Tuesday, April 07, 2009

U2 manager Paul McGuinness hails the French government

Paul McGuinness, manager of Dutch property company U2, turns up on Comment Is Free [in a piece translated from Le Figaro] to garland Sarkozy with praise for solving internet piracy.

Yes, yes, the French government has, actually:

An intense debate is raging over how to stop the erosion of creators' rights in an era swamped by free unauthorised music. It is a critical debate that I believe will shape the lives and the working conditions of creative professionals for years, even decades, to come.

"How to stop the erosion of creator's rights", no less. That's not exactly the debate anyone else is having, it's more about ensuring everyone gets a fair slice of the pie. But, hey, it's your spell in the sun; you frame the debate in whatever shape you choose, Paul.
France is leading the way on this issue, with its new "creation and internet" law, and where France goes, the rest of the world may follow.

France is leading the way? It turns out what Paul means is that France has flown further to the right than most nations, and its histrionic and unworkable response is exactly what he dreams of at night when he closes his eyes.

The indication is that most nations aren't going to follow France, and - indeed - France is trailing behind, adopting ideas that have already been examined and put down by other nations.
This is certainly not about the future of U2, the band I have managed for over 30 years.

He's U2's manager, you know. He manages U2.
But it is about the future of a new generation of artists who aspire to be the next U2 – and about the whole environment in which that aspiration can be made possible.

Good god, can you imagine setting out wanting to be U2? Don't bands even at least have a couple of years of hoping they can grow old without drifting into artistic irrelevance and self-parody any more?
I have followed this debate closely over the last two years, as a number of governments have woken up to the need to tackle the deep crisis facing their creative industries.

For a whole two years. You might have thought that McGuiness - who manages U2, you know - would have had his eye on the debate over a decade ago. But coming late to the party need be no excuse for not catching up, right?

By the way: crisis in creative industries? Or merely a structural shift brought on by a fundamental change to those industries?
The proposals tabled by President Sarkozy and Denis Olivennes in November 2007 gave France moral leadership in the debate, a position the country retains today. The creation and internet law is the right solution to an enormous problem. It is a fair and balanced solution, and I believe it will work in practice.

The proposals aren't exactly moral, though, are they - in fact, the European Parliament has passed a resolution stating the exact opposite, that it's immoral to use access to broadband connections as a way of 'punishing' alleged file sharers.

And even if he's only been watching the debate for two years, you'd have thought that McGuiness would have seen the recent reaction to a similar law in New Zealand, where the clear response was that it's not moral. (And that New Zealand got there first suggests that France can't even claim immoral leadership.)
There are a few simple reasons why the new law deserves strong support.

...in no particular order they include Bono needing a new hat, The Edge needing funds to launch an impersonation lawsuit against Pizza Hut for their The Edge pizza, and the rising cost of internet connections.
First, the crisis in our music community is real. A generation of artists, all over France, and further afield, are seeing their livelihoods destroyed, their career ambitions stolen.

Really?

Paul McGuinness is telling us that there are bands who would otherwise have careers who don't. A whole generation of artists. Is that true? Is that even provable?

And isn't there a counterargument that, while there are fewer large dinosaurs-in-waiting, the new, svelte music world allows small bands who would have struggled to get gigs outside their own county ten years ago are having bursts of success.
Investment that should help them build careers is draining out of the industry.

Sorry, you might have trouble hearing that over the hollow laughter of thousands upon thousand of bands who signed deals with labels in the past, only to discover they'd never make any money because they'd be dropped before they ever recouped.
This isn't just a shift in the business model from recorded to live music. It's a catastrophe for all the business models, old and new.

Eh? The new business models which are being developed to thrive in the new music world are being attacked by a catastrophe?

Had Paul McGuinness been around when the prehensile thumb first evolved, he'd have been sitting about complaining that not only was a tragedy for those who couldn't grip so good, but it also meant the end for hitch-hiking, thumbsucking and pinching, too.
It is a myth that artists can build long-term careers on live music alone.

No it isn't. Indeed, for most of the history of paid musicianship, artists did so. Many classical musicians build long-term careers on playing live, and always have done. You might not have the sort of career where you wind up with so much cash sloshing about in your pockets you can buy luxury hotels and massive ranches in LA. But you can make a decent living, and provide for your family. That's even if you decide not to make some recordings, too - something which is easier than ever now.
U2 will this year fill huge stadiums around the world, including two shows at Stade de France at a capacity of 93,000. That is because they have had parallel careers as recording artists and live performers since their inception 30 years ago.

