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My letter to the Musicians Union About the Digital Economy Bill

April 8th, 2010 | 58 Comments | Categories: New Music Strategies · Rant - Politics, Spirituality, etc. |

Well, the Digital Economy Bill passed. One of the stupidest yet most potentially catastrophic bits of legislation ever forced through in the Wash-Up (the last couple of days of a Parliament before an election.

I opposed it, I still oppose it and I will continue to oppose any legislation about the internet written by people who don’t understand the internet or, in this case, the music industries and the role that music plays in our culture.

I’m particularly ashamed that the Musicians Union – a Union of which I am a member, was a proud member, and have supported by paying double what I should’ve been paying for the last two years – supported this insane bill, to the detriment of musicians everywhere.

I made this public, and got an email of their ‘official position’ this morning, which is:

We fully support the Digital Economy Bill in the interests of getting it through Parliament before the election. We support measures that will reduce the opportunity for pirates to rip off musicians and we also support the graduated response that should help to persuade most filesharers to respect the rights of artists who want to be paid for their recordings. We remain optimistic that the final version of the Digital Economy Bill will directly and fairly address both these issues, and we believe that Government support and intervention in this area is not only welcome but vital.

As you know, our Executive Committee are involved with our policies and decision-making, and the members of the Committee are themselves working musicians.

Here’s my reply to Kelly Wood, The Regional Officer for The North, who sent me the message:

-o0o-

Thanks Kelly,

I think that’s an entirely absurd position to take. Using the word “Pirates” discredits you immediately. These are music fans, discovering music. That’s a great thing.

Teaming up with the BPI does us a great disservice. The BPI wrote the bill as a protectionist measure of an outdated and unworkable business model. It was a model that was NEVER to the advantage of musicians who cared about the music they played and the culture it existed in, but one that made sense at a time when physical distribution was required to reach anyone, and the costs involved were prohibitively high. At that point, labels lying to musicians about how much they dig the music, while making a fortune for themselves but still never ‘recouping’ on the album was deeply unpalatable but a neccesary part of recording and releasing music.

All the costs have dropped. I’ve written extensively about this – most notably here – but nothing has changed in the industry. They still spend money on the behalf of musicians, pay themselves that money, recoup it (AGAIN) and own the product at the end. None of that is remotely to our advantage.

  • The internet is an awful broadcast platform. Terrible. If your model for business sees recorded music as a broadcast-followed-by-sale experience, you’re screwed.
  • The internet is an awesome conversation and sharing platform. Get that, and you can build a sizeable sustainable audience on zero budget. Factor in the reduced cost of making records, and you can release a record at near break-even point, get an audience, then set about given them reasons and means to pay you to do what you do. There are loads of ways. Not least of all, charging for downloads.

People pay for downloads on my site, even though they are available for free. I’m as happy when people download for free as I am when they pay as they are still discovering what I do, and forming a relationship with my music, and me through my music.

So, the premise of the bill – that the situation is desperate – was spurious. The figures quoted for industry ‘losses’ are insane. Utterly nonsensical if mapped against spending trends on ‘physical and download entertainment media’ – we are part of a much bigger entertainment industry now that we ever were, and we don’t dominate it in the way we did from 1956 to 1998. Games and DVD are a bigger part of it than ever. And entertainment spending continues to rise. So 200 million hasn’t been ‘lost’, it’s being spent elsewhere. Meanwhile, the cost of making and distributing records is tiny, and download sales go up and up.

How you can see that as a situation that needs legislating is utterly beyond me. To shut down sites and services on suspicion of illegal activity is a civil liberties travesty. To have my internet traffic monitored ‘in case I do anything bad’ is like the royal mail reading my post, in case my letters contain naughty words. While threatening to brick up my front door if they find them, or think they might have found them.

I’m ashamed of the Union, ashamed to be a member, and feel that your support for this bill is a massive black mark on a Union that has done so much for grass roots music. By focussing on a pre-millenial obsession with money-changing-hands-at-the-point-of-discovery, you’re effectively crapping on the best music discovery, fan-generating, culture-sharing, life-benefitting ecosphere that musicians in the world have ever experienced.

And that is why I’m still considering whether I should stay in the Union any longer.

If you’d like to meet and talk this over further, I’d love to talk about it with you more.

yours,

Steve

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58 Comments so far ↓

  • Mike Arthur

    Great letter Steve. I hope they agree to meet you and actually try and learn something from your input.

