Monday, May 18, 2009

Copyright Bullies

Singer songwriter Billy Bragg, writes in the that he and other musical artists doubt that the big recording companies are representing the best interests of the artists when they try to persuade governments to pass legislation requiring ISPs to shut off users who persistently download unauthorized copyrighted material. In a thoughtful essay dated May 18, 2009, titled "
Do we want ISPs to penalise our fans? The record industry wants ISPs to take action against unauthorised downloaders – but fans are the wrong target," Bragg writes

Not for the first time, we at the Featured Artist Coalition are forced to question whether the record industry is representing the best interests of artists in calling for such measures.

Stating that a "write and sue" policy will not work is an admission that the current copyright law is no longer fit for purpose in a digital age. The government has pointed out to the BPI that if it wants to crack down on unauthorised file-sharing, the law is already on its side. Fearful of the prospect of dragging their customers though the courts, with all the attendant costs and bad publicity, members of the record industry have come up with a simple, cost-free solution to their problem: get the ISPs to do their dirty work for them. They are asking the government to force the ISPs to cut off the broadband connection of customers who persistently download unauthorised material, without any recourse to appeal in the courts.

Never mind that this is a shameful attempt to pass responsibility on to another sector of industry, the question remains whether or not such measures will have the desired effect. Technology has so far stayed ahead of enforcement. Any unauthorised filesharers who fear being caught out can simply encrypt their exchanges.

Even if this proposal should become law, as recording artists we question the wisdom of pursuing and penalising our potential audience. The people who are doing the most damage to our industry are not the music fans swapping files for no commercial gain – it's the sites that are making money without paying for content that are really ripping us off.

The Pirate Bay had to be closed down, but what about the fans who use such sites to find music they cannot get legally or DRM-free elsewhere? The Featured Artist Coalition is opposed to copyright infringement, but we recognise that, if technology allows people to access music for free, they will take advantage. The next generation of music fans may no longer want to pay for music, but they are still hungry to hear it. The challenge to the industry is to find ways to monetise their behaviour.

The question is, are the major labels too wedded to their old business model to be capable of leading the next generation? It is all very well to claim that they have already transformed their business models online. Evidence suggests otherwise.

Earlier this year, British cable ISP Virgin Media was set to launch a peer-to-peer filesharing service, paid for by subscription. Research had shown that over 80% of the users of Pirate Bay were willing to pay for a similar service. At the 11th hour, the two biggest labels in the UK, Universal and Sony, sank the project by demanding stringent "anti-piracy" controls.

Clearly, some form of P2P subscription service is the way forward, if only because it provides the most convenient way for consumers to access music. Yet for the major labels, the success of such an initiative would mean the end of their control over the distribution of music. Is this the real reason why they seem determined to do everything they can to clip the wings of the fledgling digital industry before it can fly?
I urge you to follow the link to the Guardian, where you can read the entire essay and benefit from links to helpful related articles not included here.

I was particularly intrigued by the article since it was an artist calling the RIAA tactics into question. Just today, I was speaking with a surgeon who mentioned he had written a book that had been translated into Chinese -- a huge market. As I was congratulating him, though, he told me, he had been told by his publisher that there would be no royalties for the Chinese language book. It was presented to him as though it were something to do with the Chinese government, perhaps. So, I assumed that the book was produced and printed in cooperation or by the Chinese government. But when he showed it to me, it was certainly printed and produced entirely by the publisher, Springer-Verlag. Unless there is something I don't understand, I suspect that his publisher is docking the author for the costs of translation.... I told him he might want to talk to a lawyer about the arrangement. After all, don't the copyright police always tell Congress & other legislative bodies that IP is all about incentivizing creativity? Oh, maybe they were referring to accountants!

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