Peter Jenner Admits That Stopping File Sharing Is Impossible

from the some-progress dept

Peter Jenner, who’s known for being the former manager of Pink Floyd, as well as managing other acts such as Billy Bragg, is known for his outspoken views on file sharing. He’s certainly no fan of the labels, but a couple years ago I saw him go on a rant against evil “freeriders,” demanding that the government step in and set up a blanket licensing program. I actually got to meet Peter briefly a few months ago in Europe, and we chatted for a bit and have exchanged a few friendly emails. He even asked to write a guest post for Techdirt, which I agreed to, though I haven’t heard anything from him since.

Either way, he just gave a talk in the UK, where he’s still pushing the concept of a blanket license, but he’s certainly coming to terms with the fact that file sharing is something that needs to be embraced, not feared. That link, from MusicAlly, has all the details of his talk, but we’ll cover a few highlights. He kicked off his speech by making the same basic economic point that many of us have made for years:

“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 — i.e. a right to copy law — 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…”

So, he criticises the “quasi-monopoly rights” of the international record companies, which have come up against a “huge problem” in the digital world.

Later he points out that its the record labels who keep demanding greater copyright, not most artists, and then points out that (somewhat contrary to his anti-freerider rants from a few years back), focusing on the “stick” of stopping such actions isn’t going to help.

Onto the digital world — “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.”

Jenner says the challenge is to rebuild the relationship between creators and the public. The latter have an “inexhaustible demand for new content”, and creators want to go on writing songs, books and making games….

… the public have to be able to use the content and new technologies without worrying about it. “If I can buy it, I can use it,” he says.

From there, though, he goes back to the idea of some sort of blanket license, perhaps via ISPs:

“It seems to me that we should be looking at how we can work as the creative industries with the ISPs and various service providers on how we can work together to generate a flow of income in the future which enables people to get paid for the creations according to how people appreciate those creations.”

I’m mostly in agreement with him up until that point, but the details on that point can be pretty important. If it’s just creating another middleman or getting in the way of other business models, it can be quite problematic. If, on the other hand, people are paying a subscription fee for some real value add, that actually could work. But it has to be a real positive value add — and not “the industry won’t sue you” (which is a non-negative value add).

To some extent, it appears Jenner recognizes this. Rather than any kind of mandatory licensing fee, he notes that the model of RapidShare (which the recording industry hates) is actually a good model:

“The best thing I’ve heard about is the whole thing about RapidShare — people pay for RapidShare, so that seems like a model we can use,” he says.

But, of course, that’s a totally voluntary payment. Jenner’s next statement suggests he’s thinking of something more mandatory:

“If we can get £1 a month from every person in this island for music, that would give us £60 million a month,” Jenner concludes, suggesting that this would come close to the current value of the industry here in the UK. “It is not a huge challenge.”

Actually, if it’s voluntary, that is kind of a challenge. That’s because, as industry research has shown, 60% of the UK population doesn’t spend anything on music. So getting them across the gap from nothing to just £1 is going to be an issue, whether it’s voluntary (they just won’t do it, since most don’t care) or mandatory (they’ll be up in arms about being forced to subsidize music they don’t want).

So I’m still a little hesitant on that aspect of Jenner’s plan, but I believe he and I are getting closer and closer to general agreement, with statements like the following:

“We cannot control the rights of people to copy if they have computers. Copying is with us, let’s see how we can be innovative and creative with our business models.”

Indeed. Perhaps now we can get Jenner to stop by and expand on his vision, or at least take part in an interview to further discuss this.

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Comments on “Peter Jenner Admits That Stopping File Sharing Is Impossible”

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21 Comments
fogbugzd (profile) says:

blanket payments

There are a lot of problems with “blanket payments.” In the best of circumstances they tend to be modeled on one moment in time. The CD levy in Canada is a good example. At one point it looked like the main purpose of blank CD’s was going to be making copies of commercially produced music CD’s. At that point it might have made sense to send the levy for blank CD’s to the people who produced commercial CD’s. However, the market changed for both music and uses of CD’s. Now people are more likely to copy their music to other media, and the people who buy blank CD’s are likely to be backing up their hard drives or installing Linux. So now you have a situation where IT folks are paying subscriptions to the music industry. Meanwhile new artists who don’t sign with the regular music labels do not get a cut of the CD levy. This makes absolutely no sense from an economic standpoint and creates significant inefficiencies. The people using CD’s now have an incentive to use other media which might not be as efficient, and the people who receive the money from the levy perpetuate an old business model. What is worse, a significant part of the levy ends up going toward lobbying to preserve the levy system itself.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: blanket payments

Yep, the reason I can’t support a blanket fee is the question of how it would be distributed. If I were to download an album by one of my favourite artists – say, Hybrid (signed to an independent) – or download an album from a new artist I stumbled across, I would want my money to go to them and not Britney or some talentless glorified karaoke singer. However, all existing levies tend to favour existing major label artists and so the majors would get the money even if I personally abhor them and would not download their products.

This is what needs to be addressed, and I frankly can’t see a fair system being set up in the current climate. Therefore, I reject it as being a realistic possibility for now.

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Re: blanket payments

Yep, the reason I can’t support a blanket fee is the question of how it would be distributed. If I were to download an album by one of my favourite artists – say, Hybrid (signed to an independent) – or download an album from a new artist I stumbled across, I would want my money to go to them and not Britney or some talentless glorified karaoke singer. However, all existing levies tend to favour existing major label artists and so the majors would get the money even if I personally abhor them and would not download their products.

Not only that, but just the process of figuring out who gets paid would create a middleman that siphons money off the top. It seems very inefficient compared to just letting the artists create models that reach out directly to fans.

Bengie says:

Apply this to Steam

I would love to see something like this for Steam.

eg, Pay a tier based monthly cost. IE $5 for access to indy style games, $10 for better and $15 for the best.

But then than $15 gives you access to ALL games and you can play whatever.

This would be similar to Blizzard charging $15/month for all of their games instead of just WoW. Pay a monthly cost and get access to all games.

I’m just using $15 since that’s what I’m use to for subscription based games.

Ma’b certain games may have a slight extra premium like +$1/month like large MMORPGs or something where devel is a constant cost.

Anonymous Coward says:

First they start talking crazy like “blanket licenses” then they start talking more crazy like “we need more deterrence”.

Canada is a good example of that, they already had a blanket license and the industry doesn’t feel it is enough now Canadians will have not only to pay the blanket license but be target of some crazy laws that will criminalize everybody for things as simple as backing up their investments in music with a lot of people having something between 10 thousands and 60 thousand dollars worth of material in their collections.

That is the most horrible idea ever.

John says:

Blanket payment

We all pay our ISP for Access to the internet, and they charge us a set amount. This is much more than it costs them to provide the service. I also think a flat rate could work but it should come from the money we already pay to the ISP. the Money could then go into a pig pot and be distributed to each of the Agencies RIAA, MFFIA, PRS PPL etc to be distributed to their clients. Very simplistic i know but I am not a Banker or Record Producer, or Lawyer and this is just my personal opinion.some people have suggested a £$5.00 flat rate per month, I am sure we pay our ISP’s more than $£5.00 more than they they the Telcos.

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