The ‘Hysterical Rant’ School of Lobbying Makes, Not Solves, Problems

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.

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4 Responses to The ‘Hysterical Rant’ School of Lobbying Makes, Not Solves, Problems

  1. Paul,

    Isn’t the political dynamic around this important? Sure, there are Richard’s ‘deniers’ – I’ve met them – and I know that there are plenty of them hanging around ORG and similar places.

    Personally, I’m less worried about them than I am about the ‘I think copyright is important, but…’ crowd who can’t think of one effective anti-infringement measure that they’d support. That’s a false-flag argument – it’s dishonest and it makes effective policymaking impossible. It’s also perhaps the most widely repeated viewpoint in this debate.

    This isn’t a zero sum game, either. It’s not as if the people who are ranting on either side of the argument would be spending their freed-up time finding a business model that worked if they could only give up arguing about this. The moral arguments are very important, and as long as they remain unresolved, people who value rights will always be pushing a rock up a hill in any negotiation. Personally, I don’t want anti-piracy to stop the rot. I want it to turn the clock back to a time in which music, and perhaps more urgently, independent film-making or local journalism actually had investment and jobs.

    • ratpie says:

      Music still does have investment and jobs, but probably fewer jobs than at the peak of the CD cycle. I share your frustration at the ‘no enforcement measure is quite right’ attitude, but to be fair those who see it as their mission to protect privacy and freedom of speech have not really taken it upon themselves to look after the copyright industries. And before you say, ‘yes, but that’s a false choice’, I am probably with you on that, but have had the unedifying experience of hearing a previous IFPI chief say that his organisation ‘had no problem with China’ with reference to blocking sites without any judicial oversight. OK the blocked can sue for damages, but as a music rights holder myself I know very well whose agenda would be served in such circumstances. I could license all the innovative services in the world only to see them blocked by the global rights behemoths.

      Where I disagree strongly with you is about whether this is a moral issue. It might be, but treating it as such simply pushes both sides to their dug in positions, where compromise, or cooperation, is seen as defeat. I hang around ORG as I am on their Advisory Board and there are a range of views there as there are anywhere, but the public statements that come out of ORG are pro-market and pro-copyright. I know, I help write some of them. I also sense that there is a growing awareness that for a photographer or a musician, the music and photos ARE their digital rights and represent a freedom of speech threatened as much by the over-reach of advertising supported internet businesses as any anti-piracy agenda pushed by copyright owners.

      In my work I hope to persuade people not to turn the clock back but to accelerate to a world where all musicians have access to a technology driven open and fair marketplace for their work. Frankly some parts of the music industry are more of an obstacle to that goal than all the politicians and lobby groups put together.

  2. ratpie says:

    Richard – many thanks for responding. You and I both agree that infringement causes harm, and we will have to accept that we move in different circles if yours are full of harm deniers and ‘flat earthers’ as you call them. Given my involvement with the tech end of the music business, with ISPs, and with ORG it’s a bit surprising that I meet so few, but there it is.

    The evidence for harm might well be blatant, but that doesn’t make the decade of lobbying any better directed or more productive. The fact that you are still writing off critical issues of fitness for business in the digital world as ‘industry / commercial problems’ a decade after we should have solved them, and after a Government enquiry has highlighted them should at least make you pause and think for a moment.

    And it still leaves open the question of an appropriate response. BT and Talk Talk are notable among big UK ISPs for not having come forward with commercial music plans, as you know; other ISPs launched and closed a music service (Sky), and announced and never launched (Virgin Media). The world could be forgiven for wondering why it’s so difficult to offer a music service commercially when the lobbyists are constantly complaining about ‘competing with infringement’. Doesn’t infringement prove massive demand for our product?

    To many outside the music industry it looks like it’s us inside it who are flat earthers, outraged that the sky doesn’t seem to fit, and issuing dire warnings about falling off the edge. I know both of us are trying to make things better for our industries, and share the hope that tech and creative companies will overcome the challenges. Let’s hope we can converge sometime soon.

  3. Richard Mollet says:

    Hi Paul
    I think “hysterical rant” is an 11 on the hyperbole meter.
    Yes there is more than one source of harm, but when talking to government one addresses the one they can do something about: ie infringement. The other issues are industry / commercial problems and don’t really belong (for long) in a political conversation.
    I routinely talk to people who absolutely deny that infringement causes harm (they are prolific indeed), I’m surprised you haven’t encountered them. If you and I both agree that of course infringement causes harm then we might agree that “flat earther” is an appropriate term. Both are denying evidence that is blatant.
    No-one I met was reluctant to address licensing of music services, provided the terms were right (eg Spotify), and nor were we wrong to highlight the provisions which exist in EU and UK copyright law which require ISPs to act to tackle infringement. This is not about “revisiting secondary liability”. And it’s nice to think that if only we hadn’t banged on about Article 8(3) that BT and Talk Talk would have launched a music service. Nice but, I suspect, wrong.
    Together with others in the creative industries we worked to get the DEA on the statute books, and as is being amply demonstrated by HADOPI in France, sending notifications to infringers does reduce their propensity to infringe (who’d have thought it eh!?); and the recent success of the Newzbin2 judgement shows that pursuing site blocking was the right thing to do legally.
    You’re right about the innovation going in music and indeed publishing. Just think how much better life would be if the tech and creative companies working to make the digital future a reality weren’t competing with infringement.
    Look forward to seeing you soon
    R