Why UK Artists are Taking a Strong Stance on Music Piracy

Yesterday 100 UK based musicians got together in a behind-closed-doors meeting to thrash out their differences and agree on a position on file sharing.  This was done in the context of a deadline next week for submissions to the UK government on suggested provisions for tackling file sharing.  It also comes in the week that Lilly Allen closed down her ‘anti-file sharing’ blog after just three days because of the vitriol that came her way as a direct result of starting it.

After a reportedly heated debate the artists agreed on a statement to “alert music lovers to the threat that illegal downloading presents to our industry” and voted to support a plan to send two warning letters to file-sharers before restricting their broadband speeds that would “render sharing of media files impractical while leaving basic e-mail and web access functional”.  There is obviously a distance between this position and the record label position of termination of access on the third strike, but it still represents a massive change in artist opinion.  Compare and contrast with Travis’ Fran Healy stating that file sharing was ‘brilliant’ back in 2003, hot on the heels of Robbie Williams having said it was ‘great’ earlier in the same year.  (It’s worth noting that the Featured Artist Coalition of which Williams is a member was a part of this week’s meeting).

So what’s changed?  The decline in music sales can now be seen as a fundamental market realignment rather than the blip it looked like at the turn of the century and artists are beginning to get worried.  Many might not have seen much money from their labels once costs had been recouped but they recognize the marketing and talent development value that labels bring and that without them they wouldn’t be able to sell as many gig tickets or t-shirts.

It worth keeping a sense of perspective on this though.  Are we to believe that these 100 artists suddenly coalesced around this issue just as their paymaster record labels are nearing a pivotal stage of their lobbying efforts?  Probably not.  Also Radiohead’s Ed O’Brien said that the meeting got “quite emotional” and “a little heated at times” which suggests that there was strong diversity of opinion and that this statement is not a definitive representation of all artist opinion.

However, the fact remains that these 100 artists did attend and did bury their differences to deliver a powerful compromise statement at first time of asking.  This illustrates their collective recognition of the urgency and seriousness of the situation.  So even though artists and record labels will always have differences of opinions and agendas, they’re beginning to recognize that they have a lot of common ground. Together they can start to educate the marketplace that music cannot just be free.  Somebody somewhere has to pay else the investment in artists ultimately dries up.  It’s easy for a file sharer to say that music should be free and that labels and artists and labels are greedy, just in the same way it’s easy for a burglar to say that the owners of a nice house are greedy once he’s stolen from it.

A wholesale revision of music business models and practices is both necessary and is beginning to happen, but that is not an excuse to allow file sharing to go unchecked until that process has run its course.  Of course compelling and differentiated legal services are the best way to fight piracy, but there also needs to be a clear legal framework and, even more importantly, a shift in consumer mindset.  Most file sharers wouldn’t dream of stealing a CD from a music shop, but don’t hesitate to download tracks via BitTorrent.

If this shift towards artists being seen to take a stance against file sharing helps to start the requisite change in mindset then that will be a true achievement, more so than if they influence the legislative process.

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19 thoughts on “Why UK Artists are Taking a Strong Stance on Music Piracy

  1. I will say it again and again: an industry doesn’t encorage trust from its customers with intimidation. You have to start with the carrot and then, only then, show the stick. Give music fans unlimited downloads subscriptions such as the one that Virgin Media has been trying to launch for several month. No intimidation and repression will ever regain music fans trust in record labels again. In other words: legalize filesharing with a blanket license.

  2. I predict:

    The real fun will come when pro-file-sharing “hackers” start gaming the system, trying to trigger throttling or disconnections for uninvolved parties to stir up public discontent. (See the essay, “How my printer received a DMCA takedown notice.”) The whole point of the current exercise has been to sweep aside due process protections for the innocent, because such protections are too expensive for the scale of what is happening.

  3. A good read, though I feel you’re focusing on the wrong blip. In the history of music, the mega-bucks making era of the CD is the blip, not the norm. The Beatles famously made no or little money from records throughout the early, yet million selling part of their Beatle-mania years. Have a look at Andrew Dubber’s post on the history of music sales on newmusicstrategies.com for further reading.

    It’s labels and their record deals which are the real stealers of artists’ cash. As for funding emerging artists’ work, that’s far less vital now as the cost of making a record has dropped faster than the returns that can be made on sales.

    Have a gander at the two most recent posts on thehuxcapacitor.wordpress.com and let me know your thoughts. I’d love to know, do you make music? (I’m not poking sticks, I’m just interested to know). All the best.

