Wednesday, October 12, 2005


The constant whining of the record companies isn't just restricted to the rock and pop wings of the organisations. The classical music parts of the label are also given to sobbing into their tissues, given the opportunity. EMI and "other labels" have complained to John Whittingdale, chair of the House of Commons select committee on culture and media that the BBC didn't "ask the label's permissions" before embarking on their Beethoven downloads lthis summer:

The BBC has been accused of failing to consult the UK record industry before launching the hugely successful free downloads of the complete Beethoven symphonies earlier this summer.

[Whitingdale said] " in Beethoven week there were 1.4m free downloads at a time when record companies are saying that people should pay for music and the archive trials are going ahead without any market impact assessment.

"The inference is that you are not treading carefully but having a dramatic impact on a number of small and fledgling concerns."

Yes, that would be EMI, one of the four largest record labels in the world that are amongst the "small and fledgling concerns" that Whittingdale is speaking up for - will nobody think of the fledgling companies barely able to count their profits in tens of million quids?

The moaning seems to at least make a degree of sense, until you twist the question the other way round: if the BBC decides to give us, who fund it, recordings it has funded with our money, why should it ask the permission from anyone else? Why should we assume that something like a Beethoven concerto should be something we pay a third party for?

We could, of course, leave the commercial sector to build its market, but even Whittingdale's own arguments seem to show the weakness of this idea:

The complete symphonies were downloaded 1.4m times in the two weeks they were made available in June, a figure record company executives say would take "upwards of five years" for an equivalent commercial CD to achieve.

In other words, the BBC managed to persuade a million people to have a go at classical music, in the space of a few days, opening a million ears to the world of Beethoven they may never have sampled before. Perhaps not all of them will then go straight down HMV to try a bit of Brahms, but some of them, surely will. The music industry, much given to ripping off its features to better spite its own face, would rather not have had this massive educational and popularisation exercise take place. They might be in a ghetto, but it's their ghetto.

You'll notice that the book retailing industry seem less concerned about the BBC's planned Shakespeare season coming up later this year.

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