  • Adrian

    Well said, Steve! I’ve never been a member of the MU (same reason as I’ve never joined a political party; I’m not much of a “joiner”) but I’ve always seen it as a force for good. Not so sure now.

  • Mike E

    Excellent letter Steve

  • Will Humphreys

    Good letter. The problem I have as a consumer is that by being a member of the MU you supported this bill. Whilst I gave money to the Open Rights Group to campaign against it you did the opposite. Given that why should I support you by purchasing your music.

    • Steve

      Will,

      the reason that ‘pay what you want’ starts at free is so you can make that judgement call for yourself. Don’t think it’s worth listening to? don’t listen. Don’t think it’s worth paying for? Don’t pay for it. Listened, enjoyed it, and think that sending me some money for it represents your gratitude to me for making it or your sense of the value it has to you in some way? great send me some money.

      I hope that the value of my music to the people who choose to soundtrack whatever part of their lives with it is far greater than the £5/10/15/20 they paid for it. I also hope that no-one is foolish enough to buy it without listening first and thus end up spending money on music that means nothing to them

      🙂

  • Wayne

    A good letter, Steve, and thanks for posting it.

    The key points that underly the MU view are simple and false. They think that a download is always equivalent to a lost sale, and that the figures from the BPI on the threat to jobs are accurate. Of course, neither of those things are true: a download is not equivalent to a lost sale, and the BPI figures have been widely debunked.

    Something else to consider might be standing for election to the Executive Committee, and working towards getting MU policy changed that way. In the medium/long term, this is the only way MU policy on internet culture will be changed. Currently it doesn’t look like anyone there gets it, though I have noted a slight softening of the position over the last couple of years as it dimly sinks in that the internet is not actually going away.

    Over time, the committees will be populated by people who do, and policy will change. I would certainly vote for you if you stood.

  • Chris Bestwick

    Hear, hear!

    (Which is both my response to your letter and the essence of why the internet is a good thing for musicians 🙂

  • inkysmudge

    Funnily enough, I was recently looking into finally sorting out joining the MU and now I’m as confused as ever.

    Adrian – ‘not a joiner’ – that made me chuckle. I sympathise. I think I am ideologically opposed to ideology. And this is my broad strokes problem.

    Steve – Forgive my ignorance in any of the following, as a newcomer to the practical realities of life as a musician (my first ‘quarter’ if you like), but this whole issue is doing my (expletive deleted) head in:

    I’ve attended some FAC meetings, heard things I agree with, things I don’t, looked into and commented on the a2f2a.com site, registered some things with PRS & PPL, some not, given away free music, charged for other music and so on.

    Maybe it is because I’m new at this but the whole ‘debate’ seems so damn polarised with this ‘you’re either with us or against us’ vibe coming from both sides that makes me feel plain uncomfortable, for reasons I cannot adequately explain.

    If anybody saw what David Baddeil had to say on last night’s This Week about the election and the black and white becoming shades of grey, that’s kind of where I’m at. Utterly confused.

    Yesterday there was an article about the bill hitting a ‘flat note’ (see what they did there?!) on thisismoney.co.uk about how Harriet Harman had said the bill had raised enough issues for it not to be rushed through, then by last night it was passed! Er…..

    On a practical level, the advice I took in registering with the PRS/PPL way back when appears to be folly, a couple of new media companies I’ve seen looking to license music now want to deal under a creative commons basis, directly with artists and completely bypass the PRS/PPL, an organisation I was informed was there to look after my interests. Um, same goes for your position on the MU I guess.

    I know the wider issue of the bill is the criminalisation of what we ourselves have always done, copy music. That and the attending big brother monitoring that you so eloquently compared to the PO opening your letters. Genius btw (let’s all watch The Lives Of Others again shall we?!) How the hell has it come to this?

    An audience member on Question Time last night said, “we just want politicians to tell us straight” and that’s how I feel about this, exasperated, confused and maybe naively looking for ‘answers’ where there isn’t one tainted without a vested interest in some kind or another.

    I’m really, really sorry to bang on but if anyone has any thoughts or advice, this particular oik would very much appreciate it as I try to get my head round what appears to be a complete mess.

    Regards to all.

