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 Even then, services like YouTube can find their deal withdrawn, terms like those for Spotify require equity to be handed over, or as with Napster, their users are forced to put up with DRM.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.


Comments (9)

  1. Stefan Isendahl:
    Sep 21, 2009 at 02:18 PM

    It's probably a bit of a shock to politicos, having someone talk sense to them - but how big a 'contribution' to their election fund are you going to make?
    Oh, hang on a minute - MANDELSON WASN'T ELECTED.

  2. Craig:
    Sep 21, 2009 at 03:20 PM

    Will public licences mean an even more localised internet? For example, would someone in Sweden, Russia or the USA be able to access a site based in the UK, to listen or purchase music? I can't see the music industry allowing this, and this is the danger in using existing laws and rules. Even with services like Spotify, you will still find "Content not available in your region" from time to time.

  3. cyberdoyle:
    Sep 21, 2009 at 01:27 PM

    great that you managed to get to policy makers, with a bit of luck they will get IT and move the agenda forward instead of making a false move that will put it all back a step. We need to rethink the whole business and bring it up to date, with fair rules for all, and then it will just work and be accepted. Currently we are using an obsolete system that is open to abuse. We need it to be done right, and by working together there is a better chance it will succeed. Kudos.

  4. Jim Killock:
    Sep 21, 2009 at 03:37 PM

    Hi Craig

    That is already the case, yes. Part of it depends on what deals are struck. Some deals would encompass all activity, some deals wouldn't. Pan-European licensing would help some of the problems too.

  5. William:
    Sep 21, 2009 at 03:38 PM

    Well done. Sounds like constructive engagement.

  6. Steve:
    Sep 22, 2009 at 01:16 PM

    It's only Peter Jenner's loony compulsory license idea.

    "Peter said that many industry executives are reportedly beginning to accept that a public license is the only option that makes sense."

    Care to name one, Peter?

    The problem with legislation that confiscates the assets of music companies (Jenner would probably prefer "nationalising") is that it would breach international law, with retaliation likely for the UK across different sectors of intellectual property.

    Tamiflu, or a public license? Hmm. Hard to see UK ministers thinking for long about it.

  7. Jim Killock:
    Sep 22, 2009 at 03:12 PM

    A public license, or online music licenses that are available on reasonable and non-discriminatory terms, are what we discussed.

    Radio stations currently buy a 'public license' to broadcast music. They don't have to negotiate with labels, they simply pay according to standard terms.

    Public licenses have been established in the USA to cover radio and cable tv to name but two examples.

    ORG doesn't want to suggest how to run online music businesses. But we feel it is fair to say that the real debate should be between which of many license models would best monetise music on the net - rather than a fruitless debate about punishing people.

    Changing user behaviour is best done by carrot, not stick, and even P2P services could be legitimised with the right licensing models, as they already have been in the USA Choruss example.

  8. Steve:
    Sep 22, 2009 at 04:15 PM

    Encouraging licensed services is a positive step and I agree with your goals Jim.

    "Radio stations currently buy a 'public license' to broadcast music. They don't have to negotiate with labels, they simply pay according to standard terms"

    That's because US radio stations do not pay a royalty for master rights - a very unusual arrangement. Surely you are not suggesting digital music services do not need to pay master rights holders either?

    I presume the royalty you refer to is the mechanical rate which is a statutory rate collected for publishers by the Harry Fox Agency.

    This is set by a bureaucrat after industry negotiations. Again, is this something ORG is advocating too? Or like the EFF do you prefer voluntary market-led arrangements rather than backroom deals?

    The ORG response while positive in its recognition that rights holders are important stakeholders is extremely confused, If more than five minutes has been spent thinking about this it is not apparent. This makes the group look naive and badly briefed.

  9. Jim Killock:
    Sep 22, 2009 at 04:57 PM

    We do indeed *prefer* voluntary, market led solutions, and we don't wish to determine the solution that works best for the recorded music industry.

    We've simply pointed out that a number of online licensing models are emerging in different jurisdictions.

    Our point is quite simple: illicit downloading can be cut drastically by licensing the services consumers want.

    But it really is up to the industry to prove that they can do this. The fact that we are in a battle with industry lobbyists pressing for harsh copyright enforcement measures, who are simultaneously not managing to introduce new licensing deals, does not fill me with confidence.

    What we need in this debate is some direct answers to the licensing problems. I'd be very happy to hear what your answers to this are.