Mike Batt: he's given us a lot of dubious value - the Wombling Merry Christmas, Katie Melua, and now, a piece for The Times where he sets out to prove that - oh, yes - illegal downloading is killing music using any argument he can think of:
I hate to jump all over his opening line, but this isn't actually true, is it? First of all, there are huge numbers of people who have the ability to illegally download who, for whatever reason, choose not to.
And isn't the fact it's "illegal" means that, rather than doing it "because they can", they're doing it "despite they can't"?
Of course, what Batt is doing here is arguing for bans, for blocks, for making it impossible to download, and so it serves his case to claim that if people can, they will. Don't fall for it, though - people can download graphic images of people having sex with large waterfowl, but don't act on the ability.
Batt then reminds people that the BPI has grudgingly accepted a deal with ISPs:
Well, let's leave aside the evidence in the Guardian this week that the industry organisation which negotiated the deal hasn't actually welcomed it and instead sent out petulant letters insisting that the agreement wasn't, actually, in any way binding at all, and instead look at that assumption that if you disagree with the deal, you're doing so not because you have valid worries - it's just that you're not fair-minded.
Aha! You must be fair-minded, because it's only fair that people get paid for their music, see?
Batt doesn't entertain the propsect for a moment that a fair-minded person might object to the deal that's been cut for reasons unconnected with the rights and wrongs of paying for copyrighted work; that a fair-minded consumer might have a problem with the idea that ISPs are being given a role which places them, however loosely, as having a reason for looking at what their customers are doing with the connections they provide, for example.
Or that a fair-minded person could - without losing any sense of reasonableness - conclude that the correct response to a customer base moving to a dubious distribution network is to accept the consumer is king and work out how you thrive in a new reality rather than spending hundreds of thousands of pounds trying to protect a world that has gone.
Batt, though, is surprised that not everyone is applauding his BPI chums:
I'm trying to decide if Batt is really unable to understand the journalist's point, or if he's just feigning stupidity. It can be so difficult to tell the difference, but let's be fair to him and assume that he really does understand that the writer isn't making a "if you can't see it, you shouldn't pay for it" line of reasoning, and that Mike Batt knows that the point it that music is no longer a thing which is of limited supply - that always on, digital, hyperconnectivity limewired sharing services and cheap storage means that music has moved in the last two decades from being something you had to get a bus into town to purchase, to something that surrounds you. The writer's point, let us generously assume Batt actually knows, is that music is no longer a scarce product, and there are economic realities about products whose supply is unlimited.
Not that these have to be heartbreaking for those that would make a living selling music - after all, oxygen, being part of air, is both invisible and all around us, and yet the British Oxygen Company managed to figure out a way to build a fine business out of selling it.
But does Batt really know that he's misrepresenting the views of the person whose argument he has sketched?
He does. Interesting Batt chooses to decry his intellectual opponent - "otherwise sane" - without offering the man's name. Could it be that Batt was afraid that if he named the other writer people might look for the original article and see that he was deliberately distorting the other side of the debate? (It was, by the way, Bob Stanley writing - also - in The Times. If only Mike had mentioned that - the paper could have hyperlinked its two articles together. Maybe Batt was just afraid at making it clear that he believed The Times was publishing the rantings of someone who is, on this subject at least, insane.
But Mike has moved on - to dis the h8rs:
We're a little lost here - saying 'hating a large company is the same as hating a large company' seems to be self-evident; it's like saying "hating the Bishop of Durham is about as useful as hating the Bishop of Chichester". It's not actually an argument against doing so.
And is it so useless to hate supermarkets? Might it not lead one to conclude you'd be better off trying to shop locally, or grow some of your own vegetables, perhaps? To take that hate and make some small changes which, ultimately, might make your life better? And even if you do accept that you won't bring Tesco to its knees, viewing it as hostile, and keeping an eye on it as it screws over farmers, ignores planning regulations, organises its taxes to ensure it gives as little as possible to the country that educates its staff and underwrites the welfare of its customers, or makes outrageous libel demands against Thai intellectuals, and making sure it is called to account when it does so - surely that isn't useless?
The other side of the Batt argument - "they exist" - hardly stands up to any consideration, either. They exist now - but, in the past, debtor's prisons existed. Truck ticket shops and highwaymen and Bradford Park Avenue once all existed, but the mere fact of their existence doesn't mean one is obliged to come to view them with delight. We think Batt is using their existence in the sense, though, that they exist like the sun, or HIV, or spiders and that their existence is inarguable and part of creation and thus we'd better get used to them and stop bloody well complaining.
But record companies are not natural phenomenona, and like Bradford Park Avenue and truck ticket shops and highwaymen, it is all too easy to imagine a world in which they didn't exist. Some of you, I suspect, imagine just such a world as you say your prayers at night, or offer up a small sacrifice to Hecate, or blow out your birthday candles.
Indeed, it's where Batt's linking together of the record labels and the supermarkets falls down. Imagine the consternation if all the supermarkets vanished overnight - it's hard to even see a way the food distribution network in the country would function. But should the hqs of EMI, Universal, Warners and Sony-BMG be ripped from the Earth by a tornado of some sort, a nation would scratch its chin, and hit shuffle on the iPod.
Still, Batt spells out some simple economics for us:
Nobody would want to see those people thrown out of work, but - being honest - if you're running a business that's trying to sell something that people don't want to pay for, however sad it is, you're probably going to go out of business unless you can find a way to make money in some other way. Batt seems to be starting from the - admittedly understandable - stance of believing that his business must continue and that the world must be rearranged to ensure that happens.
