Thursday, July 24, 2008

Should bands sue record labels over threat to ban fans?

This is such typical centralised, broadcast thinking. Just exactly what do they think they can control?
The record industry has struck a deal with the six major UK ISPs and the Government to 'deal with' people who illegally share music*.

Deluded fools.

So the second mass media (recordings) is trying to exert control over the sixth (the internet) and the eighth (us)? (image by digitalbear)

How do they propose to do this? Well, they'll send us a stern letter (anyone else see the irony in choosing the post as a delivery mechanism rather than an IM or an email?). Er....and then they'll think about what to do next... Right.

There are a few problems here. I don't have enough life to detail them all, but let's describe the biggies.

1. Nobody owns the internet - least of all the six major UK ISPs. They have no control over what is done on it or by whom or how one node or person connects to another. Their only control is to charge admission. They aren't the only ones to supply access. Others will see a competitive advantage in refusing an invite to this Government-hosted record industry party. Beware the backlash big fellas!
2. Haven't the record companies heard of the because effect? Prince has, Radiohead have, NineInchNails have, and recently (free cd on the Mail on Sunday just before the release of a not free CD) David Bowie has. If you can't make money with content, you can because of it (eg google vs yahoo!). Is the Guardian about to send me a letter insisting I cease and desist from linking to its website because of the link I shared at the top of this post? No it expects the attention I have given it to create value (see also point 4!). Get it?

3. This is a slippery slope. If the Government is so keen to encourage complicity with national laws in respect of music downloads, why not on porn? What if it gets a taste for this control lark? Would anyone use the Government-approved internet?

4. *Thou shalt not promote/recommend to your friends (leveraging your own social graph as the perfect distribution method) or otherwise solicit the sales of our product... is not something I would expect the promoters of artists (that's you, record companies) to demand of my fans.

If I was in a band I'd seriously consider sueing!

The internet changes everything. You cannot expect to impose old ideas of business as usual.
As Clay explains (via Alan) below. Buy Clay's book. It's great. Mind you, so is Alan's.


  1. I'm not particularly in favour of this announcement, but there are, as you say, a few problems here...

    1. Actually they do control everything that's done by their customers, and it's not wholly unreasonable for the government to require them to act when they're aware of illegal activity. The Internet may be outside any jurisdiction, but the ISPs aren't.

    2. That's all well and good when you've got a massive tour to sell tickets for. If you're already selling out on tour, then you just lose money from CD sales. Distributing a free CD just before a not-free CD is no use if everyone will just steal the new CD.

    Linking to the Guardian isn't the same thing - if you'd copied that whole story and posted it here then I expect you could look forward to a cease and desist letter, yes.

    3. There's really no point passing laws if you're not going to enforce them, and indeed they do.

    4. Filesharing isn't promoting, recommending or soliciting sales of a product - it's stealing that product in violation of the artist's copyright (speaking of which, I assume you've got permission to reproduce that picture?). The trend is certainly towards other sources of revenue, but for now as a band I'd want the record label to get my album in the charts, and for now that means selling legal copies.

  2. Hi Steve, always fun when you join the debate!
    1. Isn't what you're describing 'be held responsible for' rather than control? They certainly can't control. They can (however inappropriately) be held responsible.
    2. The because effect works for little guys too. The Arctics are the archetypal example. Linking to the Guardian IS the because effect in full effect - as is google. They have found ways of monetising my attention without charging me at the gate.
    3. Appreciate this is a weak point ;-) but do not like the prospect of a Government controlled internet.
    4. I say tomatoes... more legal copies get sold by more people knowing about x and having x recommended to them (shared with them even) by people they trust. This works way better than any amount of marketing the music industry may attempt to do to us.
    Cassette tapes were, according to the music industry, meant to kill music. They didn't.
    Free copies of books are available on the internet - they result in increased physical sales. And that's without all the spin-offs (ticket sales, memorabilia etc)

    Fred Wilson has a different perspective on this you might enjoy reading today and find more agreeable, too?

  3. I didn't mean that linking to the Guardian isn't "the because effect", I meant that it's not like filesharing. As I said, if you just republished their copy on your site rather than linking to it, then that would be equivalent to filesharing and there would be ceasing and desisting.

    You continue to suggest that filesharing is about recommendations from people you trust, but it's not. Rather, it's about searching for something that you already know you want and downloading a copy from computers that already have it. It's only different from a big central web server full of MP3s because there's no single person to prosecute to shut it down.

    Certainly there's benefit in having your fans include their favourite mp3s in myspace, facebook, blogs, or anywhere else. Here there is recommendation at work, and there's a reason to buy the album if you like the one track that your friend shared. However, that's not what we're talking about here.

    Fred's point that you may be "stealing" something that you would happily buy if it were possible is valid. If you download something that you could have recorded off TV but forgot, that hasn't robbed anyone of a DVD sale. However, surely plenty of file sharing does replace DVD and CD sales, and it's difficult to see how it has a net benefit. You might download an album to decide whether you like a band enough to buy the CD, but you also have no need to then buy the CD anyway. You might recommend the album to a friend, but they don't need to pay for the album either. You might be more likely to want to see them live, but if they're already selling out then they'll only make more money by driving up ticket prices.

  4. Good stuff Steve. To add a little fuel to this one - were you aware that Radiohead are rumoured to have built in additional ticket price cost on their latest tour to account for anticipated loss on sales of their pay-what-you-think-its-worth cd? Its clear ticket prices are being driven up and some are creating artifical scarcity to take advantage of this. That is the other end of the because effect - you make money with the thing that is scarce rather than that which has become abundant (read ubiquitous in the case of music).
    Do take your point re distinction with file sharing and recommendation.
    The better models have both of course.

  5. I find it hilarious when organizations think they can stop freedom.

    Markets will be free when consumers are free.

    In my opinion, if an artist wants to share music freely and monetize in other ways then they should.

    If an artist doesn't want their music shared then they have 3 options:

    1. Realise its possibly going to be shared anyway and live with it

    2. Realise its posibly going to be shared and try and sue your own fans which will demolish your fan base and credibility for ever


    3. Embrace the advocacy effect and facilitate the sharing for even more people

    If I were a professional artist again, I would do EXACTLY what Trent Reznor (Nine Inch Nails) has just done.

    Check it here:


The rate of change is so rapid it's difficult for one person to keep up to speed. Let's pool our thoughts, share our reactions and, who knows, even reach some shared conclusions worth arriving at?