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[d@DCC] Michael Geist's Toronto Star article on compulsory licensing of P2Ps
From: Neil Leyton <leyton _-at-_ fadingwaysmusic.com>
To: Michael Geist CC: Toronto Star music writers, General Discussion Forum at Digital Copyright.ca re: "Music licensing would be viable for all" Toronto Star Article by Michael Geist Greetings Michael, Please allow me to introduce myself. Cue the Rolling Stones "Sympathy for the Devil" please, as the perfect background to the discussion that may ensue. I am the managing director of a small (thirty-five titles distributed in fifteen countries) indie record label based out of Toronto. Having just been through CMW, where the issues of downloading were a fairly hot topic, I feel the need to comment on your article, and this issue in general, since I feel I represent one of the most important voices that is consistently shut out of the media discussion on the topic: that of the artists, that is, creators of intellectual artistic property. I realize that your article, written from the legal stand-point, deals with the issue from a legal stand-point discussing the legalities of the matter and encompassing the problems and preoccupations of the IP owners, meaning the major music publishers. However, I feel it important to point out that these laws that are being passed in several countries such as the DMCA of 1998 cannot continue to pretend to speak for the entire music creator communities the way that the RIAA/CRIA would like to convince the public. For every major label release there are hundreds more independent records made, bought and sold that have increasingly been marginalized by the mainstream music industry. Our artists sell more records off-stage in Canada than they do in stores; who accounts for those sales not Soundscanned? Who gives these artists a voice in the political and legal lobbying for these issues? Certainly not CRIA. Not even CIRPA, who from what I have witnessed act like a mini-CRIA when it comes to the issue of downloading. You rightly declared in your article that "For the recording industry, the equation is simple — file sharing is up and sales are down." But this is true only if you swallow the RIAA's statistical declarations, which as Bob Lefsetz pointed out on Saturday at the CMW conference, are as self-contradictory as they are completely fabricated. First of all, as I've pointed out, they are statistics based strongly on Soundscan, largely ignoring independent music sales; and in their analysis they also neglected to point out (as Bob Lefsetz asserted) that while Napster was around, sales were higher than they became later, when the majors shut down Napster. Lastly, there is absolutely no way to ascertain whether the people that are downloading music were ever going to purchase those records - downloading may hurt sales projections, but whether or not it hurts sales is a debatable and ultimately unprovable argument. So, to declare in your article that "peer-to-peer networks (are) tagged as the obvious culprit" is an irresponsible public propagation of an RIAA-induced myth. The next point I'd like to address concerns the levy on recordable media. David Basskin, head of the CMRRA, proudly explained at CMW how complex the process of monetary distribution is - by way of excusing his agency, and Socan, as to how long it takes to get the funds out to the creators: it is based on radio play and sales. Radio play and Soundscan sales, as I've said before, completely ignore the large percentage of music creators. It's like allowing Cadillac or Rolls Royce to speak for all car makers. The recording industry's claim that "the compensation obtained under the private copying regime does not come close to covering the losses sustained by the industry", therefore, is a complete sham on two counts: A) Downloading and P2P networks have NOT created any loss for the independent labels; they are in fact great for business because the net allows more people to hear music that they would not otherwise know about. B) Their claim cannot be substantiated anyways, since the only provable loss of sales have been in their sales projections. A host of other factors, from the general state of the economy to the increasingly poor artistic quality of major-label releases, could just as easily be to blame for the majors' projections not being met. Which leads me to another point - and I apologize if I am off-topic here. From our perspective as an independent label, the measures of "success" that the music industry adopted during the booming economy of the 1980's have revealed themselves to be a non-sustainable business model, mid-way through the 90s and in the new millennium. Due to over-inflated recording cost, promotional costs and the salaries of their large staff and grossly overpaid directors, the major-label business model increasingly depends on the public to buy records by the millions, placing the emphasis on the sales figures of the week of release - much like the film studios' focus on "opening weekend" gross. As a result, the major labels tend to focus on the "next big thing" rather than sustaining and developing career artists. It would be almost inconceivable for a major to sign a singer/songwriter like Elvis Costello in today's business environment, and as a result incredible talent falls by the wayside. With the changed economy, and even with their major marketing campaigns, the major label releases often just don't live up to their sales projections, as you've pointed out in your article. So, instead of acknowledging that their business model requires certain ideological modifications, the industry has chosen to point the finger at the consumers, aiming to blame them for not buying