Last month, Debating Europe looked at the controversial subject of digital piracy. We spoke with Francis Gurry, Director of the United Nations’ World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO), and the Swedish Pirate Party MEP Christian Engström. We showed them both some of your comments, which generated an interesting discussion, and we thought we’d revisit the subject to bring in some more voices and hear how publishers and producers would respond to what you said.
We had a really interesting comment come in from Alison, who argued that digital piracy is really hurting artists. Alison gave the example of her sister who had been forced to abandon her career as a gigging artist. We approached Stephen Navin, Chief Executive of the Music Publishers Association in the UK, and asked him about the effects of piracy on the industry.
Let’s assume that you start from the axiom that no business can survive on a free basis. The yard-stick by which any business model sinks or swims is ‘can those who invest in it make money from it’? Where do they get their money back from? Do they get it back from advertisers? Do they get it from the state, and a return to a system where culture is financed through patronage? I think you’ll find it’ll be a mixed economy.
What about this question of enforcement, though? We had a comment come in from Pontus who argues that “the integrity and fundamental right of a private life online of millions must outweigh the imaginary losses of four record companies”. Regardless of the effects of digital piracy on the industry, is it possible to enforce anti-piracy measures without seriously infringing on people’s privacy? What about, for example, the “three strikes and you’re out” legislation that is being introduced in some European countries – where repeated offenders risk having their internet disconnected?
If you don’t pay your electricity bill, you get disconnected… So, the principle of disconnection is one that we accept as a society. The question is, to what degree can it be exercised? If I don’t pay for the content I download, shouldn’t the same principle apply? It’s a question of finding the right balance.
I have a specific example from one of my members, called ‘Just Music’, who are publishers and have a small label. They invested time and money in developing a particular artist so they could market and promote them to the real fans. When they find that this label is available in a thousand different places for free, they are justifiably upset. That sort of behaviour needs to be dealt with quickly. We need to be a little flexible to that. Why should John and Serena, who own this label, why should this business be destroyed because disconnecting access to a particular website is seen as wrong? You have to measure all of their suffering against somebody’s so-called rights. We need to be able to deal with this quickly.
The question of the scale of the issue has come up repeatedly. How big are the numbers involved? Are we talking about an existential crisis for the entertainment industry? Glyn added a comment arguing that not enough research has been done into this area, and criticising existing research for being financed by record labels. We took this comment to Youngsuk Chi, President of the International Publishers Association, and asked him what the scale of the problem really was.
In looking at piracy, it can only be an estimation – and by nature an estimation means a rather wide range. How much piracy is happening and how much of it could have been commerced? Some people will say ‘all of it’, and all of that profit is being lost. However, only so much of it would have been transacted.
So what does the future of the entertainment and publishing industry look like? Is this a crisis that threatens the survival of an entire industry? Or will artists and publishers find ways to adapt to the new environment and produce new business models?
I think artists will thrive, but not without going through some hiccups. And one of those hiccups could be if there was rampant piracy through total disregard for intellectual property rights. There is education required for what tremendous effort it takes to produce cultural objects. And therefore there needs to be enforcement to prevent egregious offenders.
Again, we’re back to the question of enforcement. How much should it be enforced? Does it mean, as Christian Engström argued, snooping through people’s emails to check they’re not sharing music as attachments?
I can’t say I have an absolutely clear view on this because, on the one hand enforcement is necessary to protect people’s rights, but on the other hand we as a society cannot violate privacy. There’s not complete clarity on what is right or wrong until we try it… I don’t think that enforcement on its own can address the challenges, however.
If not enforcement, then can anything really address the challenges? We had a comment come in from Scott arguing that it would be easier to “just cut out the ridiculous salaries and numbers of middlemen”. Perhaps the question shouldn’t be “will the music industry survive” but rather “should the music industry survive”? If there is no business model, is it time to scale back?
The record labels grew so large because they benefited from an economy of scale. The better question you should ask is: ‘does the new paradigm require economies of scale’? Look at Google, look at the size advantage of Google in this new environment. There’s no question that publishers will be needed in the future. There’s too much information out there, and ‘information’ does not mean ‘knowledge’. There will always be a place for someone to curate that information for people.
Finally, the argument was made several times that we need to remember that the “industry” and “artists” are not actually the same thing. Is it possible, as Jesper argued, to support artists without supporting the “distributors and intermediaries” of the entertainment industry? We asked Stef Coninx, Director of the Flemish Music Centre, what he thought.
I think there is a clear misunderstanding of the debate, and I think it’s sometimes even consciously being kept quite vague. There is a mix-up between the industry and culture. Music? Music is doing fine. When you look at it from an industry perspective, however, it’s dramatic. The way the music industry has done its business for 100 years will not continue, that’s clear. But that doesn’t say anything about music itself. Not at all.
However, I think it is important that there is a music industry that can help artists build up a career and maybe even help them make money. Record companies and publishers for the music business will always be needed. We know that artists are not the best people to run a business – they admit it themselves. Most of them don’t want to do it – they would prefer someone they can trust who can do it for them.
What do YOU think? Is digital piracy killing the music and entertainment industry? Are there “economies of scale” in the new digital age that only large record companies and producers can benefit from? Or can artists now market and distribute their music on their own, without help from anybody else? Let us know your comments in the form below, and we’ll take them to experts and policy-makers to hear their reactions.