Did Frank Zappa Come Up With A Business Plan For File Sharing In 1983?

By: Mike Masnick

Reader SunKing sends in this little tidbit that I’d not seen before (perhaps some of you have). It comes from The Real Frank Zappa Book and discusses his response to “the home taping movement” and the attempt to get everyone to rebuy their old albums on CD by proposing a system where you could subscribe to whatever genre of music you wanted and get it delivered in batches. He first talks about how ridiculous it is to focus just on selling discs of music:

“MUSIC CONSUMERS LIKE TO CONSUME MUSIC . . . NOT PIECES OF VINYL WRAPPED IN PIECES OF CARDBOARD”.

Then he talks about how to “embrace” home taping:

“It is our proposal to take advantage of the POSITIVE ASPECTS of a NEGATIVE TREND afflicting the record industry today: HOME TAPING via cassette of material released on vinyl…. First of all, we must realize that the taping of albums is not motivated by ‘stinginess’ alone …. People today enjoy music more than ever before, and, they like to take it with them wherever they go. THEY CAN HEAR THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN GOOD AUDIO AND BAD AUDIO . . . THEY CARE ABOUT THAT DIFFERENCE, AND THEY ARE WILLING TO GO TO SOME TROUBLE AND EXPENSE TO HAVE HIGH QUALITY ‘PORTABLE AUDIO’ TO USE AS ‘WALLPAPER FOR THEIR LIFESTYLE'”.

So he makes the following suggestion:

We propose to acquire the rights to digitally duplicate and store THE BEST of every record company’s difficult-to-move Quality Catalog Items [Q.C.I.], store them in a central processing location, and have them accessible by phone or cable TV, directly patchable into the user’s home taping appliances, with the option of direct digital-to-digital transfer to F-1 (SONY consumer level digital tape encoder), Beta Hi-Fi, or ordinary analog cassette (requiring the installation of a rentable D-A converter in the phone itself . . . the main chip is about $12)”.

All accounting for royalty payments, billing to the customer, etc. would be automatic, built into the initial software for the system.

The consumer has the option of subscribing to one or more Interest Categories, charged at a monthly rate, without regard for the quantity of music he or she decides to tape.

Providing material in such quantity at a reduced cost could actually diminish the desire to duplicate and store it, since it would be available any time day or night.

Monthly listings could be provided by catalog, reducing the on-line storage requirements of the computer. The entire service would be accessed by phone, even if the local reception is via TV cable.

The advantage of the TV cable is: on those channels where nothing ever seems to happen (there’s about 70 of them in L.A.), a visualization of the original cover art, including song lyrics, technical data, etc., could be displayed while the transmission is in progress, giving the project an electronic whiff of the original point-of-purchase merchandising built into the album when it was ‘an album’, since there are many consumers who like to fondle & fetish the packaging while the music is being played. In this situation, Fondlement & Fetishism Potential [F.F.P.] is supplied, without the cost of shipping tons of cardboard around.

We require a LARGE quantity of money and the services of a team of mega-hackers to write the software for this system. Most of the hardware devices are, even as you read this, available as off-the-shelf items, just waiting to be plugged into each other so they can put an end to “THE RECORD BUSINESS” as we now know it.

Just imagine how different the music industry might be today if he’d been able to move forward with that idea. 1983 was probably too early, but jump forward ten years… and we’d be facing a very different sort of music industry.