Blog Post

Six of One, Half Dozen of the Other?

The UK music industry is losing billions in CD sales every year due to the illegal downloading of music by some 6 million broadband users, according to an article today in the Telegraph. It’s prompted Virgin Media to join forces with music industry trade group the BPI to institute a crackdown “which could see dozens of customers sent warning letters.”  Geoff Taylor, BPI CEO, was quoted as saying, “This is not the time for ISPs to delay further. Government clearly shares the creative community’s frustration at the failure of ISPs to take action.”

Let me take you through that logic as it is understood by the music industry. First, they acknowledge that music sales are way down. Next, they point to the fact that music sales started to plummet when the Internet became popular in the late 1990s. (Because clearly the Internet was devised to allow illegal music downloads.) Since ISPs allow customers to connect to the Internet, government needs to regulate the ISPs. As argued by the BPI and Virgin Media, stopping illegal downloads by dozens of customers will bring back music sales. This argument is insane, ludicrous and severely questions the intelligence of anyone who articulates it.

If there is, in fact, some merit to it, then let’s go straight to the source — have governments regulate the production of microprocessors. Without microprocessors you cannot have a computer, without a computer you cannot connect to the Internet and ruin the music business. If you have read any of my previous posts on this topic, you know I have taken to task U2’s manager and UK ISPs, not to mention writing a bitterly sarcastic, Swift-like proposal to disconnect the Internet to save music.

The music industry suffers from the delusion that illegal downloads are the cause of their evaporating business. The simple truth is that those of us living in the 21st century do not need the music industry. Promotion, distribution and sales can be done without them – look at the Radiohead experiment from last year and sites like MySpace Music.

Everyone on the planet besides those antiquated souls that work for the music industry sees that the market has changed. Why are organizations like the BPI and Virgin Media looking for the UK government to save their business? Instead of using your time to trying to force regulation, here’s a novel thought — produce a product that has value and see what happens.

14 Responses to “Six of One, Half Dozen of the Other?”

  1. if a song comes on the radio and i record it then its legal. if i download that same song then its illegal. if a movie comes on tv its legal. if i download it then its illegal.

    yea. that makes like NO sense. downloading songs and movies online from p2p programs and other sources shouldnt be illegal if they are already publicly avaliable for free >.>

    it just makes sense.

  2. Peter Wohlers

    I think it’s interesting to hear record companies whine about people downloading music and that it’s wrecking their business.

    Of course there have been used record stores around since the dawn of time, but somehow those people escape any sort of blame for poor publishing house financials. I actually don’t really see much of a difference from a revenue perspective. i.e. in neither case would the record company, and maybe even the artists, see any revenue.

    Could it possibly be that much of the music that the record companies are publishing just blows?

  3. @Gary – As I’ve said in numerous posts before, I agree that illegal downloads are the same as theft. I believe we have a very logical answer to the problem and that is to use law enforcement to stop theft. It makes no sense to regulate that organizations that build infrastructure for a multitude of purposes be forced to act like law enforcement. Do you expect interstate construction workers to be patrolmen? Should we regulate that interstate construction workers monitor the contents of all vehicles that travel their infrastructure (thieves use highways to transport stolen CDs)? Of course not, that would be ludicrous – but are not interstates used for many illegal activities and theft?

    In the same way interstates are built to help augment law enforcement (shoulders, turn-arounds, weigh stations, etc), ISPs should absolutely cooperate with law enforcement as they do today for CALEA. Forcing ISPs to become law enforcement for the benefit of the music industry makes absolutely no sense.

  4. I have to disagree here Allan. I think you are totally wrong in at least one area…. marketing and promotion.

    That’s where the majors have everyone by the balls: money. It costs alot to market an artist (even more for new artists). Indie artists and labels simply don’t have that type of dosh.

    So whatever you think about the piracy debate, you can’t just say that it’s cheap and easy to get known because of the internet. Cheaper and easier maybe, but it still costs a hell of alot for the people who can’t afford it. You can’t compare newer artists to well established artists like Radiohead, NIN, U2 etc. They have already become rich and famous precisely because of the marketing muscle of the majors they came from. Now they can afford to do their own marketing (and get alot of free marketing purely by being well known). New artists are stuffed.

    The majors rip off artists, yes. Hopefully things will change now they are in trouble and artists could have more choice and leverage. But it’s people who download their music and don’t buy it (if they like it) that hurt the artists more. There’s one record company ripping them off compared to millions of downloaders. The Radiohead ‘In Rainbows’ exercise even proved that most of the people who downloaded their album didn’t pay for it, and there are millions more who have just downloaded it via the torrents. There are thousands of artists out there who are unknown and give their songs away for free download, but still don’t get anywhere.

    My wife (Mandyleigh Storm) is a musician, and has just released an album and has free mp3’s for download… but the indie label and ourselves don’t have the money to market it very much. We have two (soon to be 3) kids to feed, so don’t tell me illegal downloads don’t hurt… there are very few honest people who will buy your album after they’ve downloaded it for free, even if they love it. We don’t think there’s anything wrong with downloading music to discover new music, but if you listen to the album more than a few times, then it’s worth paying the artist for their hard work.

    I don’t like it, but the isp-managed route seems to be the most logical option, unless you can think of anything better to stop people from just stealing everything in sight.

  5. @fabian – agreed that folks that write regulations may not be the smartest.

    @Tom – yes, the music industry needs to produce products people want instead of working to regulate themselves back into business. Your products and packages seem like a good start.

  6. Tom Enders

    I’ve been saying for a while now that the music industry should look at its business model as the problem. This industry, more so then just about any other, has scads of areas where it can make money and they should use the music to promote sales of the related items.

    So I download your music for free and along with every song comes an advertisement for a t-shirt, up coming show, etc. I buy the bands new book and get a CD. Use the music to sell the merchandise.