Well, back to work after a week away. Let me get back into this gradually, no startling insights into the music industry today, I need to work up to these things. There’s only one story in the music world today, which is that the Digital Economy Bill goes to debate at the UK House of Commons. Actually, the worry is that it won’t be debated at all. Today, you see, is also the day where the UK prime minister makes the short walk from 10 Downing Street to Buckingham palace to ask the Queen if it would be alright to dissolve parliament and have a general election next month. Unrelated news, it would seem, but for the fact that at this point in proceedings, finding an MP still in the House of Commons is akin to finding a happy Windows Vista-user at PC World. The politicians who see themselves as having even the outermost chance of being re-elected are currently scurrying about in the frenzy to bag the best pr companies and agents they can get hold of before the other side get ’em, and the ones who know that have no chance of being re-elected rarely show up in parliament anyway, what with the demands on their time of high-class prostitutes and constituency business such as moat-filling. If that latter clause confuses anyone, I’ll explain. The last few months in the UK were more notable in politics for the uncovering of certain practices by MPs on both sides of the House relating to expense-claims. One of the more notable ones was the claim for maintenance expenses on an MP’s constituency residence that included monies incurred by the upkeep of the property’s moat. Stylish, but not very popular with us saps whose taxes provided the money. Americans rightly whine about their taxes being spent on a massive military force, perhaps less-rightly about them going on universal healthcare, but I doubt there are many moats being filled with US tax dollars.
Anyway, where was I? The DEB. Well, the Digital Economy Bill has already been passed by the House of Lords. Normally at this point it would go to debate at the Commons, who, as elected representatives, will look at the proposal and weigh up a number of options. Mainly : would the goodwill and campaign-funding I am likely to receive from Rupert Murdoch by voting for this bill be outweighed by the hate my doing so will generate in the younger voters who see it as an attempt to take away their sweeties? Usually they just dither a bit and do what the party ells them to do. That would depend on the think tanks and consultant focus groups the taxpayers fund getting together and asking themselves : would the goodwill and campaign-funding we are likely to receive…etc. This time, however, it won’t happen. What will happen is that the Bill will go into a pile of other unpopular items called the ‘washup’, which are those proposals that were passed by the Lords, but came too close to a dissolution of parliament to be effectively debated, and get passed through as law by default. It’s where you put the stuff you want passed, but don’t want to be held responsible for. Which is handy for government, because it means that the law that is being cited by many to be an infringement of civil liberties can be pushed away and blamed not on the government who passed it, but on the next most blameable entity. Unfortunately for us, that happens to be the music industry.
The DEB actually has a number of sections, not all controversial, and mostly not music-specific. Some of it is about age-classifying computer games, some of it is about the taxation of home broadband access. The section about obliging Internet Service Providers to make the details of persistent filesharers available to rightsholders, and the actions that can be taken against the former, are the controversial ones. Whatever happens with the Bill, these are all subject to further clarification and amendment when the relevant minister is elected and charged with their enactment. If you are interested in knowing exactly what’s on the Bill, this is a good article : http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2010/mar/22/digital-economy-bill
I don’t know why exactly, but the music industry seems to be taking a lot of flack about this bill. The copyright owners could just as easily be authors or film companies, but the backlash seems firmly focused on the musicians and labels who have been the most vociferous supporters of anything they feel they can get to help stem the loss of income from filesharing that is killing the industry. Again, this is all debatable. Musicians and those of us in the music industry can see that things are unsustainable at the moment and that, although we can do our best to try and survive and adapt, the world of music cannot grow or flourish unless illegal downloads are stopped. Of course, lots of non-musicians and non-industry people are at constant pains to point out how wrong we are about this, and how we should all just put our creativity into creating a different model of income-creation, or just ‘do it for the love, man’. Thing is, there are obviously problems with the DEB, it’s not ideal. But it’s a start, and it’s a statement. It is all mutable and will go through a lot of changes, but we in the music industry need the message to be put firmly that if you listen to something, that somebody, somewhere, made that piece of music and needs to be compensated for it. If the DEB helps promote that message, and at least makes people stop and think before filling a 60gig hard drive with tunes, it’s a boost we desperately need in the music industry. It won’t make us any more popular, but then, we’re being shafted right now anyway. Illegally downloading music means taking something without permission. That’s something you do to someone you hate. If illegal downloaders hate us even more, it hardly matters.