  • Paul

    Great letter – however I wouldn’t necessarily say building an audience has ‘zero budget’…

    • Steve

      Paul,

      building an audience *can* be done on zero budget, which doesn’t mean that’s either the best way or the most effective way for a particular band. The trick is for the bands growth to be incremental, rather than speculative. Spend money you have, be intuitive when you have to work in a cashless economy.

      The biggest issue is about taking control of the budget, and spending money on things that have a measurable return…

  • Terence Eden

    I sympathise – but I would advise you not to quit your union.

    I’m a member of a broader trade union (Connect, now Prospect) which has been pro #DEBill and opposed opening up Ordnance Survey data. Despite being fundamentally opposed to their positions, I haven’t quit.

    Why? Two reasons.
    1) They genuinely believe they are supporting their members. That’s who a union caters to – its fee-paying members, not the wider world.
    2) It’s democratic. I can engage, debate, and cajole in order to get my opinion heard.

    And, if push comes to shove, I can stand to be elected to the Executive Committee.

    It’s a shame that your union have supported the #DEBill. I would suggest that – if they have been competent and useful apart from this – that you become more engaged with them, try to change their future stance and, failing that, stand for election.

    I’d learn the penny-whistle if it meant I could vote for you 😉

    T

  • This Reality Podcast

    I can only underline the supportive comments from other correspondents. Yours is a thoughtful, considered response to a mechanism that was designed to prop up a failing business model.

  • Jennifer

    Good one Steve! yeah, the MU don’t really get it do they. I’m relieved to see you’re on the case.

    Thanks for the link to Fiona MacTaggart’s speech too – that was excellent!

    My activism energy recently has been going on the home ed section of the children schools and families bill, which was also very poorly and ignorantly designed – that went down the plug’ole of the “washup” yesterday (hurrah!) but Ed Balls says he’s bringing it straight back if Labour win. I must say I find the election choices deeply dispiriting. I’ve never voted Tory in my life, but then again I never thought I’d see a Labour government so bad that I’d be wondering if the Tories would be better!

  • Walter

    Good to find your words here. Like you I find myself diametrically opposed to the MU view on this. Their support for the bill means that after 37 years I shall be cancelling my membership and it is likely that my wife will do the same.

    • Steve

      Walter, It’s an odd feeling to be so out of step with the people who are meant to be representing us… Please do write to them. if you want to make it public and don’t have a blog, I’d be happy for you to post it to solobasssteve.com – my other collaborative blog. the more of a public discussion there is around this, the more democratic pressure we can apply to the union to adopt a more transformative approach to the changes in the industry.

  • Tom Hingley

    I appreciate the compassion and conviction of your views, and I have absolutely no problem with the very sophisticated and complex way in which you are marketing and creating your own world of music. Whilst I am sure that I will be unable to dissuade you from your heart-felt position on the DE Bill, which seems to be based on a combination of your own experience and your comprehension of the freeing and democratising nature of the internet, I have to tell you that I do not share your implied paternalistic belief in the future of the web and new models of consumption and production. I used to be in a very successful pop band, Inspiral Carpets. We sold 1m records, and under the old record company model, got paid very little for doing so. A by-product of the new digital landscape is that it is unlikely that I will ever be paid any royalties on any of these historic recordings ever again in the future. I realise that, under the old record company system, the odds on a band becoming successful were roughly akin to those of one sperm out of 100m hitting an egg and conceiving a human being and so, believe me, I realise that I have been in a lucky situation under the old system. However, under the brave new millennium landscape under which we are all trying to make a living, we have enormous corporate players such as Google, who have at least 89% of market share of internet searches in the UK – it’s registered in Ireland and doesn’t pay any tax in the UK (Cadbury’s also previously paid millions to the UK Exchequer in taxes , but now they’ve been purchased by Kraft, won’t be paying any tax in the UK, and will no doubt be adding to our national debt burden). Google is a problem. Part of the DE Bill, Clause 17, attempts to insert a viral element into the UK Copyright Law. The intention of this is to avoid a similar scenario to that whereby the Swedish government spent millions taking Pirate Bay to court. At the eleventh hour Pirate Bay altered the legal basis on which they were constituted with the people who were subscribing to them, which meant that, at one stroke, they had to start procedings again. There have to be laws in national territories. In the UK there are at least 3 or 4 ISPs who have servers that host child pornography, so we know that IT companies are not always law-abiding, moral or behaving in a way that supports public well-being. There is no way in which IT companies can be allowed a free-for-all to decide how music, art and culture is bought and sold. However inadequate the DE Bill may be, unless government can actually get to be as fast-at-foot at challenging negative aspects of potentially freeing technologies and cultural practices, and as flexible as new media platforms are, there will be no more government, no more laws and no more taxation – that’s a heavy price to pay. We all love the freedom that new platforms and means of distribution produce and allow us to discover new artists in a democratic way, and I don’t personally believe that the fantastic way in which you market yourself would ever be threatened by the contents of this DE Bill or any other which may follow it. I’m quite convinced that what we’re looking at is a future where you can dip your toe in or out of the paywall. I think the Musicians’ Union is correct to support the DE Bill, and I won’t be resigning from membership.

