Artists break ranks with record industry over file-sharing
By Ian Dunt
A clear split has emerged between musicians and the record industry over how to tackle illegal file-sharing.
Talking to politics.co.uk, Jeremy Silver, chief executive of the Featured Artists Coalition (FAC), which campaigns for performers’ and musicians’ rights, said artists were now prepared to look to the future of the music industry, rather than try to “prop up the past”.
The comments mark a distinct shift in tactics among those trying to establish a new status quo in the music world following the advent of free peer-to-peer file-sharing.
Proposals by business secretary Peter Mandelson this summer suggested that those caught file-sharing could see their internet accounts suspended and face fines of up to £50,000.
The suggested reforms, which came just days after he returned from a holiday in Corfu where he met with high profile Hollywood anti-file-sharing campaigner David Geffen, deviated substantially from the suggestions in Stephen Carter’s Digital Britain review.
Mr Silver suggested the draconian proposals had prompted a split in a previously monolithic campaign to stop people file-sharing music for free.
“We’ve seen an increasing hardening of the position by recording companies,” he told politics.co.uk.
“There is a big difference between what we saw in the Digital Britain report and what’s being proposed by Bis [Department for Business, Innovation and Skills]. That made artists feel they have to respond.
“The movement has occurred as a result of lobbying by record companies. And that’s produced a stronger response from the artists.”
He continued: “Artists are forward looking. That sense of wanting to support the future rather than prop up the past is what this is all about.
“It’s also about the fundamental relationship with fans. The government missed that, which is extraordinary because those fans are also voters.”
The change in tactics opens the door to artists side-stepping the recording industry’s wishes when it comes to organising remuneration for music.
Software such as Spotify, which plays short adverts but allows users access to almost any song they can think of, has prompted industry analysts to look to the future for new and previously unimagined revenue streams.
Many musicians in contact with FAC are concerned that tough sanctions by the government will be treated by fans as an attack from artists themselves, who had previously been supportive of industry efforts to crack down on file-sharing.
“For the artist that relationship with the fans is everything,” Mr Silver said.
“It’s direct, emotional and critical and it applies across a range of products that emerge from the artist, like T-shirts and gigs as well as the music itself.
“Very few record companies have that direct relationship with music consumers. When they sue consumers, they’re not directly their customers. They’re their customer’s customers. So there isn’t that direct relationship that the artist has.”
But talk of a new approach to the file-sharing problem has provoked an angry response from record industry representatives, who continue to lose revenue from the advent of the new technology.
“It’s disappointing and irresponsible for organisations like FAC, which doesn’t represent the views of many artists who are deeply concerned by illegal file-sharing, to make statements that could damage the future livelihoods of many of their members,” Mike Batt, director of Dramatico Entertainment and deputy chairman of the BPI, the representative body for the UK recording industry, told politics.co.uk.
“They ignore both the moral right of the creator to be paid for their work, and the strong evidence of the harm illegal downloading is causing to musicians and those who support them.”
Artists are not the only group to find fault in the business secretary’s proposals, which could see up to seven million people – one in 12 of the population – criminalised overnight.
Civil liberties advocates are concerned about the privacy implications of the law, while parents will be concerned that their internet connection will be cut off for activities they knew nothing about.
The consultation on file-sharing ends on September 15th.