Copyright Dilemma, The Internet, and The Music Industry vs. The People

Since the emergence of the Internet, the music industry has fought a losing battle – copyright.  As a musician, I have a unique vantage point understanding the music industry’s complaint over file sharing, copyright infringement, and how the internet has amplified these habits.  And, they are habits.

As a musician, I, technically, hold all the rights to any sound recordings I make and musical works I compose.  As a music listener, I am given a license, like computer software, to listen to any CD purchase or MP3 (purchased) download.  As a music listener, I have no rights to redistribute, use or share any musical content created by others.  Copyright protects ownership of “intellectual property” or created content; at least that is what the law was designed to do.

I think it is fair to presume that everyone, in one capacity or another, has broken copyright – whether copying music, books, or magazine articles.  A few bands have made it famous because of file sharing. (Do I have to say Metallica? Of course, technically it was tape sharing.)

But the issue is much more complex.  People believe they have the right, even if they don’t.  And, the music industry wants to change that perception.

The Debate

Last week, I came across a story posted on CNET discussing the debate between the music industry and the people.  CNET posted the following:

Representatives of songwriters and the recording industry faced off against open Internet advocates at the Future of Music Coalition’s Policy Day here in Washington, demonstrating the entrenched divisions that remain within Democratic constituencies over copyright issues.

While the public interest group Public Knowledge disputed the meaning of Net neutrality with the Recording Industry Association of America, the Songwriters Guild of America butted heads with YouTube over how to ensure that songwriters receive royalties for online videos.

These two factions are acting like rams butting heads with each other and neither side is willing to walk away or give in to the other.  It doesn’t seem like attitudes will change anytime soon based on the discussions that took place.

I seriously doubt that people are going to change their habits of downloading and sharing music online.  In fact, as music sales shift from the store to online, people will inevitably continue to copy and share music online amplifying the issue. If this is the case, then the music industry may be left with little choice to but concede to the people and change.

The Pot Is About To Boil Over…

Where the music industry got it wrong is when it began to fight with the very same people it depended on.  Without fans, musicians wouldn’t survive.  In fact, the music industry wouldn’t exist. As a result of the music industry attacking fans, an interesting dynamic has taken shape, best summarized by Seth Godin: “If you’re going to go to war with tens of thousands of your customers every year, don’t be surprised if they start treating you like the enemy.”

In a more recent article, Godin summarized what the industry should have been doing all along.  Focus on music making and empower fans, not fight them!!

The music industry is really focused on the ‘industry’ part and not so much on the ‘music’ part. This is the greatest moment in the history of music if your dream is to distribute as much music as possible to as many people as possible, or if your goal is to make it as easy as possible to become heard as a musician. There’s never been a time like this before. So if your focus is on music, it’s great. If your focus is on the industry part and the limos, the advances, the lawyers, polycarbonate and vinyl, it’s horrible.


music labels used to be in the business of grabbing shelf space, on the radio and in the record store. Now, the music industry needs to realign and be in the business of finding and connecting and leading groups of people who want to follow a musician and connect with the other people who want to do the same…(Source: Godin Blog)

Although, Godin is right in many ways, he skirts around the root of this entire situation – compensation.  As a musician, if I produce and album, then I expect to be compensated for me work.  That is really what the industry is concerned about.  Musicians need to make a living too.

So, if musicians should empower fans and fans aren’t planning on changing their file sharing habits, then what should the music industry do change how it is compensated?

A New Way of Thinking: Changing Industry Compensation

A  day after tthe CNET story was published, Gerd Leonhard, a media and music futurist, posted an interesting presentation with an innovative proposition for the music industry to consider.  Here is the presentation and audio:

At its core, Leonhard’s proposition eliminates the need to have Internet Service Providers police people’s online activity, but instead empowers fans while getting compensated.

Beyond this recommendation, musical acts like Nine Inch Nails and Radiohead have experimented with what happens when offering free music.  By all accounts, both experiments succeeded proving that Leonhard’s recommendation could be the answer the industry is searching for.

The only way the music industry will evolve is if it better adapts to the situation at hand.  I fully appreciate that musicians and businesses want to get compensated, but attacking fans isn’t the answer.  The industry needs to continue to explore more innovative options.  The story has a long way to go before it ends.

I’d love to hear what you all think.

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One comment on “Copyright Dilemma, The Internet, and The Music Industry vs. The People
  1. As a musician myself, I have thought quite hard about this. I personally don’t see a dilemma. There is a way to make owning a physical copy of your CD more valuable to your fans (no, I’m not going to discuss it here). As for filesharing, the more people your fans pass on your work to, the more fans for you they will recruit. This translates into compensation in all kinds of peripheral ways.

    The music industry has to take its minds off of CD sales, and internet sales, and focus on a different business model. There are plenty of businesses around to learn from and my very small ensemble has plenty of ways of making money without worrying in the slightest about filesharing or CD ripping; in fact, the more, the merrier! The music industry needs to take their head out of the sand, look around, and rethink what business will be in the 21st century.

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