    • Steve

      Tom,

      thanks very much for commenting. It’s really good to hear your thoughts.

      Firstly, I don’t oppose *a* digital economy bill, I oppose *this* digital economy bill, and I deeply oppose it being rushed through. No-one has given a remotely satisfactory/democratic reason for this. To submit something with such massive far reaching consequences to be rattled through in the way it was by people who by their very terminology gave away the fact that they just didn’t understand the technology it referred to, let alone the culture, was nothing short of scandalous.

      Google’s status is, it seems, a problem of taxation and corporation regulation… You’ll have to do a fuller job of explaining what “attempts to insert a viral element into the UK Copyright Law” actually means… Are you talking about the idea in the bill (that was actually pulled from it…) that copyright law can be amended without it going through parliament? That frightens the shit out of me. That any future home secretary, under the kind of lobbying pressure that lead to this bill, could be persuaded to change things without even this level of debate? Horrific.

      As for the situation with the Inspiral Carpets (I was a fan) – surely the failure to recoup on those kind of sales is a scandal of the labels, and the system you worked within. Your desire to redress the balance of past wrongs at the hands of an unscrupulous deal and wasteful marketing, recording and touring budgets is not the fault of the internet at all. We HAVE to be thinking about the future. Legacy earnings are what have artificially propped up the industry for way too long. CD sales only peaked the way they did because people were convinced to replace their vinyl collections on CD. It wasn’t about the vibrancy of a new music scene, it was about Fleetwood Mac and Meatloaf selling another few million copies of their already massive selling albums. That’s not a sustainable future for musicians, and certainly isn’t the primary concern of the Musicians Union.

      Are you still making music, Tom? If you are, I’m sure you’re taking advantage of the massive advances in recording technology that mean you can record equivalent quality music for perhaps a tenth of the cost of making the first Inspirals album. Even less if you buy the gear and set up a studio at home – it gets cheaper every time you use it.

      Your chance to keep making the music that means something to you, to keep telling your story, to keep connecting with the audience that loved your music then and has such an amazing opportunity to connect with you now, in a way and on a scale utterly unprecedented in history, that’s way more exciting and inspiring to me thinking about business models that shoring up your rights to continue to exploit the copyright on a record by a band that no longer exists and was made, owned, marketed and exploited by a label system that fucked you over.

      My music-life is far from sophisticated and complex. It’s WAY simpler than any previous model. I make music, I make it available to people, I tell them about it, talk to them about it, and allow them to buy it. If they want CDs, they cost a fixed amount relating to the cost of manufacture, design and shipping, unless *I* decide to give them away or sell them cheap… If they want the digital version, they get to hear it with the opportunity to pay what they want for it, and the invitation to share it with their friends.

      I want 10s of thousands of listeners. I also don’t want to be in debt. I don’t want to operate in a culture where I have to borrow tens if not hundreds of thousands of pounds from a label who then spend that loan on my behalf without consulting me or guaranteeing the return on it, and then hold my product ransom til their wasteful spending is paid off. And then, at the end of that, just as an added kick in jewels, still own it.

      10s of thousands of listeners and no money is a fantastic problem to have.

      No listeners, a hundred grand of debt, and no control over the way your career is marketed, over what products you’re tied to, where you play, who you play to, or any other aspect of your career is a horrible scenario.

      Unless one values fame over music, there is no reason at all that I can see for the old model best described as pole vaulting with a hundred grand pole – clear the bar, and you’re fine. Fail to clear it, it breaks and you’re a hundred grand in debt and back where you started. No need.

