How the music biz can live forever, get even richer, and be loved

A modest proposal


Objections

- PUBLIC: No job is guaranteed. Why should I give the pigopolists a job for life? - A: Record companies simply own the recording rights: they've paid for them, after all. So buy the recording rights from the record companies. That market is open for business.

- PUBLIC: I never listen to music. Why should I pay for it? - A: I don't have a car or children, but I pay for your schools and roads. Knowing roads and schools are there is an incentive to join you. It's a public good, so you might want to start enjoying music now.

- PUBLIC: I don't download music. Why should I pay for it? I'm not having this on my phone bill! - A: See above.

- RECORD CO: This will expand the music market, but you're fixing it at Year 200n levels. That's not fair. - A: Very, very few business people complain about increased demand for their product. Under flat fees, only the gross revenues from rights royalties will be fixed. So extracting dollars and squids from people in lots of creative ways carries on as before.

- ARTIST: We're one swapping set of tyrants - the Recording Industry Ass. Of America - for another: Vodafone, T-Mobile, Orange - A: The carriers want to sell you more than phones. Why do you think they've maintained all those high street retail outlets, when they could sell stuff much cheaper without a shop front? But you can do more about it, as the networks are better regulated.

- RECORD CO: You'll never be able to introduce it internationally, and with cross border leakage, you'll never get it to work - A: Cross border leakage is a fact, but it's lower than you think.

- SONGWRITER: It perpetuates inequities over composition and recording royalties - A: Then write the future. Copyright works: either make a case for more granular copyright terms, or insist on fairer contracts. It's all up for grabs.

- FAN/ANYONE WHO ISN'T PAUL McCARTNEY: It isn't fair because it doesn't reflect how much I like an artist who doesn't sell many copies. - A: About the only thing that can be guaranteed about a flat fee model: it isn't perfect. I think it will be the least unfair, the most culturally enriching, and probably the only one that works. But it's a great question. Is one transaction, one file exchange, equal to one "vote"? What if you play a song 100 times? Can't you express satisfaction in some other way? Peter Eckersley, an academic lawyer at the University of Melbourne in Australia, has written about alternative reward systems in depth. The Blur/Banff proposals which came out of a digital media conference in 2002 also discussed where some of this pot of money could go: a pension fund for blues artists, or creators whose work has fallen out of copyright. But that's another question.

CD sales are increasing; it's very hard to plead the victim now. If you're going to arrest 12 year old girls when sales are going up, you need to do better. You've let technologists bleed your confidence dry and you've lost your way.

A packaged thing that has music - your music - piping to some speakers is something that people will pay for. It's extra cents. If you had the choice of the Factory Records Story with just the words, and the Factory Records Story with the music, for a quid extra, what would you choose?

I'll finish with a quote.

"We will advance science and education, enrich culture, foster greater social harmony and upgrade the texture of life for the people." - Tony Blair

Tony Blair said that?

Of course he didn't. That's the Chinese President, Hu Jintao, earlier this year. I can't imagine any New Labour wonk talking about "the texture of life". It's not in the vocabulary.

It's a reminder of how much culture can be enriched by music, and a reminder that under WIPO Treaties governments can be permitted to impose compulsory licenses themselves, so long as they provide suitable compensation. Countries have done this for expensive brand name drugs. As I said earlier, governments don't need to be involved here, because the music industry already knows how to write such a license, and it has the collection agencies to distribute the money. But the People's Republic of China could become so fed up with the greedy American entertainment industry lobby, that it could unilaterally introduce a flat fee model itself.

We are coming full circle to a process that started with the first recording and transmission technologies.

To sum up, then: because of digital technology, you think your rights are worthless. They aren't. You need to monetize them in two ways: by ensuring that there's a revenue stream for things you can't count, and finding new bottles that you can count.

Acknowledgements: Much of this cites and draws on earlier work from the Blur Digital Media conference workshops in 2002 ("Blur/Banff" - Jamie Love, Ted Byfield et al); by former Geffen CTO Jim Griffin at Cherrylane Digital, and Professor Terry Fisher at the Berkman Law School. Thanks to Tony Wilson for the invitation and suggesting the title, and Momoko for the wireless iPod graphic.


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