Douglas Merrill grabbed considerable attention for saying that sharing music files might not be a bad thing. This sentiment has been voiced before, but not by someone who had been chief operating officer of New Music and president of Digital Business at EMI Music. Merrill also was chief information officer and vice president of engineering at Google, and now he’s CEO of ZestCast, so he’s not an easily dismissed firebrand demanding that information wants to be free.
During his keynote speech at CA Expo in Sydney, Australia, Merrill said he felt the music industry was “collapsing” when he joined EMI in 2008, but “the RIAA said it isn’t that we are making bad music, but the ‘dirty file sharing guys’ are the problem,” ComputerWorld (Australia) reported.
“There’s a set of data that shows that file sharing is actually good for artists. Not bad for artists. So maybe we shouldn’t be stopping it all the time,” Merrill said, according to Cory Doctorow’s post on BoingBoing. “Obviously, there is piracy that is quite destructive but again I think the data shows that in some cases file sharing might be okay.”
It’s perhaps not surprising that Merrill left EMI in 2009, less than a year after taking on the job.
“Going to sue customers for file sharing is like trying to sell soap by throwing dirt on your customers,” Merrill said. He then deadpanned, “That’s not theft, that’s try-before-you-buy marketing and we weren’t even paying for it… so it makes sense to sue them.”
Merrill obviously had insights of interest to a wider audience of executives as well. Among these were that managers should hire a diverse group of employees to get a wide range of inputs, stay out of the way more often, and be aware of innovation regardless of its source.
As evidence, he cited that 66 per cent of the Fortune 100 companies have either disappeared or have dropped off that list since 1990.
“Eastman Kodak is my favorite example. It has more patents than any other company on earth and is the most successful research company,” Merrill said. “In 1990 a young researcher invented the charge coupled device, which is the core of every camera today. His boss said, ‘You’re a moron. We make film.’”
He also warned against reliance on focus groups, particularly when it comes to disruptive or innovative products outside of their experience. Google’s popular spell correction feature came from observing what users did with the service, Merrill said, remarking that customers wouldn’t have said they wanted it until after they actually tried it.