There has been a lot of discussion recently about the stance of musicians on illegal filesharing, often with contradictory reports.
Artists such as Lily Allen and Alec Empire have openly engaged in a debate with fans over the issue, exploring different options and situations to benefit both artists and fans. They say that filesharing is stealing, but reminisce about making radio mix tapes. How can that be a consistent argument? This week the Featured Artists’ Coalition (which some news sources have described as an anti-filesharing organisation) issued the following statement:
We wish to make it clear to all parties that we believe the creative work of artists should be paid for by those who enjoy it and that whenever our music is used, royalties should be paid.
However, we seriously question the wisdom of seeking to deal with this problem by terminating the internet connections of individual music fans. We are not referring to websites that reap commercial benefit from file-sharing: seeking to make money from giving our songs away. We want the industry and Government to come down on those thieving rascals with all the weight of the law.
The focus of our objection is the proposed treatment of ordinary music fans who download a few tracks so as to check out our material before they buy. For those of us who don’t get played on the radio or mentioned in the music media – artists established and emerging – peer-to-peer recommendation is an important form of promotion.
The industry recognises the value of this unpaid-for-promotion and regularly uses free downloads as a marketing tool: for example, there are hundreds of free tracks available on the NME website, including music from Speech Debelle, White Lies, Little Boots and many others. By demanding blanket suspension powers from the Government, the industry is in danger of cutting-off a promotional tool that is of great use to fledgling artists who seek to create a buzz around themselves yet don’t have the financial support of a major label.
We believe there is a lack of accurate, independent research on file-sharing and we call upon the Government and Ofcom to commission some objective research into the subject, and investigate the real value and detriment of the varied effects of substitution and promotion arising from file-sharing.
The potential for self-promotion will be severely hampered if every packet of 1s and 0s sent across the internet has to be searched by the Government for “unauthorised” material. We also believe that such Government intervention, and a corresponding power to demand suspensions of accounts, is only achievable through a wide-scale invasion of personal privacy which we believe would result in a dangerous reduction in the rights to protection of the individual. Putting this power in place would reduce the civil liberties of every one of us in the country in order to afford a disincentive threat to a small minority of ‘egregious offenders.’ We believe this would be both disproportionate and unenforceable.
All this begs the question, ‘so if we don’t suspend those who download illicit material how are we going to make a living?’ This brings us to the crux of our argument. The FAC was formed earlier this year because we are concerned that decisions are being made within our industry without input from, or in consultation with, the artists who are on the front line of this debate – decisions that will seriously impact on the ability of all musicians to make a living in the years to come.
– artists want credit for their work
– they recognise that fans downloading a free “taster” can often benefit the industry in the long term
– they do not want individuals to be punished for sharing and listening to music
– they object to monetisation of their work
– they are against Government intervention.
The FAC pre-existed this recent debate, and was formed to ensure that musicians retained ownership of their music, and fair treatment within the recording industry. There is concern and outrage over the mis-treatment of musicians by record companies, and an increasing number of successful musicians (Prince, Radiohead, Robbie Williams) are bringing production in-house to avoid giving up all rights to their work in exchange for album pressings and media coverage. For them, reform begins with signing a fair contract. The FAC do not seem to care about record labels, business men, or profit. They want to ensure sustainable art is possible in the digital age.
Tomorrow the FAC will hold a debate on file sharing at Air Studios. The event is closed to press and the public.