      Please do post a link to what you’re up to now, I’d love to hear it. As I say, I was a fan. If it wasn’t almost one in the morning and my son wasn’t asleep, I’d put Life on on Spotify…

      If you want some background reading on my journey with this stuff, here’s a short list of pertinent blog posts I put together for an MP who emailed me asking questions yesterday – might help to answer some of your other questions that I’m sure you’ll have about my approach, ideas and business.

      To reiterate, I’m not anti-copyright, I’m not a ‘freetard’, I think the Pirate Party are largely ridiculous (if only for using the word pirate in their name – childish nonsense). I hope that one of the Inspirals tunes gets picked up for a film and you can make some dough and put it behind you, but that’s not an option for most musicians, and I’m far more interested – as the union should be – in what is sustainable, workable, possible and creatively inspiring for musicians who want to make music and keep making the music they love.

    • Nic

      This is interesting, tho it seems to me the main issue from what you’ve said is that you sold 1m albums but made very little from the record company.

      A few years back I saw In Utero producer Steve Albini’s example balance sheet at negativeland.com/albini.html – which shows how with 250,000 album sales each band member earned a little over $4000 after everyone else took their slice. So I can believe you were left with little.

      The model that the enterprising opponents to the Digital Economy Bill seem to unite behind is one where technology has removed the need for a major label to justify their position by controling marketing, distribution, reproduction, etc. All of these functions – even fundraising a studio production – can be provided through web services and fans.

      Sell 250,000 albums to your fans directly at £5 a time, and even accounting for 20% costs, that’s still £1m return for the band.

      I think someone famous described it as putting the means of production and distribution in the hands of the people.

      Such a model of artist-led distribution, where the distribution and marketing expertise of the current music industry is sold as a service that helps you, as opposed to an exchange for your publishing and copyrights in perpetuity, depends on a free and open Internet where people feel safe to share, browse, explore, mashup, and so on.

      The Digital Economy Bill makes such a future less likely, and makes it far more easy for the triumph of last century ‘s model of media conglomerates pumping artists like oil wells til they are dry. This is why any independent and free thinking artist (especially one that has not profited too well from their success) should avoid the industry groupthink that hurting your fans really badly by cutting of their family’s or co-worker’s internet access will help anyone, other than the execs who doubtless skimmed the majority of your 1m albums sale earnings..

    • Mike Pailthorpe

      Tom

      When the Inspiral Carpets Winnebagos trundled down the drive at Jacobs Studios one early 90s springtime to record the Island Head EP with Daniel Miller (I seem to remember you lot calling it the “Slaphead EP” for some reason), you were the first set of clients I’d seen arrive for a recording session with a proper team of roadies and massive mobile phones. Clint in particular seemed totally in control of the direction both music and business-wise of your Inspirals machine. That memory, and knowing that you were signed to then-independent Mute means I’m quite surprised you didn’t see recording royalties. But then again I remember typing the invoice to Mute for the studio time in the Neve Studio, and you would have had to pay that back first. Added to that, the Jacobs Studio produced record was just an EP (lower price v same manufacturing and distribution costs) your subsequent success was mostly singles (lower price but higher costs again), and those were the days when it cost a label £50 grand to even get a single into the Woolworth Chart (as a “marketing partnership arrangement” as they used to delicately phrase it). But surely you made some money from the fabulous cow t-shirt? I don’t get from your letter how Google is involved, other than it makes it easier to find you if I wanted to come to a gig.

      I’d say stay in the MU and fight your cause, Steve. Horace Trubridge, the no2 at the MU was talking the other day about how their new campaign “Music Supported Here” is about being a musician’s choice, their perogative, whether s/he wants to give, sell or withhold their music. If you were to propose a motion about the Bill, I think many member musicians would agree and vote for you, or argue and test your argument. Much better than taking your ball and leaving the game. There has been a significant momentum towards bringing together many of the disparate elements of the music industry (or as you nicely put it, “the different music industries”) so that they could finally create a dialogue with government. I think the MU has been keen not to get left out of the conversation, and is weighing up costs and benefits in terms of whether they stayed in UK Music and supported the bill or not. Feargal Sharkey has been doing a lot of that with the UK Music group which was meant to act as an umbrella group for all the music industries. That did sound up – until the other night – like a worthy aim. It now feels like we had a long and arduous journey to meet the Wizard of Oz at the seat of government, only to be confronted with Stephen Timms, a clipboard and his mastery of “Intellectual Property Addresses”. Ah well, we know better now.

