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Re: BVerfG in re Napster
Hier ein Artikel vom März 2001.
*The man who would be cool*
Mar 8th 2001
From The Economist print edition
*In wooing Napster, Thomas Middelhoff, the boss of Europe's biggest
media group, hopes to make money--but money isn't everything*
*Get article background*
HE IS, he says, an "American who just happens to have a German
passport." Even more than wanting to be seen as American in his approach
to business, perhaps what Thomas Middelhoff, the boss of Bertelsmann,
really yearns for is to be considered cool.
It is difficult to think of a better explanation for Mr Middelhoff's
extraordinary decision last November to put money into Napster, the
pariah of the recording industry. Although Bertelsmann, through its
music subsidiary, BMG, in common with the four other big music
companies, is still suing Napster for massive copyright abuse, Mr
Middelhoff's conciliatory approach towards the online file-swapping
pirate struck traditional record executives as a mixture of
grandstanding and sell-out.
The sight of Mr Middelhoff at a press conference playfully patting Shawn
Fanning, Napster's youthful founder, on the head, sharing the lad's bowl
of "gummy bears" and asking for Napster T-shirts to give to his five
children, was too much for some: BMG's two top managers quit a few days
later. Vivendi's Jean-Marie Messier, an old friend of the Middelhoff
family and recent acquirer of Universal, one of the Big Five music
firms, could only shake his head in disbelief.
On March 6th, a federal judge gave Napster three days to filter out the
copyrighted material of the big record labels once the firms issue a
list of the tracks they want removed. But Mr Middelhoff appears
unconcerned. Although the court's timetable is tough, he thinks the $60m
his company has lent Napster should make it possible for Napster to
comply ahead of launching a legal, subscription-based service in July.
He thinks that the rest of the industry may also be coming round to his
way of thinking: that working with a reformed Napster just might be
smarter than shutting it down. Even Mr Messier said this week that he
would consider licensing Universal's catalogue to a Napster that charged
a subscription and passed money back to rights-holders.
But when Mr Middelhoff talks of Napster as being potentially the next
America Online (a $50m investment in AOL made for Bertelsmann by Mr
Middelhoff in 1994 was worth over $10 billion last year), it is time to
pause. Mr Middelhoff sensibly argues that treating Napster's 60m-odd
users as criminals is crazy. It should be possible, he says, to convert
many of them into a legitimate, and profitable, fee-paying music
community, a little like the book clubs that fuelled Bertelsmann's
growth decades ago. If that happens, he can convert the loan to Napster
into an equity stake, make another fortune for Bertelsmann and save the
recording industry from its own short-sightedness.
But some big obstacles lie in the way. Although many Napsterphiles say
in surveys that they are prepared to pay for their pleasure, there is a
distinct possibility that the vast majority will simply switch to
still-free clones, such as Aimster <http://www.aimster.com>, that have
made themselves much harder to shut down than Napster. Even if Napster
does succeed in producing software that meets the record companies'
requirements while retaining the pioneering "peer-to-peer" technology
that lets users share music files on each other's PCs, the big labels
may still be reluctant to enrich the entity that has brought them so
Mr Middelhoff is shrewd enough to know this. But by siding with
Napster's users in their demand for an easy-to-use and comprehensive
online jukebox, he has been able to cast himself as a visionary,
determined to shake up hidebound vested interests. In other words,
someone who really "gets it". Someone cool.
Although he claims not to be interested in public relations, he also
says that he wants Bertelsmann to be the most admired media company in
the world. Certainly, the pace of change at Bertelsmann since he was
elevated to the top job in late 1998 by the firm's patriarch,
79-year-old Reinhard Mohn, has been impressive. The acquisition of
Random House by Mr Middelhoff, while still heir apparent, made
Bertelsmann the biggest book publisher in the world. And if he can
persuade competition authorities on both sides of the Atlantic to allow
BMG to merge with Britain's EMI, Bertelsmann could soon also be number
one in music as well. That is, however, quite a big if, given the
ongoing investigation by the European Commission into overcharging for CDs.
*The patriarch says yes*
Mr Middelhoff has been just as busy shaking up privately owned
Bertelsmann's ownership structure. Last month, he took a big step
towards partially floating the firm by means of a share swap with Groupe
Bruxelles Lambert, which left Bertelsmann with a 67% stake in RTL,
Europe's biggest broadcaster. To the surprise of some, Mr Mohn, who has
always prized the independence that has come with the company's
close-knit shareholding structure, gave the deal his blessing. That was
a big victory for Mr Middelhoff, who has become frustrated by the lack
of an acquisition currency other than Bertelsmann's (plentiful) cash.
Deals of the kind AOL did with Time Warner are not currently an option
for Mr Middelhoff. For an honorary American, that rankles.
For the time being, Mr Middelhoff is pursuing the Americanisation--or
"internationalisation", as he prefers to call it--of Bertelsmann in
other, largely symbolic, ways. Increasingly, he spends time in the
firm's office in Times Square rather than at its headquarters in the
sleepy town of Gütersloh in northern Germany. Bertelsmen speculate that
head office might even move to New York before long. Since 1999, English
has been the firm's official language.
Mr Middelhoff also attaches great importance to the less formal dress
code he has instigated. After a recent board meeting, not one of the
departing executives could be seen wearing a tie. Mr Middelhoff himself
is rarely photographed wearing a tie these days. It's just not cool.
Copyright © 2003 The Economist Newspaper and The Economist Group. All