Tuesday this week saw the All Party Parliamentary Group on Music, together with Rock the House 2012 host a panel discussion in the House of Commons on the importance of IP. Unless you’re directly involved in the copyright debate, you probably do not attend many discussions on this topic (of which there are many) but there are a group of us who do, and recognise the familiar faces. However this discussion was different, and I will wager it had something to do with the line up on the panel which included;
- Mark Hoppus, Blink 182
- Charlie Simpson, Fightstar/Busted
- Laurent Barnard, Gallows
- Rob Damiani, Don Broco
- Tyler Connolly, Theory of a Deadman
- Rick Wakeman, Yes
Quite a line up! Additional speakers included music industry professionals and the pro-digital economy act politicians. It was standing-room only in the packed committee room in Portcullis House. Despite claims in a press release issued yesterday that this event represented a “significant step in opening up the Parliamentary debate about the balance and approach that should be struck” (press release currently not available online), unfortunately the organisers had chosen not to include any representatives of consumers of Intellectual Property on the panel so the event (which attendance was by request only, and some requesting to do so were refused) was not so much of a discussion and was comprised of addresses by members of the panel, following by a very short Q&A session. Given the lack of representation allowed during the debate, I wanted to run through some of the arguments from the perspective of consumers, specifically the startups and entrepreneurs that we work with, trying to build innovative platforms to deliver artists’ content legally to the public.
In my experience when creators and consumers disagree it comes down to solutions to piracy. This differs to the discussions surrounding licensing which is generally with consumers and licensing agencies such as record labels or collecting societies. But there are a few misconceptions surrounding this. We at Coadec and all of our members trying to build content delivery platforms like Spotify, firmly believe that artists deserved to get paid for their creations. However there is a myth that, as was stated during the session, “when it comes to piracy [consumers] don’t have the excuse that content isn’t available [digitally] any more” - verbatim, and Spotify was cited by many speakers as an example of this. What this arguments misses is that, in the first instance, to combat piracy the content needs to be widely available in many different formats, but also the extreme difficulty companies like Spotify face when obtaining licensing agreements. In this market there could and should be high volume and low cost, but there isn’t, and we know many companies struggling to get the licenses to develop services like Spotify. Licensors are able to take as long as they want, charge as much as they want, and even when businesses manage to obtain the licenses they don’t know what they are getting until after they have bought it. Providing music legally is not as easy as licensing groups would like legislators to believe. The only way to stop piracy is to compete with it and stopping legal services with onerous licensing processes will not help stop piracy, it will fuel it.
Some individuals during the session, seemed to imply that the internet is a danger to artists. The internet is not a danger to the artist, but the internet is highly disruptive to the traditional music industry model. It has the ability to cut out the middle man and empower both artists and consumers. Consumers do not have to pay £12 for a CD of 12 songs, with one song on it they actually wanted, as soon as they think of music they’d like to listen to they can buy or stream it online giving revenue to artists. Artists can directly connect bands with their fans, develop their ideas, sell merchandise and even fundraise. In the US online fundraising platform Kickstarter in on course in the fiscal year of 2012 to provide more funding for creatives than the Government’s National Endowment for the Arts.
While some were advocating the solution to reduced artist income is for Government to provide funding for independent artists (one attendee discussed with me what he thought a pro-Coalition theme song would sound like if the Government were given the power to pick and choose the winners in music). A member of the audience indicated during the question and answer session that an effective way to ensure that artists were reaping the full benefits of their work was to provide proper education and training (not just placements within labels as had previously been indicated) so that they would be able to manage themselves. The training could provide them with information on how to best take advatnage of the opportunities digital presents and also ensure they hold the labels and collecting societies to account.
Besides some of these misconceptions, what was most disturbing from the event to those who conduct not only their business, but just exercise their right to freedom of speech on the internet, was the attitude by not only music industry professionals, but also Members of Parliament and Peers and asked “why can’t we just get on with web blocking? It won’t break the internet” - again verbatim. As well as advocating the implementation of other elements of the Digital Economy Act such as three strikes notification letters which would notify you that you have been accused, without proof, of downloading copyrighted material without permission, and that everyone in your household is now at risk of being disconnected from the Internet, without a trial. Only one individual on the panel recognised the “gigantic opportunity of digital”. Others discussed ideas like imposing a fee on internet connections, web blocking, and artificially manipulating search results as though this were the obvious solution with no downsides and without recognising the significant impact these measures have no only on businesses but and also on ordinary citizens communicating freely over the internet.
We hope that in future discussions, legislators seek to have representation from all sides of the sector so that a healthy debate can take place, and a fair balance can be struck.