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In this provocative post, Peter Jenner, emeritus president of the UK’’s International Music Managers’ Forum (IMMF), proposes a different take on the notions of “pirates” and remuneration for music.

In the whole internet debate the two words that really get me mad are ‘Piracy’ and ‘Theft’.

Lets start on Piracy. Pirates have pretty good reputation in romantic literature and film. They were often seen as bold and brave, implicitly from a deprived background, or been robbed of their rightful place in society, who resorted to hi-jacking boats and taking the loot to live a romantic life on a tropical island, often with a parrot on their shoulders. Long John Silver, Johnny Depp are two famous names in this context. They acquired treasure and though they were rather naughty and over fond of young damsels in distress, their enemies were usually up tight representatives of the upper classes, who were in their turn looting the wealth of others. When the pirates were helping out ‘our’ cause they were often called ‘privateers’ (Francis Drake), and sometimes they were absorbed by the authorities and turned into Governors of the islands they were living in (Henry Morgan-I think). But above all they were collecting scarce commodities (gold, jewels etc) of which there was a limited supply. If they had the gold the King could not get it.

They had fun, they ran risks and they got drunk and were rather fond of having a ‘good time’. In fact they sound like record company execs.

Indeed I have heard that in many countries the record pirates were very close to the record companies, and that the biggest pirates were the labels themselves. Certainly they systematically worked out ways to under pay their artists and the publishers and to keep as much of the money as possible. At the same time they were fond of holding the public to ransom with over priced CDs and making people who wanted a single have to buy an album at several times the price of the single.

Now these same people are telling us that the pirates are the people who are distributing music on line for free. The problem is that there is no scarcity in the digital world, as there is in the physical world. Indeed every file sent to a friend or downloaded through a p2p service increases the supply of copies.

So maybe Pirate Bay is incorrectly named, they just want to get the Johnny Depp vibes.

But the industry is always going on about how the Pirates are child sex-slavers , or terrorists, or drug dealers, and that they are using the money made from ‘stealing’ our music to finance their activities. But they aren’t, all they are doing is copying it and letting the music move through the cyber world.

Maybe they are realising this is not such a good approach so they now talk more about ‘stealing’ music. Once again this is based on a misunderstanding of theft. If you steal my money I don’t have that money anymore. If you copy my music I still have it, and so does everyone else who has it. No one loses anything, the supply of copies just increases.

I have problems with the idea of Intellectual Property, but I do believe in the right to get paid for one’s work. No one invented any music from scratch. All everyone can do is re-arrange what they have heard and learnt through their lives in a different way. I look on musicians as being like cooks, they take the same standard ingredients and then put them together in a unique recipe, which you do or do not like. But it is descended from all the music anyone has heard, it is not just a flash of lightening, a ‘eureka’ moment. I don’t want to deny musicians and composers the right to be paid, but we should be more honest, more modest about it.

I want musicians and composers to get paid so that they can afford the time and obtain the resources to make more great recordings and performances for my enjoyment. Most musicians want everyone to hear and enjoy their music, but they also want to make a living, and if anyone is getting rich from it, then they want to get rich from it too.

So lets stop talking about Piracy and Theft and start talking about getting paid for one’s work. Let us think of remuneration for one’s work and people’s investment in that work, rather than exclusive rights and ownership of music. If the music is popular lets get paid a lot, if it is copied on line by the public lets get some money from that activity too. Lets start thinking about how we can work with the new technology to provide more music for less cost to more people with more money going to more creators of that music. Maybe we don’t have to have big record companies anymore, maybe we have to promote and market our work in a different way. There is no doubt that technology will change the way we all use and access recorded music. Now is the time to be creative rather than defensive. The companies and the artists who can work out the new ways to get to market and to promote their work will be the stars and star makers of tomorrow. Think how electricity changed the life of musicians over the following decades, in how they worked , how they made their money, how people heard the music and how stars were made. The internet is similar, so lets have less of this nonsense, no more ‘Piracy’, no more ‘Theft’. Lets have a lot more thinking about how we can all benefit from digitisation, or at least let us accept that we have to learn to live with it – its not going away.


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About Author

James Martin

James Martin is Head of Social Media for Midem organisers Reed MIDEM. This includes defining and rolling out Midem's social media strategy, editing midemblog, influencer outreach, developing Midem's fanbase of 75,000+ music professionals and more.

3 Comments

  1. Peter, I hope that your motive is to stir up some healthy debate with this article and that you’ve simply forsaken accuracy in that endeavour. Copying music illegally is still taking possession of it without the owner’s permission. It may be a copy but unless you have permission to copy it it’s not yours to reproduce. When you say that “no one loses anything” that’s untrue, royalties are lost.
    There are many other examples such as books, art and banknotes. After all you could (just as badly) argue that no-one loses anything when you copy banknotes.
    If the debate is about legality then reconsider your argument and let’s face it, if P2P sites want to argue that they’re legal perhaps they should avoid the word “Pirate” in their name, viz. “Pirate bay”. In every defintion I can find in the dictionary the word relates to illegal activity.
    Till now the Internet has moved too quickly for the law to catch up but catch up it will have to, as increasing illegal activity grows. In France it’s three strikes and you’re off the net and Sweden has taken legal action against Pirate Bay. This is just the beginning of the battle against illegal downloaders and it’s going to get uglier.

  2. Physical world comparisons still don’t hold up. No one loses anything with the actual act of copying a banknote – where something is lost is when that fake banknote is used to purchase something else. The seller thinks they have exchanged their item for something of equivalent value when in fact they haven’t – they’ve lost the value of that item since the fake banknotes are worthless.
    But when you are talking about a digital music file, whose value lies in the ability to play it back and hear a particular piece of music – that file can be copied infinite times without losing said value. All copying the file does is spread the ability to play it back to additional people. Technically, it creates value.
    The issue, as Peter Jenner identified (and I agree), all comes back to intellectual property and the need to be compensated for work.
    Copying an mp3 and giving the copy to someone else creates value, but none of that value currently makes it back to the creator. *That* is the problem we need to solve – not the act of copying itself.

  3. There have been some pretty good attempts to monetise sharing, most notably the Potato system (http://www.potatosystem.com/en). The idea being that if you sell a track you get a cut afterwards. But they haven’t taken off – alas! So potato is basically an easy way to sell your music with an extra feature that is under-used.

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