The Internet: Where the Managers Have No Game


Paul McGuinness, longtime manager of rock band U2, gave a speech earlier this week that made me sit up and shake my head in disbelief. McGuinness called on ISPs to institute user disconnection policies that would be enforceable by governments. I am a huge fan of U2 — I even once flew to Ireland for the sole purpose of seeing one of their shows — but their manager needs to go back to managing the band and not speak on issues of which he has no understanding or credibility.

During the speech, delivered Monday at the MIDEM music conference in Cannes, France, McGuinness employed several analogies in an effort to place blame on ISPs and Internet technology for recording artists losing royalties via illegal downloads. His proposed solution is to implement an ill-conceived policy that is nearly impossible to enforce, similar to the one introduced late last year by the conference’s host country.

I acknowledge that there are global trends changing the face of the music industry, among them the way in which artists are paid royalties. Further, I absolutely agree with McGuinness’ main point: Money needs to flow to artists for their creations in a legal manner. Yet while I am clearly not an expert on the music industry and its associated royalty structures (perhaps I understand this even less than McGuinness understands the Internet), blaming the Internet and its related technologies for the disruption of royalty payments seems patently ludicrous.

The Internet is infrastructure and technology used for a multitude of global purposes, not something devised to take royalty money away from recording artists. To use an analogy that McGuinness may understand, if the Internet is to blame for people performing illegal music downloads and stealing royalties from artists, then the civil engineers and construction workers that design and build roads are responsible for all global car thefts. After all, the roads transport the thieves, right?

Which brings me to another reason as to why the policy that McGuinness presents is ill-conceived. Are the civil engineers and construction workers that design and build roads also destined to police them? I assume the architects and builders have the police in mind when they build the roads and in many instances consciously add features to help law enforcement (shoulders, turnouts, turnarounds, etc.), but they are not the ones handing out traffic violations and confiscating cars. Likewise, many ISPs design and build their infrastructures and make technology choices that to allow them to monitor their users and even aid law enforcement when required. So why should ISPs be forced to be police officers?

Next, let us imagine that ISPs do implement a government-supported disconnection policy based on McGuinness’ suggestion. Enforcement of this policy would be difficult if not impossible. In many locations around the globe there are multiple companies offering Internet connectivity to individuals via connectivity options that include DSL, cable, cellular, wireless and so forth. Even in locations where a local PTT or government dominates the Internet infrastructure there is competition -– with the notable exception of regions where civil liberties do not exist. Thus, in many regions of the world the only way I can conceive of McGuinness’ policy being enforced is via a global “No-Bits List.” It would be akin to the FAA “No-Fly List,” would be adopted by ISPs around the world and would ban users that download music illegally from all Internet connectivity. Needless to say, there are lots of technical, political and social issues with this concept that need to be explored and considered.

I wholeheartedly agree that the illegal downloading of music is hurting the music industry and that the artists deserve payment for their work. But a governmental policy that forces ISPs to police their own infrastructure is a horribly bad idea that places blame in the wrong place and is next to impossible to implement. Next time I am at a U2 concert (assuming I am still allowed to attend), I hope to see McGuinness dancing in the wings while working his magic managing the band and their music. I won’t even mind if he’s wirelessly surfing the Internet at the same time.


Gerd Leonhard

I just posted a rather lengthy reply to Paul McGuinness MIDEM rant here:

“… This kind of ridiculous whining about other people making billions of dollars of the back of artists is usually reserved to industry lobbyists, Paul – what in the world happened to you?? It is nobody’s job to ‘save the recorded music industry’ but OURS i.e. those that are in this industry (counting myself in here, for now) – why would any of these people be responsible for the recorded music industry’s future? While I understand the emotional part I fail to see your business logic here, Paul. We could have provided licenses to all those companies and people a long time ago. We could have collected a revenue share. We could have used their networks to upsell to other music services. We COULD HAVE. But then there is people like you and all those incumbents you so happily count as friends that would rather stay in total control than collect those new monies, and that would rather call the police than to change their outdated assumptions and business practices.

Here is my bottom line to you, with all due respect for your great work with your artists, Paul: get with the new program or at least move out of the way, and plant your poison pills somewhere else.

Nobody wants the Internet you are calling for, and nobody will want that secure safe controlled and policed music machine you long for….”

Dave Asprey

It’s always fun to wear Napster or Bit Torrent t-shirts to U2 and Metallica concerts…

Allan Leinwand

@Paul – Thanks for your thoughts. You are right – the Internet and related technologies is just another delivery model. Don’t blame the infrastructure for how folks use it…

@Loring – not an issue – thanks again for the link.

Loring Wirbel

Allan, a thousand pardons, so many bloggers had used the Billboard magazine posting of McGuinness’s speech, I didn’t bother to check your reference. You were aware of U2 themselves hosting the speech before most were…

Loring Wirbel

U2 has posted the speech on the band web site, providing implied agreement:

As far as I’m concerned, when McGuinness rails against hippie values and the memory of Abbie Hoffman, while encouraging the bullying of ISPs, it virtually negates all the so-called do-gooder work Bono does in matters of debt and world hunger. Bono, say it ain’t so! Wait a minute – Bono bullied Negativland over copyright issues and cozied up to Paul Wolfowitz. Guess he was nothing but a creep to begin with.

David Mullings

Your analogy using the road and who polices them is a good one and I hope that more people realize where the responsibility really lies.

The first place blame should be cast is labels – they have pretty much stuck to their high CD prices despite the cost of the medium going down, effectively robbing consumers. People do still buy music, but the labels are fighting the 99c model as well, why? – so that they can jack up the price on the songs they see fit, once again showing their greed.


Well, just because of that mr McGuinness, i’m going to download an U2 album on The Pirate Bay! HA HA

( Just Kidding! )

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