Behind the music: Will the House of Lords block the Digital Economy Act?
via The Guardian
An interesting visit to Westminster suggests issues of filesharing and copyright are very much on the House of Lords’ agenda.
Last week I had tea with Lord Lucas in the House of Lords (I know – whodathought?). He wanted to have a chat about what the Lords could do to help artists and music creators. As soon as we sat down, he brought up the Digital Economy Act, a subject that had been discussed at length during the Westminster eForum, which he attended, a few days earlier. It was the part pertaining to the possible temporary disconnection of persistent illegal downloaders that had created heated discussions among indie labels and ISPs. “It’s dead in the water,” he proclaimed. “There’s no way we will alienate our voters and punish individuals.”
A source tells me that there’s a very specific reason why the Lords are so interested in the DEA – the plan is a push for them having the right to review every single piece of legislation passed in parliament. No wonder it appeared Lucas had been heavily lobbied by the ISPs. He also had very little love for the major labels, though he conceded he’d never met any of them. “They thought they had it all sewn up since they had Mandelson on board,” he said, with disdain. “Now that it’s passed they don’t seem interested in talking to us.”
So I asked him what he proposed to do, if, indeed, he was interested in helping artists. Lucas said the music industry should give consumers what they want. “What, like free, unlimited music?” I asked. “They need to make a deal with the ISPs. Or at least with one of them, and the others will follow,” he replied, pointing to the stalled negotiations with Virgin Media. I’ve said before that I support such a deal and, unlike Lucas, I have talked to major labels. Universal’s head of digital, Francis Keeling, blamed the other record labels for being unreasonable, pointing out that Universal was first on board for Virgin Media’s “unlimited” music service. I replied that maybe Universal had taken such a big slice of the pie that there was little left for the other labels to share. “It wouldn’t be in Virgin’s interest to give less advantageous deals to other labels,” said Keeling. Independent labels, in particular, would disagree with that statement.
I suggested to Lucas that there should be a pan-European collection society, both for artists and songwriters, that negotiates deals and licences music services – a one-stop shop, if you will – pointing out that the majority of artists and songwriters want licensing to be simpler and to be paid fairly. As an example, I voiced my dismay with Google’s YouTube deal with PRS. Surprisingly, since he’s a conservative and I was under the impression that they oppose government intervention, Lucas said he had no problem with reining in Google and he would support an EU directive of a minimum rate for music streaming (PRS has one, by the way, but Google refuses to pay it). “If they don’t pay, they won’t be allowed to operate,” he proposed, adding that he’d be happy to break their – and iTunes’ – dominance of the music industry.
At the eForum, the head of the Association of Independent Music, Alison Wenham, spoke of the frustration indie labels felt when they released a record and the first six pages of Google search results would show illegal downloading sites, before the first legal one showed up on page seven. Lucas suggested regulations that would prevent that from happening. “We should only target the illegal filesharing sites that make a profit,” he said, adding that the sites where people share with friends should not be disallowed. That’s a bit of a muddy theory, I’d say, as one could argue what constitutes “a friend”. If it’s a friend, you wouldn’t need a site to share your music – you could just go over to their house, or send it in an email.
Lucas concluded that we need copyright reform. He doesn’t want any restrictions on usage, but obligatory remuneration – an impressive idea, but almost utopian in its implementation. Like so many who present a panacea to the music industry, he fell slightly short in his understanding of it. For example, he was under the impression that different songs were paid at different rates by the PRS, according to their genre and popularity. I explained that the composers of a popular song only get paid more because it gets played more.
Yet, I applaud him for reaching out to the artist community to learn more about what they want. Soon he may even get another peer who is one. Rumours are – and I’d say they’re not completely unsubstantiated – that Feargal Sharkey, the former frontman of the Undertones, is in line for a peerage. As Sharkey is now the head of music industry umbrella organisation UK Music, what are the chances there will be some more heated discussions in the House of Lords on the implementation of the DEA?