A fair price?

There’s no such thing as a free lunch, or so they say. There are many though who believe that the internet is a free market for both thought and art. It’s been an interesting time for this debate – or at least for anoraks like me who have a vested interest in it. Let’s try to summarise the past few weeks, with appropriate links for you to explore further, should you wish to do so.

The RIAA vs. Tenenbaum

The Record Industry Association Of America (RIAA), the US record label trade body, sued student Joel Tenenbaum for illegally sharing licensed music via a P2P network. The RIAA has been quite active in the last few years in suing individuals whom they have been able to prove were involved in illegal file-sharing – uploading copyright controlled music for the use of others. Few of the cases get to court but Joel Tenenbaum sought the backing of Harvard lawyers to create what may become a landmark legal case.

In other countries the music-industry bodes, like the UK’s BPI, have pursued a different approach to file-sharing by actively targeting sites that provide the means/platform for individuals to ‘share’ rather than targeting individuals. So they’ve gone after Kazaa, Pirate Bay, etc. like (the original) Napster before them. The crux of this thought may be based in PR; they wouldn’t expect to get the sympathy of the media or other individuals by chasing down poverty stricken teenagers or students. The BPI has also made a major (media) case of pursuing Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to control their individual users, something the ISPs, in the main, have resisted.

The crux of Tenenbaum’s defence has been that it’s unfair to pick on one individual for something that everyone is doing, and that his case should be subject to a ‘fair-use’ policy. The labels argue that if it’s illegal then it is illegal, end of.

The repercussions will go on, as will file-sharing because (as the next sections show) the World seems to have become skewed with regard to the rights of musicians.


60% don’t think musicians should earn from online music

In a recent survey of 2000 web users, 60% said they didn't think musicians should receive royalties when their music is downloaded online. The survey, conducted by 'network integration specialist' Telindsu, asked 2000 consumers a very specific question. Did they agree with this statement: I think musicians should derive royalties from their albums, singles and music videos that are downloaded online? Three fifths (1200) disagreed.

OK, it’s a small sample, and I have no statistical break-down on the age of the participants – a point which would probably influence the results quite radically – but I would hope that we’re all surprised that this many people question a musician's personal right to earn from their music.

It is probably the case that the record labels and copyright industries are doing a poor job at explaining why it is that the very concept of copyright exists in modern society, and the artists themselves have probably not helped.

When sites like Napster first emerged those musicians who came out publicly against them received widespread public disdain. The mainstream media – slavishly following public opinion – echoed these opinions and some artists, wanting to seem ‘down with the kids’, joined in by criticizing their record labels – a point which may have led people to believe that file-sharing is actually OK.

Those were the early days and we’re now in a mature, technologically advanced, marketplace – the arguments need to change and the artists need to stand up for themselves again. It’s a simple message really: ‘if you steal my music, how do you expect me to be able to afford to keep making it?’ Who is going to pay, not Chris Anderson it seems.

Chris Anderson’s long tail and the ‘free’ philosophy

Chris Anderson is editor-in-chief of future-techy magazine Wired. He’s what most people would call ‘a player’, a man of influence. One of his key creations was the terminology ‘the long tail’; originally a Wired article and later a book the long tail refers to the economics of the internet age – where the future of business will rely on selling lesser quantities of a greater range of products over a longer period.

His new book seems to argue that the future of business is actually ‘free’. I haven’t had time to read it all but the crux appears to be that if something can be made available digitally then it should also be free. That this information is contained in a book currently retailing for £18.99 might seem a bit ironic but I’d encourage you to obtain a free read (or listen) here.

To be fair to him he’s not essentially saying that people shouldn’t get paid for their work – otherwise he’d have probably wasted his time writing a book - but that there should be different methods of payment and probably different pricing structures. Personally I’d worry about who sets the price and how, in the future, we’re ever going to make money from any artistic endeavours. Do we have to get out our begging bowls, or is it all about the PR?

You gotta PRay to get paid

Spotify launched a clever PR offensive this week. The message was that they’ve developed an app for mobile use of the service but they were concerned that apple might not approve it for use because if you can stream things then why would you buy them from itunes? They were subtly accusing apple of potentially being anti-competitive; a commercial giant abusing its market-dominance? Heaven forbid, who’d have thunk it, perish the thought, etc.

Common consensus is that file-sharing may be a thing of the past if people can stream any music they want, for free. In the UK Spotify is our leading exponent of this – and very good it is too, I’m using it as I write this.

Educated commentators have always been concerned that it’s not a good long-term model and that Spotify can never hope to pay the labels & artists what they will eventually demand for the rights. Most Spotify users currently use the free model which gives you an advert after every four songs, but as every user will know the variety of advertisers and content isn’t vast, suggesting that the Spotify business model is very reliant on people upgrading to the £9.99 per month premium offering.
Notably the suggestion is that the mobile model will only be available to premium, i.e. paying, users and may therefore be the prime route for Spotify to take. If apple were to turn it down then as the key player in the mobile + music market they’d be dealing a serious blow to Spotify’s chances – and potentially the music business as a whole since it’s largely believed that the labels have a share in Spotify. Hence this week’s PR efforts.

Is there a conclusion?

Amusingly there was a banner ad on Spotify as I was using it, for Chris Anderson’s book. The caption was ‘get free for less’. As far as I can tell, free is free – but if no-one gets paid then nothing (of any worth) will get made.
Musicians have some work to do to illustrate the fact that they have to get paid, that people can’t live without money – unless they live with their parents of course.

If we assume that most of the people involved in file-sharing, those who think musicians shouldn’t earn from their online rights are under-25 then we may begin to understand why they do what they do, and think what they think.

Kids don’t understand the costs of living, some of them are barely aware that money doesn’t grow on trees. Through their influential role and hold over children musicians could help us educate them about economics – what things cost and why they should pay for them. Perhaps if they understood that some musicians have to live hand-to-mouth to create their art they’d be less willing to steal from them. Maybe.