Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Burnham: Music business is like a canary

PaidContent UK has picked out some choice chunks from Andy Burnham's speech to the Convergence Think Tank last night, including this bit:

"The music industry has been the canary in the internet coal-mine in terms of the consequences of piracy and illegal file-sharing. There is a lot of thinking yet to be done on this question. But we have signalled in our creative economy programme that if the policy and creative industry insiders don't solve this problem, we will bring the same values of the real world – the values that say shoplifting of a CD is unacceptable - to the internet."

Hmm. As we observed earlier, Sony-BMG is worth some three billion dollars, which is a pretty healthy looking canary.

Burnham's metaphor is wrong, though: it assumes that there's no reason why the old companies shouldn't suddenly be in the middle of a totally new industry and still doing as well as they were in their old industry. It's like assuming that the companies which used to deliver coal should suddenly have transformed into gas distribution when natural gas started to be piped to homes with no loss of equity or profitability. In effect, if you want to see the music industry as the test for something in the new economy, they're the first fish on land - they might evolve beyond gills or they might not. But there's no reason to assume that they must do so.

It's also slightly uncomfortable seeing Burnham just blithely slap on the "stealing a CD" metaphor, like he's reading from a script prepared for him by EMI. Apart from being hackneyed (Burnham effectively covering a five-year old Britney Spears routine - perhaps he'll cover himself in Pleather and do I Did It Again for us next), it's philosophically suspect. People don't take CDs from shops because depriving people of their physical property feels wrong - the morality seems pretty clear-cut, and certainly the 'not thieving stuff' impulse wasn't 'brought' to us by government. It's just there. All the government can do is get involved when someone deviates from the generally accepted line that it's wrong to do so.

Downloading a file you might not have paid for from the internet isn't transgressive of the same moral code, though, is it? However much the music industry might wish it was, however much they may get their stooges in parliament to squeak that it is, people really don't view it like a bad thing in quite the same way. Cheeky, perhaps - like nipping in to a parking space someone else had clearly been waiting for - but not a bad wrong. And, much as the government might like to, it's not in a position to change that viewpoint. Given they're attempting to bring in a form of internment even while I'm writing this, it's probably no surprise that Burnham believes he can do so, but you'd hope that he's wise enough to know his time would be better spent trying to find ways to encourage artists to make money in the world we live in, rather than protecting conglomerate's interests from a world we have flown.


Anonymous said...

This shoplifting argument has never made sense to me. The way I see it, downloading an album without first purchasing it with money is the fake world equivalent of borrowing an album in the real world and copying it (to whichever format you wish). In both cases, one ends up with a copy of the album without any shop or loaner loosing their copy. Are they suggesting that borrowing and copying an album is the same as shoplifting it? How can the hope to bring arguments like that to the majority of the population?

anon#1 again said...

Should've said above that I'm not saying that my argument makes it ok to illegally download, just that it shows that their argument is full of holes.

Robin Carmody said...

The most disturbing thing is the way this NuLab apparatchik implies that what happens on the internet is not "real". Who is to define this nebulous concept anyway? The internet *exists*, what happens on it *happens*, that is all that needs to be said.

The victimising of people for whom it is more "real" than the "approved" world is a typical tendency of this government (and of their main opposition), both of which, when faced with the choice of developing the politics of a civilised country or appeasing those who support the victimisation of anyone vaguely unlike themselves, will always choose the latter.

Mark Barnes said...

Wouldn't the first fish on land already have gills? Evolving lungs might be useful though

simon h b said...

Good point, Mark - I should have gone with legs, shouldn't I? I've added a word which might make it slightly less evolutionary distracting...

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