Saturday, September 16, 2006

Police and Thieves

I never thought I'd be linking to an article in the New Statesman on this blog, but then I also never thought I'd one day have to get a real job, so you just can't tell, can you? And even by New Statesman standards this article is brain-shrivellingly dull - it's a transcript of a round-table discussion by two-dozen music industry executives about copyright reform. But before you click back to that YouTube video of a Wisconsin teenager masturbating in time to Fergie's 'London Bridge', pause to consider that when that many record company stooges get together, the fate of the world is always in peril.

This time it's because they're talking about VRR. VRR stands for Value Recognition Right, and apparently the proposal is only about a month old. Now, of course I haven't read this article all the way through - I have better things to do - I, too, know what YouTube is - so I might be getting this wrong. But the idea seems to be as follows. DRM has failed, not so much because customers hate it - what does that matter? - but because it can always be circumvented by Scandinavian hackers. So where is the music industry's revenue going to come from? Well, lots of the bandwidth that ISPs sell is used to download illegal MP3s. Likewise, lots of the storage capacity that Apple sell inside their iPods is used to store illegal MP3s. So why not put a big levy on ISPs and MP3 player manufacturers?

Emma Pike, the Chief Executive of British Music Rights puts it as follows: '...rather than thinking: "These are our rights, let's try to find ways of enforcing them," why do we not try thinking: "This is how consumers want to get and share music. How can we adapt the copyright framework so that we can license that behaviour, thereby alleviating the aggravation that consumers are increasingly feeling towards copyright and, at the same time, making sure that we actually get paid when our music is shared?"'

In other words, the record companies have realised that, as Catherine Bell, director of rights at Chrysalis, says, 'Music to the consumer is like air. The consumer thinks it should be free... At the PRS you get all of these people saying: "It is a breach of my human rights that I should be asked to pay for this."'

Hang on. I don't download music illegally[1]. Plus, even if I did, it wouldn't be music from the big record labels that want the VRR. And yet I'm still being asked to pay, effectively, a tax on my MP3 player and my broadband connection, in order to subsidise the law-breaking of a bunch of teenagers who get the new Christina Aguilera album off Limewire because they're too young to understand that anyone has ever paid for music!

I understand that the music industry is in an impossible position. And it's not just the big labels - lots of people argue that the reason grime hasn't got off the ground commercially is that its target audience are so addicted to illegal downloads. But surely there must be a solution that isn't so totally unfair on the very people, like me, that have supported the music industry so doggedly over the years by paying real cash for every single overpriced CD. 'Unless we get the government on our side to support [VRR], it is just a non-starter,' adds Catharine Bell. Let's hope the government have more sense than to support these people who have never shown anything but contempt for their customers.

[1] For the sake of argument, anyway. Seriously, practically never!

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