Groundhog Day

It seems that the European music industry is about to start making the same mistakes as the RIAA by going after individual file sharers. Writing in the IFPI’s in-house magazine, IFPI chairman Jay Berman put across a “few messages” for the year ahead. Right at the top was a thinly veiled threat to users of illegal file sharing services:

“Lawsuits on a large scale have so far been restricted to the US; this ‘fightback’ will almost inevitably have to take place internationally as well”.

Up until now the IFPI has favoured a carrot to the RIAA’s stick. That now looks set to change. There is no conclusive proof that the RIAA’s law suits against individuals has slowed file sharing in any meaningful way. There are numbers that suggest usage has dropped, but those numbers only refer to the big networks. What is actually more likely to be happening is exactly what I discussed in a report: that file sharers are becoming more radicalised and are turning to the smaller, harder to track networks in order to evade almost exclusively Kazaa focussed legal action. Just like in the sci-fi movies when the big green slimy monster is zapped it fragments into thousands of small green slimy monsters. Added to that Kazaa’s hypocritical use of the DMCA to rid the Internet of Kazaa Lite sites has accentuated the downward usage trend. So when the RIAA or IFPI assume that decreased usage of Kazaa is down to legal action I fear they are reading the symptoms of a different cause.

One thing is clear though, the action has hurt the music industry’s image among many sections of music fans, particularly the younger ones who should be the bread and butter of the music industry in 5 to 10 year’s time. The whole action smacks of Metallica’s action against people who had downloaded the band’s tracks from Napster. They just didn’t get that they were going after the very people who’s record buying in the past had paid their wages. The music industry needs to be throwing all of its efforts behind getting young music fans on board, not trying to criminalise them. (And let’s not forget, regardless of the music industry rhetoric, we are not talking about theft here, we are talking about copyright infringement.)

As regular readers of this blog will know, I am no fan of illegal file sharing networks, but equally, no action can be taken without an equal and opposite action. In spite of OD2’s valiant efforts, Europe’s legitimate online music offerings are a long long way behind those in the US. That needs to be changed before concerted action is taken against the illegal networks, else the myriad little green slimy monsters will fill the void…..for they are legion.

Mr Berman’s second ‘key message’ was that there is a legitimate alternative. I’m sorry but there isn’t, not a comparable one. Two of the major stumbling European blocks have been the nature of major record labels’ licenses and the labyrinthine collection society landscape. Both need to change. Mr Berman sings the praises of the one stop license for webcasting in Europe and he is right to emphasise the importance of the role of a central license in helping the legitimate webcasting market compete. But the very fact that something similar does not exist for music services is a massive hindrance to legitimate services with pan-European aspirations. (So much so that if/when Apple or Napster launch in Europe, it will almost certainly just be in a smattering of countries at launch). If Mr Berman recognises the “groundbreaking” nature of the license he should also recognise how the absence of one for digital music services has the exact opposite impact on the development of online music services.

I am even more disappointed with Mr Berman’s ‘Key Message’ number three which blames lost livelihoods and jobs in the music industry on Internet piracy. The IFPI’s stance has always been that physical piracy is the real threat. In their very own “Music Piracy” report they reported that 1 in 3 discs worldwide is pirated. That’s what causing the lion’s share of the job losses. In fact I am so surprised by the IFPI’s turn around that I can’t help but think that they have been leant on by their members to follow the RIAA’s lead.

One final problem which the IFPI and its members will face if they follow the RIAA’s lawsuit approach is a uniquely European one. Unlike in the US, the way that legal proceedings will proceed will depend up on the wild card variables of the stance of the local Music Industry body and of the national law. (It is worth remembering that the European Digital Copyright Directive has been implemented to varying degrees by member states). Thus music fans could end up getting penalised effectively because of their nationality. Not exactly a great way for the music industry to reach out to its consumers.

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