A few months ago, at Midem, I had the pleasure of meeting Jeremy Silver, the chair of the Featured Artist Coalition. We had quite a nice chat and have exchanged a few emails here and there since then. Last week, when there was that debate on the music industry
that involved ten or eleven panelists -- including a bunch of record label folks, and Brokep from The Pirate Bay, I noted that Silver's comments about the industry's own failure were quite compelling. Glyn Moody
alerts me to the news that Silver has written up much more detailed thoughts on what he would have liked to have said
if there had been time. It's well worth the read. But, the short version is, again, that file sharing isn't going away. Focusing on fighting it is missing the point. The focus should be on innovating, creating new solutions that are what consumers want
. You should read the whole thing, but here's a short snippet with some of the text highlighted (by me):
File-sharing is also a technological capability that, having been unleashed on society, is highly unlikely to go away. I don't think it's like a smallpox virus that can be eradicated. Close down the Pirate Bay this week and another Bit Torrent site will pop up next week. Find a way to reduce the popularity or effectiveness of this particular form of unauthorized file-sharing and another technology will replace it. The chances are also that the newer forms of file-sharing will be less easy to detect, less easily identified with the individuals at various ends of the process -- until our detection methods improve and seek to clamp them down, and so the cycle will continue.
There is a shift in attitude of mind required. We have to look at a world in which the reproduction right and the control of it are progressively eroded. Given the woefully low level of economic development of alternative methods of funding content, we are fortunate that the rate of erosion is slower than it might have been. Whether the impending new legislation in the UK will slow that erosion any more, I somehow doubt. And unfortunately I believe the cost of that legislation to civil liberties and freedom of speech will be much greater than the likely cultural and economic benefit it strives to achieve.
For those of us toiling in the cultural digital fields however, this kind of legislation also has another negative effect. It continues to provide incumbent businesses with a remedial focus on prevention of piracy rather than on investment in new solutions to the economic problem it causes. Worldwide expenditure on anti-piracy measures is out of all proportion to the worldwide investment in new digital content business models. More importantly the investment in new ways to invest in content is not coming from the music industry. It's coming from new entrants who are faced with the prospect of rights holders who make it difficult and expensive to try new things out. Rights holding companies typically demand advances and even equity in companies that dare to enter their sector with a new idea for creating economic growth.
This is, of course, what many of us have been saying for over a decade now, but we were always told that we were crazy folks who didn't know anything about the music industry and just wanted stuff for free. Silver, on the other hand, has been quite involved in the music industry for many years and knows his stuff. Will the copyright system defenders claim that he's just a "freeloader"? As for how to get out of this vicious cycle, Silver is hoping that artists take charge, rather than let the record labels continue to frame the debate and pretend they're acting in the best interests of everyone. It's a good read.