December 1st, 2002
Bob Cringely suspects that once their attempts to outlaw file sharing fail to kill the peer-to-peer networks, the recording industry will build a "legal" peer-to-peer network of their own. Oddly enough, he doesn't think that users' interests will be at the top of the recording industry's agenda, and eventually users will turn back to independent peer-to-peer systems.
None of this is terribly original thinking, but I do like the historical precedent Cringely wheels out to illustrate his point:
My favorite historical example of this phenomenon comes from the oil business. In the 1920s, the Anglo-Persian Oil Company had a monopoly on oil production in the Middle East, which they generally protected through the use of diplomatic — and occasionally military — force against the local monarchies. Then the Gulf Oil Company of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, literally sneaked into Kuwait and obtained from the Al-Sabah family (who still run the place) a license to search for oil.
The Anglo-Persian Oil Company did not like Gulf's actions, but they were even more dismayed to learn that Gulf couldn't be told to just go to hell. Andrew Mellon, of the Pittsburgh Mellons, was the U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, and he wasn't about to let his oil company be pushed around by the British Foreign Office. So Anglo-Persian and the Foreign Office did their best to delay Gulf, which worked for several years. They lied a little, lost a few maps, failed to read a telegram or two, and when Gulf still didn't go away, they turned to acting stupid. As the absolute regional experts on oil exploration, they offered to do Gulf's job, to save the Americans the bother if searching for oil in Kuwait by searching for them.
The Anglo-Persian Oil Company searched for oil in Kuwait for 22 years without finding a single drop.
Remember that Kuwait is smaller than Rhode Island, and not only is it sitting atop more than 60 billion barrels of oil, it has places where oil has been known for more than 3,000 years to seep all the way to the surface. Yet Anglo-Persian was able to fulfill its contract with Gulf and keep two oil rigs continually drilling in Kuwait for 22 years without finding oil. To drill this many dry wells required intense concentration on the part of the British drillers. They had to not only be NOT looking for oil, they had to very actively be NOT LOOKING for oil, which is even harder.