  4. Thanks all for your comments. Here are my thoughts:

    – File sharing is not about to go away and enforcement cannot be expected to solve the problem. Compelling, legal and (crucially) affordable alternatives are needed. The kids are not about to stop file sharing simply because they’re told to. They need compelling legal alternatives that are simply a better, more convenient choice compared to file sharing and the associated risk of consequences. In this approach it’s entirely valid for artists to have their say and communicate what file sharing is doing to their business.
    – I don’t personally favour the blanket license approach – it effectively penalizes those companies that have invested the time and money developing legal services. Why bother going the legit route when you can just build a P2P network and get a blanket license? And should there be a ‘fit and proper’ test for P2P networks that have blanket licenses? Should networks with ‘dodgy’ non-music content also be allowed licenses?
    – Funding new talent is just as important now as it ever was. It’s not just about giving people studio time, it’s about putting them in the supportive environment that will encourage creativity. This means strong A&R / development support from the label and, ideally, an advance large enough to allow the artist to give up work and focus 100% on their career
    – I am indeed a musician, and once had a record deal so I know how the music industry works from the inside out also.
    - Finally if P2P feels like the best place to find the latest releases then that is a case for the labels and artists and services getting their respective acts together rather than evidence for the value of P2P

  5. You are never going to see a true competitor to p2p on the basis of quality without a blanket license. Allofmp3 did just fine (all music you could think of available in any format you might want for cents on the dollar) – but they were Russian pirates, of course.

    I would easily pay 3x of what allofmp3 charged for legal music *IF* *ALL* the music went to the artists. Why not? Take the label out of the equation, and it’s pure profit. Pay 20 cents per song and 15 of them go to directly to the band? We already know the distribution/overhead runs just fine on about five cents a song – I can live with that.

    Now, labels say – well, pay us a dollar a song. Want 30,000 tracks? That’ll be thirty grand, of which a small pittance (less than 5%) will end up in the artist’s hands.

    The rest – we’ll spend it on infuriating, offensive advertising for crap you don’t want. Our salaries need to get paid; so do those for those lawyers who are suing your friends (evil thieves!) and anyone who develops new technology (aiding and abetting thievery!).

    Congratulations: your thirty grand just paid for new restrictions on satellite radio, a broadcast flag, and Britney Spears’ new music video!

    Oh, and each band member got enough cash to eat at Applebees. Don’t you feel proud?

  6. geez folks. you like your music. you think it’s created by elves overnight? go to itunes or amazon and pay the freakin’ dollar for the tune. i’m an indie musician and it sucks when people don’t pay for my music. i work hard on it, have to pay for mastering, artwork, duplication, page setups, etc. do the right thing. you wouldn’t ask your carpenter, barista, waiter, accountant, etc, to work for nothing, but you expect your music for free………?

  7. The bottom line is that, if musicians can’t make a living, there’s no music. Nothing new for you to download/pirate/torrent. You don’t steal your ipod do you? you don’t steal your computer do you? Big labels rarely take on artists now days, they take on minor labels which use major distributors. Minor labels don’t have mad money. A lot of artists pay for their own production, which costs thousands of dollars. (The artists personal money.) Most artists are not multi-platinum millionares and need to be paid. In any other industry if you finished a project that took months or years to complete and you didn’t get paid you’d be pissed off too.

  8. re: joe and no quizzle:

    There will always, of course, be new music. Whether the internet will overall increase or reduce the level of music being made is open for debate; crippling the ‘net until it is no longer capable of efficient file-sharing is not. This would wreck both industry and legitimate personal use of the network; it is completely unacceptable for a tool the entire world relies on to be shut down for the benefit of certain industries.

    It’s not going away. Mass private infringement of intellectual property is here to stay for the long-term, whatever your opinion of it. The question is how we will define policy in order to create the best outcome possible for artists under this environment.

    Or, in a simpler way: if we could all download a program to make our microwave magically pop out hamburgers using mcdonalds’ recipes, mcdonalds is gonna have to think about changing the way they do things. Fair doesn’t enter into the equation.

  9. re: steve

    The virtual world is an extension of the real world and real in it self. It is not just about the music industry, it’s about illegal activities and piracy. Imagine what people would do if there was no police, welcome to the internet at the moment. If people are selling child porn or stealing your identity in real life, you get put in jail. If you get caught stealing CD’s from a store you get in trouble, no.

    Your train of thought is why bother getting a security system for your home or car when people are just gonna brake in anyway. Why make your bed when you’re just going to sleep in it. We need rules and regulations to stop people from doing nasty s#!t. We need the same laws in the virtual world as in the real world no exceptions.

