Last week I spoke on a panel called “The Paradise of Infinite Storage”, at the “Pop [Music] and Policy” conference at McGill University in Montreal. The panel’s title referred to an interesting fact: sometime in the next decade, we’ll see a $100 device that fits in your pocket and holds all of the music ever recorded by humanity.
This is a simple consequence of Moore’s Law which, in one of its variants, holds that the amount of data storage available at a fixed size and price roughly doubles every eighteen months. Extrapolate that trend and, depending on your precise assumptions, you’ll find the magic date falls somewhere between 2011 and 2019. From then on, storage capacity might as well be infinite, at least as far as music is concerned.
This has at least two important consequences. First, it strains even further the economics of the traditional music business. The gap between the number of songs you might want to listen to, and the number you’re willing and able to pay a dollar each to buy, is growing ever wider. In a world of infinite storage you’ll be able to keep around a huge amount of music that is potentially interesting but not worth a dollar (or even a dime) to you yet. So why not pay a flat fee to buy access to everything?
Second, infinite storage will enable new ways of building filesharing technologies, which will be much harder for copyright owners to fight. For example, today’s filesharing systems typically have users search for a desired song by contacting strangers who might have the song, or who might have information about where the song can be found. Copyright owners’ technical attacks against filesharing often target this search feature, trying to disrupt it or to exploit the fact that it involves communication with strangers.
But in a world of infinite storage, no searching is needed, and filesharers need only communicate with their friends. If a user has a new song, it will be passed on immediately to his friends, who will pass it on to their friends, and so on. Songs will “flood” through the population this way, reaching all of the P2P system’s participants within a few hours – with no search, and no communication with strangers. Copyright owners will be hard pressed to fight such a system.
Just as today, many people will refuse to use such technologies. But pressure on today’s copyright-based business models will continue to intensify. Will we see new legal structures? New business models? Or new public attitudes? Something has to change.