Hooper’s DCE Probe is Artists’ Best Hope for Transparency

While there will be a lot of whining about yet more reviews and enquiries, the latest phase in music’s troubled relationship with Government represents the best and perhaps only hope for artists to reset the relationship with their record label partners. It’s likely to be ‘use it or lose it’, because the infrastructure changes being contemplated are necessarily long term.

The background: Richard Hooper has been appointed by the IPO to conduct a feasibility study into one of the main recommendations of the Hargreaves enquiry, a Digital Copyright Exchange. Hargreaves left the idea vague, hoping that industry would grab hold of the idea and run with it. Some bits did, but others were very much more cynical, or just lukewarm. Now Hooper has to consult and define, before being arbiter on what the Government hopes will become industry led upgrades to the digital copyright licensing system.

Why is this so important for artists? The digital market should have been about accountability end to end, and many new ways to curate and enjoy the amazing depth of the recorded music archive, as well as discover new artists from around the world. It has partly delivered, but to some degree that value has disappeared into black boxes or been expended on a bid for control. Copyright owners have controlled consumer offerings and played pick the winner at least partly on the size of unattributable advances and sales guarantees. With access to markets effectively gatekeepered, artists have found their own copyrights used against them as the recorded music industry has consolidated over the last 15 or so years.

Would a full audit catch the ‘content delivery fees’ rumoured to have been paid to Beyond Oblivion before it met its untimely end? Was equity in Spotify handed over because of the head offices of major labels, or because of the catalogues? Not that a Digital Copyright Exchange could answer those questions directly. That would be a giant leap too far for many at the wholesale side of the licensing table. But what it can do is start to drop a few breadcrumbs along the path, so that people know where to look for answers to difficult questions about rights and royalties.

I know I am far from alone in thinking that the music industry has a big internal infringement problem, a hangover perhaps from the days when handshakes by power brokers were the conduits for rights and money and nothing much else really mattered. Those days are gone. Today we work with billions of lines of data in databases, each representing tiny increments of revenue and usage. Their large and valuable catalogues are giving the old power brokers an indian summer – though they don’t seem to be enjoying it much – before they are shuffled off into the Autumn of their lives.

What replaces them needs to have songwriters and performers at its heart, and accountability from end to end. The end to piracy comes when people understand that their actions damage what they profess to love, and the old robber barons have no place in that picture. Technology with all its disruptive and awkward force is much more a friend to artists than their old music industry partners can ever be, and so artists should be first to work with Hooper on defining their new digital business systems.

Find the details here.

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