Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Exposing the myths: Panorama and the Net Police (part 1)

On Monday the 15th of March the BBC broadcast an episode of Panorama entitled 'Are The Net Police Coming For You?'. This was supposed to bring the general public up-to-date with the issues being flagged in the Digital Economy Bill. However, the programme was full of flaws, errors and myths which need unpicking. Or, at the very least, setting against the backdrop of data produced by various arms of the music industry.

The backdrop I'm referring to here comes from a report written by the Performing Rights Society (PRS) entitled 'Economic Insight, Issue 15: Adding up the music industry for 2008' (.pdf here), a presentation by the think-tank Demos initiated by the pollsters Ipsos (see below), and a press release from the British Phonographic Industry entitled '2009 music sales show decline but digital retail market starts to deliver'. All of these sources are readily available for anyone inclined to look for them and they all paint a rather different picture of the musical economy than the 'fact' in the Panorama episode

I'm only going to focus on the music-related claims in the episode for now. I may come back to the other claims at a later date (time permitting).

#1: 1 min 50 sec - Jo Whiley: 'millions of us they say are downloading music illegally'; 'record industry losing £200 million a year' and '7 million of us are filesharing music unlawfully'.

-The issue here is that it's very difficult to prove how many millions are downloading music illegally, especially when the figure of 7 million comes from music industry sources passed off as objective facts and rounded up by government as noted in this post. The BBC is aware of this hyperbole - they even investigated it themselves! This is also against the context of more singles and albums being sold in the UK than ever before (BPI).

#2: 2 min 20 secs - Louis Walsh: 'It's harder and harder for a young band to get signed now because there are so many young bands and there's so much music for free. Records shops are closing everywhere'

-This seems like Walsh is claiming that there is a lot more competition for limited recording industry contracts. If that is the case then, of course, it's going to be harder to get signed unless the music industry signs all the talent. This seems like a strawman argument. Record shops may be closing but that has no baring on the recording industry awarding contracts. There are many more supermarkets competing for sales than a decade ago and online stores have also opened. In fact, the IFPI's Digital Music Report 2010 lists a lot of services that appear on the Pro-music website:
  • 3
  • 7digital
  • AmazonMP3
  • eMusic
  • HMV Digital
  • iTunes UK
  • Jamster
  • MSN Music
  • MusicStation
  • MySpace Music
  • Napster
  • Nokia Music UK
  • Nokia Comes With Music
  • O2
  • Orange
  • Sky Songs
  • Spotify
  • Tesco
  • T-Mobile
  • TuneTribe
  • Vodafone
  • We7
  • YouTube
This doesn't even include specialist services like Juno or Beatport.

#3: 3 min 20 sec - Roy Stride of Scouting For Girls highlights that artists will spend money on the best studios and best facilities in order to give their fans the best experience.

-This suggests that they will be incurring more costs as a result, which get levied against future sales (the industry usually passes some of these costs onto the artists who end up in debt to the major labels). This points to some of the excesses and inefficiencies in the music industry, and might favour artists who embrace a DIY punk ethic. They also claim there is 'less money going into the industry' and this 'stifles creativity', which seems to be a strange claim when the PRS report suggests that the music economy grew in 2008 by 4.7% from the year prior to a figure of £3.6 billion.

#4: 5 min 20 - Whiley quotes stats from industry body, UK Music, 61% of 14-21 year olds download illegally.

-There is a danger that this kind of kind claim infers that each downloaded file equates to a sale lost. There is no compelling evidence to support such a suggestion, especially among young web users who may not have the access to capital that would permit them to spend money on all the music they download in a like-for-like context. I'm not suggesting this is a try-before-you-buy scenario, but perhaps something more akin to Spotify's music on-demand capability. The subsequent section looked at students in Manchester who are 'typical' downloaders - precisely the group of people who can seldom afford to buy music at this stage in their lives with £10k of student fee debt and even more living costs on top of that.

#5: 7 min 30 - London rapper Sway comments on 'losing revenue from people illegally downloading' and how 'that can affect your creative process' as well as the poor quality of illegal music files.

-These arguments seem at odds with what other UK rappers like Wiley have been recorded as having said (in the Guardian Music Weekly podcast 31st December 2009?). Wiley sees piracy acts as a publicity tool which encourages people into spending money on his music in other ways, notably live performances. Members of private music filesharing communities like the defunct OiNK might contest - many sites featuer torrents for high quality FLAC rips of rare material that isn't commercially avaialble in lossless audio formats

#6: 9 min - Neil Timms and Fergal Sharky idenitify that the rights hodler to copyright material will identifty an IP address that they beleive is infringing their on thier content an issue a series of 3 letters.

-This was what was referred to as Clause 17 which has since been amended to include more sweeping powers that include the blocking of complete websites hosting material thought to be illegal (bye bye YouTube) . Those suspected of infringing copyright can be sued, throttled or cut off from the Internet? At least Dave Stewart of the Eurythmics and Andrew Heaney of TalkTalk had some sense to refute these ideas

The second half of the episode got a little better...


To think that this was meant to help explain the current copyright context is worrying to say the least


Anonymous said...

One of the things that made me laugh (and get very angry over) about the episode of Panorama was how much they had tried to spin that there is no money in the music industry, yet the very next day it was announced that the Michael Jackson estate had signed a record breaking contract worth around $200 Million, I've even seen it mentioned to be be $270 Million.

Now if there is no money in the Music Industry, where do they suppose that money has come from?

One of the problems I think is that Industry big wigs do not understand that maybe we are just not interested in the drivel they try to feed us now. The internet is such a vast thing that it is much easier for unsigned Artists to make a name for themselves using tools such as myspace, youtube, etc. And many of them are very good. Their music is much more readily available that they use file sharing services to make albums available. Net-labels are a prime example of how all of this works... Maybe we are much more interested in these kind of artists than the ones we are pummelled with on the radio.

Maybe that is one of the reasons why people spend little money on music these days... you can get something just as good (if not better) for free.

Rob said...

I agree a lot with much of the previous commentators thoughts. I'm all up for artsits being rewarded for their creative efforts, but I do object to the way in which the industry (a different and distinct entity who take a much bigger cut of the resources) attempts to pass off it's propaganda as fact and petition the law for changes to sustain it's outdated revenue model. When distribution has been transformed you really need to reconsider how you can add value to your business other than by suing your customers or censoring the Internet

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