Written by Internet

MusicAlly PR & P2P Debate

Last night there was a music industry debate about PR and the whole music downloading thing. For some reason, I decided to go along (well Virgin has just launched a download chart, cunningly timed to extract maximum PR). It was less about the right or wrongs of downloading, but more about how the music industry should put on a single voice to confront the issue.
I really think that they’re still way off the curve. There was a lot of talk about “uploaders” v “downloaders” being different, and the uploaders being the guilty parties. I’m not sure what they mean with that, since most of these things happen at the same time with the likes of Kazaa and eDonkey. If I’ve got a shared mp3 folder on my computer, I’m equally as likely to put my own ripped tracks in it as stuff that I download via a P2P mechanism.
The guy from the BPI seems hellbent on prosecution. He gave the analogy of the Oxford Street branch of HMV which supposedly has 25 store detectives. Most of those that they capture are kids, and they will prosecute (Whether this is all the time or whether they use discretion and warn some kids I don’t know). Figures were quoted showing awareness of the illegality of downloading is increasing. Frankly I’m amazed that many even think it is legal. That doesn’t mean you won’t do it. It is a seemingly victimless crime, and one that you’re not likely to be caught doing. I still think, as The Guardian’s Neil Mcintosh said, that the Daily Mail is going to be quite sympathetic towards 12 year old girls who are prosecuted by the big nasty music industry.
There were some well made points about how it’s probably not a good idea to either preach down to kids or to use massively rich superstars in a campaign that is attempting to explain that artists are being deprived of royalties (we all know McCartney needs another quid).
But overall, I really think that they don’t get it. They should probably fight on quality – you simply don’t know what you’re going to get when you download from Kazaa. But more than that, they really shouldn’t treat their customer as thieves from the outset. That means, get rid of these ridiculous DRM systems that are going to cause pain in the medium to long term (Can’t use downloads from MyCokeMusic or Napster on iPods), and the pointless CD ripping prevention techniques that actually stop people like me purchasing the CDs in the first place.
An audience member made a great point last night when he mentioned that it has actually been everyone but the record industry themselves who’ve made the great strides in download sales in the past 12 month (EDIT: That would have been The Guardian’s Bobbie Johnson). The Apple iTunes store is from a hardware supplier; Napster isn’t record company backed; Coke bought into a system developed by a company started by Peter Gabriel and not backed by a major label. It wasn’t EMI or Sony who did this – although Sony have now started SonyConnect. And then there’s still the fact that depsite “1,000,000 songs” being legally available to download, and that being the “equivalent of a megastore” in music, some music is notable by its ommission. Where can I legally download The Beatles? Is the full back catalogue of the Stones available?
As I said, the audience was largely made up of record industry people from a cursory examination of the name tags (although I did also spot NTK’s Dave Green having a laugh at some of what was said), and it seems there’s some disagreement within the industry about the rights and wrongs of cover mounting free CDs with newspapers and magazines. The mention of that by a member of the audience was the only time the crowd really got animated – which is why I don’t think they know what to do as an industry.
And finally, what should they do when Robbie Williams says, yeah, it’s OK to download his stuff? I think they want the press to attack him, not his own record label. The better analogy was that downloading tracks is a bit like partking on a yellow line – we know we shouldn’t do it, but occassionally we go “what the hell” and do it anyway. Actually speeding’s probably an even better analogy, except that with speed cameras we might actually get caught.
And yes the film industry is facing this issue right now – didn’t you know that when you bought a dodgy DVD outside the pub from a Chinese bloke who also sells continental fags, you’re directly funding Al-Qaeda?
UPDATE: Neil McIntosh has updated his blog with his thoughts of the meeting.
Incidentally, I didn’t mention that the meeting took place at The Guardian’s Newsroom which is a very useful study and education centre. It’s also open to the public. And particularly good at the moment is Apes of Wrath, an exhibition of the cartoons of Steve Bell. If you don’t know his work, let’s just say that he’s not the world’s biggest fan of Dubya.