Music Downloads 10 Years Later
CIMA Board Member Bob D'Eith has penned an op-ed in the Vancouver Province regarding the music copyright bill entitled: We must support this music copyright bill to ensure fair play. To view the piece online click here:
Or to see the full text please see below:
Music Downloads 10 Years Later
Having worked in the music business for twenty years, I have witnessed profound changes. For the most part, these changes have been driven by the massive influence of the internet. Music was hit early on by the phenomenon of file sharing on Peer-to-Peer (P2P) networks due to compression technology and small file sizes. The first big player was Napster, which between 1999-2001 revolutionized the way that the general public consumed music. More than that, Napster started to alter the public’s perception of the monetary value of music. While free Napster was shut down by the courts in the USA, the toothpaste was already out of the tube. No matter how hard the Major Record Labels have tried to fight through copyright infringement actions, the battle has been akin to the “whack a weasel” game. As soon as one infringing website is shut down another pops up.
The main result to the sound recording side of the music business has been a major contraction in sales revenue. The record business has decreased from a $40 Billion to $25 Billion per year worldwide business. These losses have resulted in tens of thousands of lost jobs at the major record companies and the bankruptcy of such Canadian record store institutions as A&B Sound and Sam the Record Man. In turn, this has led to distribution companies going under around the world. While some people would say that there has been a paradigm shift to digital delivery of music and retail is just a casualty of this change, the problem is that legitimate digital sales such as iTunes and Puretracks have not come close to compensating copyright owners and creators for these losses.
There is more to the story though. With a decrease in revenue, the Major Labels now are unable to develop new talent in the way that they used to. This has put incredible pressure on independent labels, managers and studios to develop new artists. In many cases, artists now have to develop themselves. This is a blessing and a curse. Artists have more business savvy than ever before, which is creating a generation of musicians who are less likely to be taken advantage of. The flip side of this is that artists have less time to create and focus on their craft.
Many hail this period as the democratization of the music industry due to the erosion of the major label power to control distribution. The internet allows artists to self-distribute and promote themselves like no other time. Many artists are being discovered on MySpace, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Local artist Jeremy Fisher’s “Cigarette” video made at his home on an iMac for $50 has been viewed by millions of people around the world.
There is another side to the coin. Others see this as the toughest time in recent history for new artists to create careers. Keep in mind that the first artists who were cut from retail stores were the indie artists, not the major label artists. Recent amalgamations and national music control in commercial radio have made it very hard for indie artists to get radio play. Online, how do artists get noticed in the vast sea of websites and artist pages All of these factors need to be taken into account in assessing the business climate for our up and coming creators.
However one falls on the free downloading debate, the reality is that free file sharing is here to stay. Can we do anything to balance the equation For the third time, the Federal Government has introduced a new Copyright Act reform bill which will bring Canada up to date with international WIPO treaty signed in 1996 and give it the flexibility to allow for fair compensation of copyright holders while recognizing consumer needs. Each attempt at reform has failed due to elections and minority governments, but it is essential for creators and the public alike to have clear rules on the use of digital media. Support of this bill is important not only to create new consumer rights, but also to allow for fair compensation to creators in Canada.
Bob D’Eith is the executive director of Music BC and a practicing entertainment lawyer in Vancouver, BC. Bob is also a two- time JUNO Award nominated recording artist.