But the world has shifted - in the same way it shifted and cost the guys who worked in video rental libraries their living, and made Tippex a less valubale commodity, and turned coalmen into yesterday's men. One of my forbears used to look after the horses for a brewery - I'd bet that he would have written an impassioned piece arguing that horses must be used to pull dray wagons had he be given the chance. But nobody was going to pay for horses when there were shiny vans to be had. Things change. People get hurt. But wishing it wasn't so doesn't stop it happening.
Actually, Mike, most bakers have ceased to exist - they were run out of business by undercutting from those supermarkets you don't want us to hate.
Is this true, though? After all, you can go to a hospital and have your broken bits fixed for free, but people still pay for operations privately. There are many free sources of news, but newspaper circulation is still surprisingly healthy. The Science Museum, apparently, introduced charges for some of its events because people didn't bother to turn up for free ones. Some people might take the download of bread, but others would continue to buy bread.
Batt, though, is warming to his world of digital loaves, and what a dystopia it is. A dystoastia, too:
What a terrible, terrible view of humanity this man has. What a black outlook. He's also a philosophical idiot, but let's just spend a couple of moments sending mental hugs out to Mike Batt. Let's show him some love, some of the love that he doesn't believe exists.
If every last one of us were greedy, conniving and thieving - leaving aside how Batt would explain charity and volunteering and those people who bring cakes into the office on a Monday morning - then we wouldn't have laws, would we? There are only laws because of an agreed moral code in a society; the codification of morals is there not because without it, nobody would be trustworthy, but because there are a small few people who would behave badly. I suspect that even Batt, if he was walking down the street and saw a dropped wallet, would not think "I'll have that", or even "if only there wasn't a law against stealing, I'd have that", but "where should I hand this in?"
There's also the bigger point that commercial music is not like bread in a very important respect - it isn't essential to living. Now, music - yes, that may very well be vital; certainly, I wouldn't have a life without some music in it. But commercial, recorded music is not the very staff of life. In that world we imagined a moment back, where there was no EMI, we can still hear music - birds singing, church bells ringing, a high school musical (as opposed to a High School Musical); the happy sound of a mother singing a nursery rhyme to a child. Let us not allow Batt or the BPI to pretend that the process of putting sound onto a recorded medium and pitching a marketing campaign is the actual music.
Batt, though, suddenly changes tack from his breadless land of dying bastards, and has a pop at Prince:
But let’s not forget that Prince was paid handsomely for the stunt (at least £150,000).
Isn't this actually running against his argument? Since Batt has spent his time setting up a demand that music must not be free at point of consumption, as nobody makes any money, isn't it a bit foolish of him to suddenly point out that Prince has found a way of giving consumers music for nothing - besides the shame of being seen purchasing the Mail On Sunday - and still make enough to buy a good lunch and a gallon of petrol?
Actually, Mike, capitalism works on the belief that people pay what they want for things - the difference with Radiohead was that the price slid to zero. But it's a fair point - Radiohead weren't going to end up eating beans out of cans if everyone took the album for nothing.
Trouble is, of course, a lot of people did pay for it, didn't they, Mike? Which demolishes your claim that if people can get something for nothing, they won't pay for it.
Again, though, you've spent ten minutes insisting that if something is made available for free, nobody will ever pay for it again, but now suggesting that giving something away is a great way to persuade people to buy something.
It's actually a lot easier now, Mike. In 1968 there was one pop station, no music television; certainly no internet. There was, of course, pirate radio still, in 1968, but given how much you object to illegal downloading I'm sure you would retrospectively condemn those guys, wouldn't you? The people who floated about, not paying transmitter licences, ignoring the needle time restrictions without which honest, hard-working studio musicians would lose their jobs? I'm surprised we haven't heard you calling for Tony Blackburn to go on some sort of show trial.
Now, though: MySpace. YouTube. Blogs. BBC Radio Humberside's Raw Talent programme. There are numerous outlets to build a fanbase. It's still hard, but digital makes it so much easier. And you don't even need a label to make money from your music - you can really do it DIY in a way punk only ever dreamed of.
Batt admits this:
Hurrah! Right, Mike?
No, it turns out this is a bad thing:
No it isn't. A good song is still a good song. If you mean there's a lot of stuff that isn't very good, well, yes, but there are also a whole slew of tools which make it easier to sort through and find what you like: last.fm, mp3 blogs, trying albums before you buy by downloading a couple of tracks. There is as much wheat as ever, but better still, there's much better winnowing equipment. And we - the audience - are able to hear a load of stuff that we'd never have got to have heard before. Stuff that we'd have not heard not because it was poor, but because it didn't fit with what the A&R person was after when they auditioned, or what his boss wanted, or what her boss was willing to fund.
A few years ago, for most people, hearing a recording by an unsigned artist was rare - like talking to a foetus or tasting an ungrown apple. The very fact of their being unsigned made it hard for their music to get to you. But now? It's hard to log on to your computer without having six or seven bands who only formed last night poking their demo stuff into your eyes. (Although Firefox users have the option of a plug in, I'm given to understand.)
But this is the trouble - Batt isn't really worried that music will disappear; or that we shall all starve culturally to death. He's afraid that the sort of music business he understands is vanishing. And, naturally, he wants to defend it, even if it means making yourself look foolish in the newspapers and calling for telephone companies to send angry letters to their customers:
Nobody wants musicians to go out of business. But if everyone spends their time and effort trying to keep a structure of prices and way of working from the 1940s alive, a lot of recorded music businesses will go under.
If god started to rain bread down on the planet, which bakers would propser, Mike? The ones who called for the government to invest in an expensive bread umbrella, to stop the bread from falling? Or the ones who set up travelling slicing machines, went into partnership with the butter churners, and accepted that things have changed?