He's U2's manager, you know. Did he mention that?

Perhaps the problem is that McGuinness has managed U2 for so long, he can't understand that you can make money doing things on a smaller scale. That you don't need to fill out the Stade De France - with all the increased outgoings that implies - to earn enough. Perhaps its like Tesco trying to understand how the bloke who runs a small tobacconist is able to provide shoes for his children without economies of scale to fall back on.
The world of music is rapidly changing, and new business models are developing fast...

No, no they're not. New business models are crawling - the ideas, and the technology is there, but new business models? They're barely developing, mainly due to the intransigence of the copyright industry. Napster appeared in June 1999. How long did it take the copyright holders to allow a business model for that sort of thing?
...but all of this progress is threatened in a world where 95% of music downloads see no reward going to the creator.

No it isn't. The development of useful tools like Last FM or Spotify or iTunes or Muxtape or YouTube isn't hampered at all by the question of rewards to the "creator". The problem is when copyright intermediaries attempt to set an idiotic rate of reward, closing a legitimate, well-intentioned service and encouraging the growth of unlicensed versions instead.

By the way, McGuiness means copyright holder when he talks about creators; it's so much easier to appeal to the masses if you picture a songwriter with a guitar and a head full of dreams rather than a person in a suit who is clutching a tightly-worded contract. Actually...
Critics who speak of the victims as "fat record and film companies" are evoking tired caricatures, which I don't believe the majority of people today accept – certainly not those who have recently spoken to an aspiring music professional, a film producer, a TV researcher or the owner of an independent music label.

What critics speak of "victims" as "fat"? It's very easy to kick down your opponent's stereotypes when, erm, they don't use them.

As an example: Paul McGuinness' supporters are totally wrong when they caricature those who disagree with them as giant space wasps intent on stealing the world's jam. It simply isn't true.

More seriously, if Paul McGuinness believes he's talking to someone who holds copyrights when he talks to TV researchers, he's either got a hugely romantic view of how TV works, or he might also believe people who want all artists rewarded at a fair rate rather than a few, favoured acts given supernormal sums are, in fact, giant wasps. From space.
You only have to look at the sharp fall in the share of new album releases accounted by French artists in the last four years to see the damage that is being done.

What? Not only does McGuinness decide to not bother illustrating this claim with any actual figures, he doesn't even bother to explain what figures he's alluding to. Share of what accounted for by French artists? Total albums worldwide?

And - let's assume he does have some figures - if there are proportionally fewer albums being released by French artists (in France?) that may or may not have anything to do with unlicensed file-sharing. It could be that there are more Anglophone acts being released by major labels - acts like, oooh... what's that Irish band called again? The one that Paul McGuinness manages? It could be that the French market wants fewer local acts.
There are clearly people who oppose the new law, but I have not heard of any viable economic alternative to the system now being introduced, committing ISPs to helping protect copyright.

Oh, it sounds so lovely when you put it like that, doesn't it? There are viable economic alternatives to making everyone with broadband accounts pay through their phonebills to protect the unsustainable old business models of companies who wish to try and apply vinyl logic to a digitally distributed world. And perhaps there would be other viable options if the music industry hadn't spent the last decade trying to protect the past in the face of an unstoppable present.

Work out a viable model. Accept you're not going to be able to milk people any more. That's your job.
The only other proposals offered look like solutions produced for the laboratory, not for the market place.

No, Paul. You really don't get it, do you? The scarcity value of recorded music has fallen; that is the reality of the market place. That's why you're cheering the French government for introducing a state control to try and stop the market price of music from imposing itself.
In fact, the appeal of the creation and internet law is its balance and proportionality. Far from repressing freedoms as some of its critics charge, the graduated response approach goes out of its way to be fair and to respect the rights of internet users.

A household in which a single member is accused of downloading three unlicensed tracks will be cut off from its connection to news, to information; to vital health data; blocked from communicating with friends overseas, and employers at home. It is fair in precisely the same way that walling up a family if a kid steals three times Sainsburys is fair.
A system of escalating warnings, with the ultimate deterrent of temporary internet disconnection for the wilful lawbreaker, is a transparent and proportionate way of influencing consumer behaviour. And it has absolutely nothing to do with a surveillance society.

An unlicensed download could, within 45 minutes, destroy London. There is no "ultimate deterrent", there is only one, punitive measure.

