There’s been no shortage of opinions on the issue of downloading music. From average citizens to activists to labels to mainstream to small time artists, just everyone affected by the music industry has an opinion on the digital environment. So why not throw in a band manager – namely the manager of Pink Floyd – in to the mix?
Note: This is an article I wrote that was published elsewhere first. It has been republished here for archival purposes
Speaking at a Westminster eForum, Peter Jenner had some interesting comments regarding music in todays world.
“It seems to me that in the online world, the marginal cost of a digital file is essentially zero,” he says, making it an “inescapable reality” that the digital world is pushing the price of music towards zero.
“If we rely on a copyright law â€” i.e. a right to copy law â€” we’re clearly barking down a historical blind alley.” He says the comparison is making airline legislation based on the rail network. “There aren’t many signals in the sky…”
Indeed. The cost of distribution thanks to technology including sites like RapidShare and MegaUpload or file-sharing networks like eDonkey2000 and BitTorrent, music sites like SoundClick and social networking sites like MySpace, the cost of distributing a sample or a whole song is monetarily zero. It’s a far cry from shipping CDs from one side of the country to another.
Added to this, thanks to the wonders of open source, the software to make music (i.e. LMMS and Musix to name two examples as well as the sizable database of plug-ins one can find on Don’t Crac[k] and samples one can get off of freesound) can also be zero. The only cost of making anything these days can be the one time investment of buying a computer and the cost of an internet connection now.
The other point is very true as well. Without computers and without the internet, copyright laws we currently have does make a bit more sense. Usually, pirated copies would be bootlegged on the street and fewer people would have less of a problem seeing pirates paying huge fines because it would almost exclusively be for a profit. Things are fundamentally different now because now people can get whatever song they want for free. If they like it, chances are, they’ll buy it afterwords. Being fined $2,250 dollars for something that sells for a dollar doesn’t make sense to a number of people which is one reason why there is so much controversy about copyright laws in the first place. For some people, all they know about checking out new music is downloading it off the internet for taste-testing purposes. They simply weren’t around before the internet took off to know the huge differences that have taken place.
Trying to apply copyright laws that are fit for an environment before file-sharing isn’t exactly the right approach.
He also tackled the issue of copyright infringement online:
Onto the digital world â€” “attempts to stop people copying are clearly a waste of time, and not only are they a waste of time, they make the law offensive. It’s very similar to prohibition in America in the 1930s.”
He took questions on the audience and agreed that a blanket license is the way to go, but there is the fear of the unknown. The idea of a blanket ISP levy has been around for a very long time. EFF proposed such a license and SAC proposed a similar license as well. Is such a system perfect? Not really. Unfortunately, no one in the last ten years, in my books, have come up with an idea that’s better. It’s a bit like the system of democracy, it’s a bad idea unless you compare it to every other known governing system out there.
What are the other solutions? Litigating the masses which has, so far, been a failure. Another system is three strikes which really runs contrary to basic civil liberties and there’s absolutely no guarantee that the right person would get caught thanks to the ease of wifi-hacking these days. Another system is to lock everything down with digital locks which, if you know anything about the scene or the Sony Rootkit fiasco, that was a complete failure. An additional system that was floating around for a while was traffic shaping and deep packet inspection on the ISPs. Encryption stopped a good portion of that and one-click hosting and more obscure/underground networks essentially killed that concept off. Warning labels on DVDs telling people to not download only served to infuriate legitimate customers while the downloading crowd never had to put up with it. Education campaigns clearly never worked. Warning alleged infringers had mild success through notice-and-notice, but it takes up extraordinary resources to warn a handful pf individuals. Ratcheting up fines led to constitutional questions. Shutting down sites forced them to move offshore in to countries that made it impossible to shut them down and they continue to operate (ie ThePirateBay). Blocking sites led to serious questions of free speech. Computer manufactures aren’t entirely willing to go the trusted computing rout and even if they do, users will either find a way to disable such attempts or simply don’ purchase the computers that are part of trusted computing to the point that all forms of copying have been disabled. Give it up, everything has been tried to stop the future and nothing has worked.
You can see why Jenner has the point of view that stopping people from copying is a waste of time. I’d argue that it’s also a waste of money and resources as well.
The problem that people face today with respect to the digital environment is an antiquated industry trying to keep its stranglehold on a monopoly in distribution. If artists actually take over and figure out their own cheap distribution, the labels days, so long as they stick to the physical distribution method, is numbered. The only thing that the big labels have accomplished the most is keep people from going to alternate sources of music and stick to their music thanks to their ability to shift the debate to, “You are downloading our music and our music alone!” It’s not from a lack of quality from independent sources, it’s lack of PR from these sources. Otherwise, there would be a much larger exodus from mainstream sources of entertainment.
If the big labels finally get a grip on things and start working with the digital environment for a change, a lot of the problems in the copyright debate and music online might finally be laid to rest after ten long mostly senseless years of this copyright war.
You can read about the whole talk on Music Ally.