Richard Mollett, writing on the Publishers Association blog, makes a strident and impassioned plea for the Government to drop its demands for evidence and just accept his credo on the harm done by copyright infringement. He does himself a disservice in comparing the properly sceptical to flat earthers and climate change deniers.
A music industry internal study a few years ago showed three sources of harm to record company revenues: piracy, wholesale price erosion, and unbundling (selling one or two tracks as downloads where before an album might have been bought). It failed convincingly to identify one of these as a critical factor, and ignored effects on profitability, cost structures, and re-investment in new production.
Nobody I have talked to over the last decade has maintained seriously that the net effect of piracy is probably anything other than harmful, in Government, or in ORG, or anywhere else for that matter. The debate Richard seems to have missed is about how harmful it is, and what is an appropriate response, from the music industry itself, the tech and comms industries, and from Government.
In fact, the same internal music industry study attempted to articulate some possible responses and found a great reluctance to address whether music licensing practice, for instance, might be inhibiting the development of services that consumers might prefer to unlicensed filesharing. Instead the drive from the bigger trade associations was to try to revisit secondary liability for communication providers, forcing a strong pushback from ISPs that might otherwise have proved themselves business partners and allies in converting expensive and useless internet traffic into revenue for them.
Hargreaves found that the creative industries as a whole had not even got their own digital supply chain infrastructure in order, despite a decade of trading online. Music, as a sector, is not yet ‘fit for business’ in the digital world; when I have raised this at trade associations I have been told in the past that it’s not an industry level issue, but the rest of the world thinks it is.
My argument to Richard is that a decade of misdirected lobbying has done at least as much harm to the music industry as online piracy, and that his frustration is a direct result of the environment he helped create while at the BPI. As an industry, music saw the relationship between its top executives and Government ministers as more valuable than that between the artists and the fans and music lovers. It failed to help two major UK ISPs get exposed to the positive value of music, while sending its lobbyists to Brussels to argue against service provider exemptions. It failed also to act in proportion to its own estimates of harm, shying away from a robust public defence of its own property in the courts.
Music needs a rebuild from the ground up, and there are many innovative businesses engaged in doing just that. I suspect that the same might be true in publishing. The old big companies are not excluded from the fun – far from it – but they should think twice about using Government Relations as an incumbent defence strategy.