a million records in the week-of-release the way they used to in the 80s. Comparatively, in the 70s, when Pink Floyd put out a record, 50,000 sales in the first week of release was considered a success. The recording industry refuses to accept that times have changed, and with the arrival of the internet as a new technology for down-loading they have found the perfect scapegoat as to why their business model isn't doing as well as it used to. I mention all this because it is of great importance for lawyers such as yourself to be aware of the complete picture concerning this issue. When you make the claim in your article that "The recording industry has made significant strides in recent months in offering new choices to consumers" what remains unspoken is that, with the legal assistance of their lawyers and lobbyists, the RIAA have in fact highjacked the concept of copyright to suit their own purposes - I call it cultural terrorism. Copyright was originally meant to offer a fair protection of 14 years to an inventor or creator of a work. Furthermore, as it concerns music publishing, the concept of copyright was used by tin pan alley publishers and later, artists like the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin, as the legal foundation by which cultural commons songs as well as the IP of black artists were STOLEN from them. Does Chuck Berry get paid every time Keith Richards plays one of his guitar licks? Did Led Zeppelin ever really pay fair royalties on "Travellin' Riverside Blues" or the host of other blues songs they ripped off? The point here is the exposition of the inherent hypocrisy of the RIAA's position. Music is culture. Culture is free - it is the zeitgeist of our existence. Hence, from where I'm standing, DOWNLOADING IS NOT THEFT. It is only theft because lawyers and lobbyists have wrongly made it so. Keith Richards wasn't wrong to play Chuck Berry licks, nor should he be paying for them - what he shouldn't have done is register them via his 1960's publisher, Abcko, as being HIS. He did not author them. Your suggestion of a "blanket licence for peer-to-peer users that would effectively legalize music file sharing" may seem like a good idea amidst the mainstream debate, but ultimately it adds insult to injury in the historical context of all that is wrong with the music industry. In a perfect world, the dinosaur that is the music industry should accept its unsustainable position, apologize for the lawsuits, and accept that consumers HAVE THE RIGHT to sample before they buy - that is the essence of P2P file-sharing. People that hear music they like will certainly go out and buy those records if and when they become fans of the music. Real music fans want to have records in their shelves, in their collections. The only exception is "fans" of disposable music, who are becoming increasingly aware that $20 isn't a fair deal for records that only contain one or two decent tracks. You write, "To be both fair and effective, a blanket licence for non-commercial file sharing would need to provide full compensation to the recording industry for the losses it incurs due to the file sharing activity." I trust I've made my position clear, as the director of a growing indie label as well as an artist: To be fair and effective, file sharing must be free and legal. The recording industry I'm a part of does NOT suffer from file sharing activities. To the majors I say: Sign better artists. I assure you your sales will increase with legal P2P. To radio I say: If you want to increase the amount of listeners, play a wider spectrum of music and move away from corporate payola and/or guidelines from parent companies like ClearChannel, who are admittedly in the business of selling advertising and not in the music business. To artists I say: embrace Creative Commons and denounce the CRIA stance - it does not speak for your interests. And to the lawyers I say: While the traditional model of legal ethics dating back to the institutionalization of law as a profession in the late nineteenth century dictates that lawyers have a professional responsibility of neutral "zealous advocacy", I would advance the notion, seconded by many law students in our country's law schools, that lawyers MUST move towards a more ethical, sometimes referred to as "contextual", mode of practice that would place what is morally correct and historically appropriate ahead of the interests of corporate paymasters like the major labels. Speaking of students, your suggestion that undergraduate students be charged $8 a month for culture that should be free - as it has been historically via "fair-use" home-taping and sharing - is absolutely preposterous. Cut to the ridiculous: when will corporations start charging for the air we breathe? Coca-Cola Co. is already charging us for our tap water (Dasani). When will lawyers, being in such a prominent position of policy-making power in our society, begin standing up for what is right instead of what is profitable? You write, "Consumer demand for music online is clearly here to stay. What we need now is a solution that allows all participants in the process, including the record labels, creators, consumers, and ISPs to benefit." Did you really mean, ALL participants?? It's time we start listening to the voices and interests of the creators and the consumers, because, quite frankly, the record label's (majors that is, no one ever talks about the independents) constant PR spin on this matter is as substantiated as governor Bush's WMD Iraq claims. Neil Leyton www.fadingwaysmusic.com -- For (un)subscription information, posting guidelines and links to other related sites please see http://www.digital-copyright.ca
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