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Sep 25

Bullying the Argument Away from Copyright Reform?

Posted on Friday, September 25, 2009 in civil liberties, Editorial

Lily Allen’s shrill and ultimately hypocritical argument that filesharing causes blanket damage to musicians, and that Peter Mandelson’s threat to throw users off the internet is a valid one, is masking the true problem here. Doctorow suggests:

Copyright is problematic for everyone: musicians, fans, bloggers. The absence of clear affirmative rights to make personal copies, to share with your friends, to copy for the purposes of discussion and commentary (as opposed to the fuzzy and difficult-to-interpret fair use guidelines, which have been further confused by the entertainment industry’s bold attempts to convince us all that they don’t matter and can’t be relied upon) means that we’re all in a state of constant infringement.

A law that no one understands and no one abides by is no law at all. Parts of copyright — the right to regulate how commercial licenses with industrial entities work — are really important to me and to all working artists. But if we continue to try to expand copyright to cover everything, every interaction that involves a copy (which is every interaction these days), then the broad consensus that copyright is nonsense will continue to grow, and we’ll lose the good stuff as well as the ridiculous stuff.

MMF FAC Launch

He has a good point. The precursor blog to this site was once set upon by a newspaper journalist whose (uncredited) piece I used (and fully linked to/did not take credit for) to illustrate the impact of an entirely unrelated story. Was I breaching copyright? I don’t think so – he was of an entirely different opinion though. The issue at hand in this debate about filesharing is surely about copyright reform – addressing the enormous gap between creators and rights holders. I’ll see if I can nudge The Secret Musician into posting their opinions about that! Why though has the Featured Artists Coalition moved closer to Allen/John/Barlow/Blunt et al’s argument?

We the undersigned wish to express our support for Lily Allen in her campaign to alert music lovers to the threat that illegal downloading presents to our industry and to condemn the vitriol that has been directed at her in recent days.

Our meeting also voted overwhelmingly to support a three-strike sanction on those who persistently download illegal files, sanctions to consist of a warning letter, a stronger warning letter and a final sanction of the restriction of the infringer’s bandwidth to a level which would render file-sharing of media files impractical while leaving basic email and web access functional.

Weird. The difference between that and Mandelson’s position is marginal, and it’s not what they were arguing at the beginning of the month.

edit: I’ve just seen this story. Fascinating, and it blurs the issue even further. Why would the FAC have a different position to Allen one day, then “cheer her” as she entered their meeting last night? Intriguing that she should be there, even more curious that what appears to be a massive compromise (read Ed O’Brien’s comments) should be in her favour…

Sep 10

Featured Artists Coalition Attacks Mandelson’s Filesharing Plan

Posted on Thursday, September 10, 2009 in civil liberties, News


The Featured Artists Coalition, which campaigns for the protection of performers’ and musicians’ rights, and for all artists to have more control of their music and a much fairer share of the profits, has spoken out against Peter Mandelson’s proposals to combat internet filesharing:

Radiohead guitarist Ed O’Brien, a member of the Featured Artists’ Coalition (FAC), said: “It’s going to start a war which they’ll never win.”

The FAC said “heavy-handed” tactics may turn fans away from music for good.

The FAC, a pressure group formed to represent performers, has joined forces with the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors and the Music Producers Guild.

In a joint statement, the three bodies of music-makers said they “vehemently oppose” the plans to punish file-sharers.

O’Brien went on to say:

“My generation grew up with the point of view that you pay for your music. Every generation has a different method. File sharing is like a sampler, like taping your mate’s music. You go, ‘I like that, I’ll go and buy the album’. Or, ‘you know what, I’ll go and see them live’. What’s going on is a huge paradigm shift.”

And Fran Healy, lead singer of Travis added:

“I think if you can afford to buy a record then you should buy it. People who hunt down a record and download it for free will probably talk it up. They are the unsung word-of-mouthers who spread the word and create tipping point situations for a greedy record business that has got so fat it is unable to see its own footsoldiers.”

In contrast Geoff Taylor of the British Phonographic Industry (BPI) has said:

“We could hardly have more legal download services than we already do, and they have not eliminated piracy. It is the peer-to-peer downloading that is holding back investment in more services.

“What Government is proposing in the temporary suspension of accounts as a last resort is a set of measures that are proportional and balanced.”

It’s interesting to see the BPI using the ‘it’s killing investment’ argument, but of course Taylor fails to acknowledge the arguments which O’Brien and Healy put forward, prefering instead to continue to implicitly label filesharing as theft, even though the ‘theft’ (which is almost impossible to quantify) isn’t necessarily from the artists themselves. Considering the market allegedly being adversely affected by illegal downloading is not a free one, where the genuinely best artists out there are dominant and most profitable, it really does make you wonder what the BPI’s motivations are for fighting tooth-and-nail for the most draconian sanctions against illegal filesharing. David Blackburn’s paper on the effects of filesharing on the market as controlled by the music industry suggests:

that it (filesharing) does indeed depress music sales overall. But the effect is not felt evenly. The hits at the top of the charts lose sales, but the niche artists further down the popularity curve actually benefit from file-trading.

For the majority of artists further down the tail, free distribution is good marketing, with a net positive effect on sales. Which is yet another reminder that the rules are all too often made to protect the minority of artists at the top of the curve, not most artists overall.