Written by Music

Beethoven Downloads

This article (free subs. reqd.) about the BBC’s Beethoven downloads really annoys me. Not the article itself, but the words and thoughts of John Whittingdale of the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee.
It seems that the record companies are still annoyed that the BBC actually gave away some music free. These were recordings of live concerts recorded at licence payers’ expense for Radio 3 by members of an orchestra that’s also paid for by the licence fee. And the composer’s been dead some 178 years, so there aren’t any royalites due to any Beethoven copyright holder. Although rumour has it that the record companies might quite like extend copyright until 200 years after a composer’s death. I mean, how else are they going to be able to turn a profit from The Beatles’ back catalogue. The fact remains that I paid for this music, so why shouldn’t I be allowed to have a copy?
The usual nonsense about it taking a commercial CD upwards of five years to reach 1.4m sales (the cumulative number of downloads) was spouted. Of course, if anyone did any research into the people who downloaded they’d inevitably find that the downloads reached a far wider audience than the classical CD market does. Initiatives like this actually grow the audience for classical music. I suspect that a goodly number of those who downloaded that music had never bought a classical music CD in their life.
I completely understand that the classical CD market isn’t as buoyant as it once was, and that labels are having a tough time. But there are other issues at stake here. And protectionism isn’t the answer.
I’d have more sympathy with the classical music labels if one of them could publish some verfiable data to show that their commercially available Beethoven catalogue suffered some kind of marked drop-off following Radio 3’s Beethoven week. I mean, it surely isn’t possible that more people than normal bought Beethoven CDs in the weeks following that initiative is it? It seems terribly unlikely that someone heard something and thought “I’d like to hear more Beethoven now”, isn’t it?
In a strange way, this actually seems to hark back to the old days of The Third Programme, when “needle time” was limited, and BBC Radio was forced to broadcast lots of live music to keep an industry alive. Now it’s the other way round. The BBC helps support several orchestras that wouldn’t otherwise exist. And these orchestras make recordings for a variety of record labels incidentally.
Who at the BBC told who at the record companies what they were doing and when, I don’t know. But then the BBC shouldn’t need to get record companies’ permission to do anything; they already act as the biggest shop window for the recording industry there is.