“conversational hegemony”, or how lobbyists hijack the terms of engagement

It’s kind of in the job description, for Lobbyists to try and limit the parameters of any discussion to the ones that concern their particular paid interest. Lobbying is high-dollar stuff and getting into time-wasting concepts like ‘fairness’ and ‘seeing things as they really are’ are not what good lobbyists get paid for.

They get paid for ‘conversational hegemony’ – taking over the parameters of any discussion, so that even before they put their point across, the fencing around the subject is skewed in their favour. Thus recording industry lobbyists, like the BPI in the UK and the RIAA in the US, have successfully made so much of the discussion about ‘music’ – particularly at a policy/government level – about their particular set of economic concerns. Namely:

“how do we protect the virtual monopoly that we’ve had until now on defining ‘success’ for recording artists, controlling the avenues of manufacture, distribution,  promotion and publishing/licensing, and thus leave in place our usurious terms of engagement with the artists whose recordings we exploit for financial gain?”

That so many artists have bought into their ‘problem’ being our problem is testimony to just how effective the lobbyists have been. Like so much in modern life, a financial elite that represent a statistically insignificant percentage of the stake-holders in ‘global music experience’ have managed to skew the terminology, moral perception and legal framework around ‘music’ to be solely the concerns of commercially focussed sellers of recorded works who also conveniently control the publishing rights to the works they are selling/licensing.

Thus an industry that has for decades made a vast amount of money from the reselling/reformatting of a handful of ‘classic’ records has managed to get the whole world into a moral froth about the evils of file sharing, despite there being precious little evidence that – for artists willing to even attempt to understand the ecosystem of ubiquitous access to infinitely replicable recorded music files – there’s any real damage to their economics that isn’t very well compensated for by the exponentially cheaper means of production, promotion and distribution online.

It’s not that it’s not a difficult transition from the age of physical recorded media (1950-ish to 2000-ish) to the age of digital ubiquity (now-ish), it’s just one that requires some thought, discussion, engagement and understanding, rather than the blind adherence to an agenda set by a load of business folk who have for years kept the vast majority of artists in debt and thus in their control.

It’s often said that history is written by the winners. But the future is all too often written by lobbyists, who have a direct financial incentive not to be open and honest about factors in a discussion that may weaken their position.

I have on a number of occasions refused to be on discussion panels at events with lobbyists. I have nothing whatsoever to gain from arguing with people whose livelihood relies on them proving me wrong, regardless of any inconvenient facts that may get in the way. That helps no one, is one-sided and just creates more pointless arguments. Their aims in the conversation are not my aims. Not my circus, not my monkeys. 

So, be wary of the opinions and statements by lobbying groups like the BPI and the RIAA. Their agenda is almost certainly not really your agenda, no matter how convincingly, passionately and sky-is-falling-ly they tell you that it is.

© 2008 Steve Lawson and developed by Pretentia. | login