September 21, 2009 | Jim Killock

Disconnection: giving some real answers to Mandelson and his staff

Gerd Leonhard, Peter Jenner, Patrick Olszowski and I met with Mandelson’s top level staff today. There was a positive outcome: we agreed to write in order to outline the case for a public license for online music, as exists for radio today.

Gerd is a former producer and music industry futurist; and Peter Jenner is well-known for his forthright and pragmatic views as a music manager, formerly for Pink Floyd and currently for Billy Bragg, and pushed the deal in the Isle of Man that would have introduced a small ‘music access charge’ for users there.

Gerd and Peter made a powerful case for changes to licensing that would make it easy for people to get music online and set up services that people want.

We made the case that the choice is between punishing users and making money: which should be an easy decision to make.

We often hear that these services already exist – but the fact is that licensing makes it more or less impossible for all but the most well-resourced companies to start up services. Even then, services like YouTube can find their deal withdrawn, terms like those for Spotify require equity to be handed over, or as with Napster, their users are forced to put up with DRM.

Under a public license, terms are clear and non-discriminatory. Disputes are resolved by tribunal; in the UK’s case by the Copyright Tribunal. This means anyone can build a business as long as they pay for a license. Currently, only businesses approved by the four majors can hope to start up on the net.

Music licensing on the net is nowhere near as easy as radio or TV, which are supported by public collective licensing.

Gerd outlined some of the deals that are already taking place along these lines, in Denmark, China and Korea, to name but three. Peter also gave a bit of information about Jim Griffin’s Choruss in the USA, which is bringing a license for all music including P2P to college students. Peter said that many industry executives are reportedly beginning to accept that a public license is the only option that makes sense.

We spent more time in this meeting talking about the ways forward, rather than the problems with enforcement. We outlined those problems: sanctions including disconnection are disproportionate, collective punishment and run counter to the government’s own goal of universal access.

But in this meeting, we also tried to put views from inside the music business to talk about the ways out of the problem – most of which will be familiar to people following the Open Rights Group’s work on P2P.

Gerd will be speaking at our event in London on October 2 – he makes an extremely strong case, and I highly recommend you come along.