Friday, December 08, 2006

Musician revolt?

I may be the only UK-based technology and IP blogger that has not yet mentioned the Gowers report. Because I'm in Costa Rica, I've been tempted to ignore writing about the report because so many people have already commented intelligently on it. Perhaps my only take is to stress again future. For too long have that I believe we may be witnessing a turning of the tide when it comes to IP policy. The fact that the Gowers review has managed to conduct its affairs with transparency and by looking closely at the actual evidence truly makes me feel optimistic about a more balanced IPIP owners gotten away with a one-sided push towards more protection. Public acceptance of the report so far seems to be decidedly favourable.

However, I have been prompted out of silence by the spectacle of ageing musicians pleading for copyright extension in a page published in the Financial Times. Under the title "Fair Play for Musicians", the ad contains 4,500 signatures of poor struggling acts such as U2, Sir Paul McCartney, Sir Cliff Richard and Sir Simon Rattle. I was astounded that this has been picked up by the mainstream press at international level. I heard the story on the radio while I was driving, and I almost crashed from shock. Copyright extension has become a hot topic, worthy of making the entertainment news in Costa Rican radio.

Nevertheless, despite the considerable star power wielded by the British Phonographic Industry, I think that this tactic will backfire and it will be a turning point with the public. There is nothing worse than a bunch of wealthy ageing rockers pleading for more money. It smells of greed and desperation (and somehow, it also smells of mothballs and dusty electric guitars, but I digress). Lessig has published a rebuke in FT, and I'm sure that widespread derision to this tactic will simply serve to expose what this is all about, earning a few more bucks.

By the way, David Berry has circulated a message pointing out that some of the signatories are actually dead. Lonnie Donegan (2002) and Freddie Garrity (2006) are deceased, no more, ceased to be, bereft of life (you know the rest). This makes me think that the BPI must have some mighty mediums in their ranks, or perhaps the ghosts of musicians past never leave the premises and hang around looking after their royalties. I don't know about you, but the image of a ghostly Mick Hucknall fills me with dread.

UPDATE: This article by Marina Hyde is a must-read.


Unknown said...

While there has been a great deal of intelligent commentary on the Gowers Report, one thing that I haven't seen is an analysis of the underlying assumptions of what IP is and its function. Most of the commentary has focused on the recommendations and good/bad they are.

What struck me was the extent to which IP was defined as being an 'economic' problem. I assume that has something to do with the Report's sponsor (Treasury), however the implications of this definition are rather profound in that, if they are accepted, they seem to finalise the shift that has been going on in copyright (and other IP) for the last few decades; a paradigmatic shift away from the private/public, liberal quid pro quo of the Statute of Anne to the regulation of the exploitation of semi-intangible commodities.

If this shift has reached the point where a government report can be based on it, the possible solutions to the problems this new environment presents change. In fact the questions themselves change.

I am still working out the implications of this but it seems that these are at least as important as what has already been commented upon.

Andres Guadamuz said...

Hello Stephen,

You make a very good point. I think that there is indeed a shift in the emphasis on copyright, particularly in common law systems, where it was always seen as more of an economic right than a human or moral right.

I think that this is now pretty much the state of affairs. Copyright provides large revenue to an important part of the economy, and the creative "industries" are seen as an important element of the factory-less economy.