    People’s livelihood and security are more important than your file sharing. It doesn’t matter if you are stealing copywrite music or bank account numbers, it needs to be accountable under the law.

    Hypothetical star trek replicators don’t strengthen your argument; it shows how it has no solid foundation, pure fantasy.

  10. Quizzle, I believe your argument is a result of not understanding the technology behind the internet (and how it scales upward with further advances in technology). This leads you to miss crucial sections of my argument – you’re completely misreading what I’m trying to say!

    You must be advocating for some kind of security-backed internet where no information can be sent without being scanned & approved by the proper authorities (how else do you stop piracy?). The thing is, even if that was originally possible – it’s not now. It would require the complete elimination of encryption except in a few tightly regulated uses, a massive crackdown on most personal uses of technology, and is not going to happen.

    Piracy really is an everything-or-nothing principle. There’s no way to really and truly stamp down on it without going full-hog. You can put books and songs in email attachments now – pretty soon you’ll be able to do the same with movies. How do you plan on stopping that?

    Re-read what I’m saying regarding replicators; I’m stressing the fact they don’t exist in order to differentiate the real world from the virtual one. On the internet, they *do*. This doesn’t and can’t make an original (yes, even I acknowledge this) but once you do have that original you can copy it endlessly. This is why you can’t stop online piracy.

    We get a security system for our home and car *because* it can help prevent break-ins; because it actually works (some of the time). If anyone tells you their latest DRM or copyright law is going to prevent piracy they’re selling you hogwash and snake-oil.

  11. Steve:
    ‘Piracy really is an everything-or-nothing principle.’

    Nothing is black and white. The virtual world and real world are grey. You can’t stop a professional thief from braking into your house, or a pro cracker/hacker getting into your computer. But you can put safe guards in place to stop most and laws in place to punish criminals.

    ‘There’s no way to really and truly stamp down on it without going full-hog. You can put books and songs in email attachments now – pretty soon you’ll be able to do the same with movies. How do you plan on stopping that?’

    Stop it, no. Punish it, yes. Just because you can’t stop crime doesn’t mean you don’t punish criminals. Petty crime generally goes unnoticed jay walking/sending an MP3 to a friend/dubbing cassettes. But major criminals need to be able to be punished somehow. It doesn’t matter if it’s the mob or itunes.

    When a real pirate takes a boat and crew captive, do we go ‘oh well you can’t stop piracy’. No we punish the criminals, this is no different.

    I am up to date with technology; I’m an engineer with an understanding of quantum computing, unified field theory and entanglement. That’s why I know that it needs to be addressed before it really gets out of control.

    Hey, but we are never going to agree, that’s what makes the world so cool, diversity. People just need a deterrence, to do what’s ethical that’s all. Fear of god, fear of jail whatever, you can’t expect the world to function on peoples good nature.

  12. Do we give up? In the case of Prohibition, we did. We weren’t even capable of stopping the manufacture and distribution of a physical product (alcohol).

    I don’t think it will really be possible to deter ‘net users from piracy in the long-run. My prediction is that any really effective method of piracy prevention will be rebuffed due to excessive collateral damage. In the end, less will be made of some types of media and more of others. To continue your metaphor, after having our houses broken into daily ten thousand times in a row after building ten thousand different security systems, we’ll end up giving up.

    I think that it will always be possible to punish companies like allofmp3 and similar for-profit entities, giving creators a monopoly on the “legitimate” market, but it’s not possible to significantly cut down on piracy (or the black market). Sending 50,000 mp3s to your friend will be as invisible as sending one.

  13. Random question for anyone who thinks thay may be able to answer it.
    I’ve been out of the loop for the last few years & now trying desperately to update my music collection. Id rather pay a legit site to download music, but I have one issue. I can buy a CD at HMV for about £3-4 (if it’s not a new release), however on itunes, HMV, amazon, napster etc I often can’t get the same album as an mp3 download for less that about £5 and sometimes as much as $10. I don’t want the CD, I just want the music!
    Makes some of the more shady Russian sites look remarkably appealing

  14. Confused:
    There is a big difference in sound quality between MP3’s and CD’s.
    MP3 sampling rate (about) 128k, CD is 44,100k. If you paid 1 cent/k a single MP3 would be worth $1.28, one song on a CD would be worth $44.10.
    If you care about the quality of your music buy the CD, especially if you can buy it cheaper than the download.
    Hope this helps…

  15. Pingback: Mark Mulligan: Why Music Piracy Isn’t Going to Just Disappear | midemblog

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