizing their future, but by channeling massive resources into a lobbying and PR effort that will render those technologies useless before they're even affordable.
The recording industry missed a unique chance to get a head start on the future by learning from its past. And Hollywood would be wise to have a better memory.