My letter to the Musicians Union About the Digital Economy Bill

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:


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 The BPI wrote the bill as a protectionist measure of an outdated and unworkable business model.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.



58 Replies to “My letter to the Musicians Union About the Digital Economy Bill”

  1. Hi Steve,

    I stumbled across this page as I searched for the MU website – I was very surprised to learn of their stance on the DE Bill. Thanks for your informative and well-argued points! I have been meaning to join the MU for years and am just getting round to it, but this is definitely food for thought. I think you’ll be interested and amused to hear comedian (and my boyfriend) Nick Doody’s rant on the Digital Economy Bill which aired on Radio 4’s Now Show back in April:

    Let’s hope the current bill isn’t fully enforced.


  2. Wow. Glad I found this because I was just about to register with MU. I am highly opposed to the DEB due to its stubborn, backwards thinking.

    Can somebody please tell me why P2P file-sharing is illegal when stupid jokes like Spotify exist?

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