And private companies - a US media organisation, a Japanese electronics concern, the people who run German motorway service stations - having the power to disconnect entire households from the internet: how can that be fair?
This is also a dramatic improvement on the old, unworkable solution of mass lawsuits against individuals – a policy that was pursued by record companies in the past, and to which I was always strongly opposed.

Paul didn't like the idea of those lawsuits. He was going to use his position and influence to make speeches against the very idea but... well, there were designs for towers to be signed off, trouser-based lawsuits to pursue... he always meant to send a letter saying 'they won't work' before they didn't work... but you know how it is.
That is why, by engaging with and obliging ISPs to deal concretely with infringement on their networks, the French government has made such an enlightened step forward.

So lawsuits don't work - but why does it then follow that it's the ISPs duty to police your content for you? It's like the cops finding that they can't stop shoplifting, and so place the onus on the manufacturers of coats to find out what people are hiding in their pockets.
The internet needs the protection of sacred freedoms, yes – but, as in real life, it also needs rules, and ones that can be practically enforced. The answer doesn't lie in thousands of lawsuits. It does, I believe, lie in a sensible strategy whereby ISPs prohibit illegal use of their networks, and actually enforce those rules.

Those lawsuits are expensive and don't work - so let's pass those costs on to people with internet accounts instead. That way, when it still doesn't work, at least we won't have spent the money. And people will hate BT and Orange instead.
Another simple but crucially important judgement by the government has advanced this process – namely that ISPs were not going to offer this cooperation without being required to by law.

That's how you can tell it's a great idea. If you have to force people to do something under threat of legal punishment, that just goes to show how morally right it is.
That is not because ISP chiefs are bad people, it is because it is impossible to imagine any of them voluntarily conceding to steps that could put them at a commercial disadvantage to their competitors. Legislation to require a pan-industry solution was the right step, and a visionary one.

Hang about, though, Paul - a commercial disadvantage? Are you suggesting that this plan might not, actually, be a wonderful protection of everyone's rights, but instead reflect a massive cost to the ISPs (and, thus, their customers?)
It is clear some still have concerns, but in many cases these are being enormously exaggerated.

Yeah, it's not like you can't trust the record companies not to abuse their powers - after all, it's a good couple of years since they were found guilty of colluding to keep record prices artificially high, and then stuck to the letter but not the spirit of the deal they cut to put things right by sending a bunch of old unsaleable shit to libraries and schools across the US, isn't it? Or had to be sued to actually give their artists a fair share of money being made on CDs because for years they told the suckers it was an expensive, risky thing to release a CD so they couldn't give such a high royalty.
If we believe that artists' rights need respecting and that musicians deserve to be paid – as surveys show the vast majority of people do – then we should defend their rights in practice and not just in words.

Ah yes. Surveys. What do the surveys say the public feel about the idea of three strikes rules, Paul? Paul? Hello?
I believe a society that cares about creators' rights should not shy away from enforcing the law that protects them.

But didn't you just say you didn't agree with the RIAA when it enforced the laws that protected these "creators" rights? And isn't this about making up new laws to try and adjust the market value of recorded music?
The French government should be congratulated – it is proposing a law that is a workable solution to the problem of online piracy.

Except for anywhere else in the world.

Still, a round of applause for the French government in promoting the interests of data encyption and the creation of darknets.
It has brought together ISPs and content industries in a way that will effectively protect music and film rights, while respecting important consumer freedoms. There is a crucial lesson here for governments all over the world.

It's a pity that McGuinness couldn't share any way that telling everyone they must pay higher broadband bills to cover the costs of private media companies' copyright protection represents "important consumer freedoms", but let's just take him at trust, shall we?

Still, someone from the U2 organisation flattering a right-wing President and telling him that his flawed ideas are, actually, signs of genius. That's something you don't see every day.


3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Aha! So that's why McDonalds is the only place that's hiring around the Lyon area, even though people could find much cheaper places to eat (unlike in the US). Every time I'm there, the lines are insane and everyone who'd found a place to sit has a laptop out. Really, how does this law apply to hot spots? Or what if someone's stealing your internet? A macbook can catch a connection if you park close to a building.

Andrew said...

The answer is to have a two-tier internet: a basic-rights layer, with only public information websites and approved commercial sites and a strict ban on user-generated content (including email), and a layer requiring authentication and identification, to which copyright violators' access privileges can be revoked. Which, of course, is completely against the way the internet operates now, but I can see it being introduced somewhere in the world within the next five years, and U2 hailing it as an example of leadership.

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