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.