  • Sigurdór

    Well said Steve! Keep on fighting …

  • Steve

    [edit] – ah, Tom, I just saw that your name links to your website. Going there now.. 🙂

  • John G

    Excellent letter, Steve. Thanks for articulating a lot of important points!
    Some of this beggars belief…
    Cheers,
    John.

  • Steve Uccello

    Great points, as always! I don’t mean to get too far away from the topic of the implications of the D E Bill, but one thing you mentioned struck me-you said: ‘Unless one values fame over music there is no reason at all that I can see for the old model…’ It seems to me that, sadly, a large percentage of musicians are more interested in fame than in music. You’ve talked before about the dangers of buying into the ‘rock myth’ where musicians are manipulated because of their desire for fame. I recently watched Michael Moore’s ‘Capitalism A Love Affair’ and he pointed out one thing that helps maintain the status quo: people think that they have a chance to get rich themselves, so they will continue to participate in a system that will most likely insure they won’t. Anyhow, interesting exchange of ideas here, I’ll keep checking back to see where it goes-As John G up there said, Thanks for articulating these points!

  • Gareth Cole

    Hello,

    I have read through all of this with great interest, but sadly I don’t understand large amounts of it. I don’t understand how this bill harms musicians wanting to make a living via the Internet. However, a point I would like to add is that piracy is plainly rife. My son is 11 and is laughed at by his mates because every download on his i-pod is paid for. At his age, all of his friends know where to download songs illegally. Well-off neighbours are all the same – if it isn’t ripped of CDs it is ripped-off DVDs. People conveniently ignore the fact that pirate copies are the same as physically stealing from a shop. How do you challenge such widespread selfish behaviour? Regardless of how the money is being shared out between record companies, distributors, artists etc., the legitimate recipients are losing income because it is so easy for so many to steal. This has nothing to do with business models.

    • Steve

      Gareth,

      there are lots of elements in the bill that will affect musicians. Not least of all the creation of a culture of fear and suspicion around sharing content online. Whether or not a particular piece of shared media constitutes ‘illegal file sharing’ (sorry, you’re not going to get me to call it Piracy – it’s a patently ridiculous term for ‘sharing music’) will be deeply unclear to many, and will mean that the very valuable marketing/advertising/advocacy role performed by people who share music around will be lost. That will be tragic.

      Whether or not those kids at your son’s school would be buying the music if they couldn’t download it is totally up in the air. It may well be that for many of them, the kind of music they are listening to is not something that their parents would buy for them, and I doubt most of them have access to their own debit card, so buying with their own money is largely not an option (unless they stretch to paying the insane fixed prices of downloads on iTunes, and buy themselves gift cards… no, I couldn’t possibly expect kids to do that – ALL the music I bought until I was working full time was bought budget price or second hand. I was never able to afford ‘full price’ for CDs/Records. I have spent over the years tens of thousands of pounds on music, and the number of ‘full price’ albums I’ve bought is in low double figures… And remember, not one of those second hand sales paid a penny to the artists or labels, but was and is totally legal.)

      Most studies seem to suggest that ‘mainstream’ kids spend the majority of their discretionary entertainment money on computer games. So them downloading music is something on the margins of that, or outside of it. Would they pay for it? The first album I ever bought was In 1983. I bought my second in 1984. If I’d been given a load of other stuff to listen to, it wouldn’t have changed the amount I invested in the economy.

      The notion that sharing music online is “the same as physically stealing from a shop” is utterly absurd. In the shop scenario, the item itself (not the recorded content, the item) has cost money to manufacture, distribute, design and host. To replace it in the shop were it stolen would double that cost. The existence of the shop has a cost, per minute/hour/day/week of existence.

      Move that online and there is no item. There is only content. Content that once created has no ongoing cost. The people making it need to make a living, but in order to make a living they need fans. Sales don’t lead to fans, fans lead to sales. The days when discovery involved an exchange of cash are LONG behind us. Now, with Spotify, last.fm, youtube, not just online but on multi-channel TV, specialist radio, etc. I never need to buy music I haven’t heard. If I can’t hear it via a ‘legal’ channel, there are many that are currently illegal. The alternative to sampling new music via bit torrent isn’t ‘buying it to see if it’s OK’ – that absurd, patronising, insulting and naive. The alternative is that I as the artist make it available to be listened to on my site, so that the transaction whereby someone who then wants to pay for it happens at the point of discovery. Or they simply don’t get to hear it.

