Music’s Dissonant Value Gap

At the time of writing, a Google video search for ‘crushed by the wheels of industry’ delivers as its first result a YouTube upload with the plea, ‘NO COPYRIGHT INFRINGEMENT INTENDED’ from a user which calls itself ‘mrrockwithmebaby’.

Try it here:

Here’s the description in full:

NO COPYRIGHT INFRINGEMENT INTENDED. COPYRIGHTS RESERVED BY COPYRIGHT OWNER.This video is used only for non-profit usage and publishing.

As one of 69,600 results for that search, many of them straight rips of the Heaven 17 hit from the 1980s with nothing more than a photo as video content, it’s hard to argue that the upload adds to the sum of human knowledge. It’s also a flat lie that the video is used only for non-profit usage. It has the usual advertisements.

The recording in mrrockwithmebaby’s video has been claimed by the copyright representatives through YouTube’s ContentID tool; but it is one of the millions of videos that the music industry is claiming are remunerated below market price, due to the way that YouTube manages competition between owners and unauthorised uploaders so that no music is ever missing for long.

At the same time as the music industry protests the ‘value gap’ another debate is happening about the nature of the business that generates the revenue in the first place.

A Google search for ‘profit from the proceeds of crime‘ is many times more helpful than the one above, with links to Wikipedia and the sorts of neat summaries lawyers do to show off their expertise, helpfully pointing out that this is the activity more commonly known as money laundering, and that being any part of the chain is considered a crime.

A new campaign from Privacy International could, if successful, make much of online advertising look indistinguishable from money laundering. PI has filed complaints against a string of businesses that they argue flout regulation in the way they collect and use data about us. Here’s the summary: The submission to the ICO is worth a quick read too:

Advertising supported services sounds benign; our mental models have not moved on from ads in a magazine article or in the commercial breaks on TV and radio. But the reach, scope, and nature of the data business is largely hidden from us in daily life; even if we are interested there is not much we can do to see and control who knows what about us. And this blows a big hole in the intent of data and privacy regulation, the foundation of which is, explicitly, permission, visibility, and control.

How does this relate to copyright and the ‘value gap’? With online advertising, companies are stealing our data and selling it to advertisers. The ‘value gap’ is those same companies stealing our music and selling the attention it gets to advertisers.

Here’s the common foundation both forms of abuse rest on. Once the individual has been disenfranchised from everything they do and everything they create they can be coopted into a business model that sees them as fuel, rather than as parties to meaningful and wilful transactions.

Don Quixote versus a windmill

And when we have lost control of our data and our privacy we lose control over democratic processes too. It’s worth considering how data about ‘susceptibility to conspiracy theories’ was sold to political advertisers recently, gleaned from responses to online material about vaccination. Most of us are not equipped to read the science about vaccines, so we have to trust the judgement of people who are highly trained. The insight that mistrust of experts can be used to vaccinate voters against moderate and reasonable choices is both brilliant and very disturbing.

So here are two strong points which I think we in the music industry should consider as we campaign for more of the advertising money that these pernicious practices generate: First, even if we get our own assets recognised and compensated, do we really want to be making part of our living from the proceeds of crime? Second, does music have a role in driving change in business and society, and if so what do we do with our power?

Because surely the worst position for music to take would be to turn a blind eye to the privacy and data rights of our audience. And to spell it out, the erosion of both copyright and privacy come from the same political philosophy that put the rights of the individual below those of state and corporation. So we should probably take a moment to stand up for privacy and make common cause with those campaigning to protect it, in between our whining about not getting paid a fair share of the cash generated by our collective descent into data serfdom.

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