      The BPI’s figures for ‘losses’ assume that every trackable illegal download is a lost sale. That’s nuts. They might as well suggest that lending music to people, or playing music to your friends is ruining the music industries. There are as many categories of downloader as there are people involved. Some have ethical frameworks for their activity (spurious or otherwise), some are less scrupulous. The vast majority of the unscrupulous ones are opportunists, they aren’t people who were previously spending a fortune on music.

      So what do we do? Sue them? Great, they’ll just stop listening to the music made by the people who sue them. They’ll go elsewhere, they’ll rip CDs instead, they’ll swap DVDS of MP3s. What’s lost if they do that? The metadata relating to listening and sharing vanishes, even though it’s vital to musicians wanting to know where their audience is, paid or otherwise.

      Musicians need listeners. The web gives us a way to to turn listeners into fans, into people interested in where the music comes from, who its by and why financially supporting that music is important. A large number of music listeners are happy to pay for things that can legally have for free, let alone illegally. People who pay for music on my site on average pay more per album than they would on iTunes, despite it being legally available to them for free right there.

      There are entire philosophical and economic arguments to be had about attempting to force an economy based on charging for scarcity onto a culture and environment that facilitates ubiquity, abundance, and infinitely replicable media at zero cost. The argument that ‘it’s all just stealing’ is philosophically naive, materially absurd and in no way addresses any kind of intelligent way forward for engaging with an audience of people who love music and want to hear lots of it, and would be deeply upset if it ceased to exist.

    • Walter

      I think the issues from my viewpoint are as follows:-
      1) A rushed bill on such a complex range of issues receiving apparently unqualified support from the MU
      2) Unpacking these issues we find the need to deal with how musicians and others work with music. A statistic that does not surprise me is the one that states that ‘illegal’ downloaders are also purchasing the most music legitimately. How does this happen? Well take me for example. This afternoon I bought the Britten War Requiem on iTunes because I wanted a 2nd version leading to a performance in a week’s time. I also have paid for another version from a Russian website that I was interested in. I have watched clips of the work and downloaded them from YouTube. I also own discs and Lps of the work. I consider myself a supporter of the music industry and I have played on recordings for EMI myself and so I would not want to deny colleagues their royalties etc. I would say I buy more music now than ever before but I also go ‘under the radar’ occasionally simply beacause the Internet has made things available that simply can’t be bought anymore. For example, try purchasing the Rachmaninov 3rd piano concerto in the outstanding version with Lazar Berman and Claudio Abbado recorded in the 80s. It’s no longer available .. except via torrents. I would buy it if I could! Under the new legislation I would priobably receive one of the warning letters and face ‘consequences’.

      This begins to roughly equate to the motorist that gets caught for speeding at 35 in a 30 mph area even though they generally obey the speed limit and drive with due regard for others etc

      3) The implications of this bill getting through will lead to arguably more draconian measures once ISPs are controlled in this way – it feels like the CCTV we now have on every corner!

      4) Wrongful accusations could lead to a vast array of implications for some people including loss of job as this legislation hots up

      These are just a few of the things that immediately spring to mind but I am sure that lawyers will see much else that could follow.

      I’m off to BUY some more music!

  • Dan (@DaedalusT)

    Two points in that that are worth reiterating:

    – a download is not equal to a lost sale. I used to download left and right, any artist that sounded interesting (particularly before MySpace, last.fm, etc really existed)… and anything that I listened to more than once or twice promptly went on my Amazon wish list to eventually purchase.

    – Downloading is not the same as theft. Although their rhetoric would suggest otherwise, even the RIAA (sorry, I’m on this side of the pond, can’t speak about UK :p) realizes this — every suit they’ve brought has been civil, and criminal charges only come up in cases of mass infringement and distribution (mostly Scene groups, as opposed to end-users). That is, of course, in addition to the points Steve brought up about the differences in cost.

    (The rhetoric thing has always bothered me in trials too… although the RIAA realizes it’s not theft per se and bring civil charges, the lawyers like to use terms like theft and stealing. Moreover, anybody they bring a suit against are generally not being caught *downloading*, but *sharing* — they make no comments about the source of the music, and in fact in the Jammie Thomas trial I believe one of her defenses was “why would I download that song? I own the CD!”)