JIm Urie issues a call to action to shut down pirate sites. I vomit a little in my mouth.

I don't know where our readers stand on the subject of music piracy. I must say, with the plethora of online sites out there like We7, YouTube, MySpace, etc, there are ample ways to listen to music without resorting to the old BitTorrent client.

So, I was surprised to get an email from Jim Urie the other day. Never met him before, but it seems that I'm included in a mass mail campaign to educate people on the evils of piracy. But he's the CEO of Universal Music Group Distribution, one of the largest music companies in the world. Clearly Mr. Urie, or whoever added me to his list, has neglected to read my thoughts on the music industry and my support for the Sounds Like A Revolution campaign.

I'm sharing the contents of the email here because the wording disgusts me. You know, I would respond to it more if it were written by the owner of an independent label, rather than a megabucks organization with a huge number of big artists on its roster. You see, I'm a big fan of artists getting paid their fair dues, but when you scale things to the heights of Universal Music Group, I tend to be less sympathetic.

Anyway, have a read of this and tell me what you think:

The music business is facing huge challenges from piracy and theft. Never before in American history has an entire industry been so decimated by illegal behavior.  Yet the government has not responded in a meaningful way to help us address this crisis.  My call to action is for all of us to become more aggressive in lobbying our government, more outspoken in drawing attention to the problems caused by piracy and more actively engaged.  We cannot win this fight alone.

Urie goes on to claim that by putting pressure on ISPs, the government can help boost record sales, and then repeats his call to action:

Join me in calling on our elected officials to fight piracy.  Please help by forwarding this email to your colleagues, friends– everyone who loves music.  And consider enlisting your entire company to help in this fight.  Then by clicking on the link below a message will be sent to your representatives in Washington.  Help us launch a viral campaign to cut off access to the online sites that are used to steal our music, our property and our jobs (emphasis added).  It only takes a second but it can make a tremendous impact.

Now, hold on here. All we need are some pictures of impoverished record company execs swatting flies off their faces as they try to peddle the latest Beyonce record in sweltering heat to feed their kids who are sitting in dirty rags at their feet. Maybe rope Bob Geldof in for an appeal? You idiots. This isn't Ethiopia, this is a huge, multi-national corporation.

What angers me about this type of 'campaign' is that it sets the consumer up as the villain, paints the poor mega-corp as a weak little entity in need of protection from the Government. In reality, you've got a truculent, backward industry who refuse to accept the new market realities that've been thrust upon them.

That's not to say that I don't envy the major labels' position. I see myself as a consumer of music - The Box is the music channel pumping Pixie Lott into my ears at the moment. I'll pick up 80% of my music from there. The rest I get from YouTube or MySpace. By the time the single's spun out of rotation, I'm probably fed up with it anyway. No need to purchase. So how do the music companies make money out of me? They don't.

But I'll say it again, the general health of Universal, or Sony BMG or EMI is not my concern. As a music fan, I just want to hear great music. And funnily enough, Mr Urie (if you're reading this), I have the feeling that the downsizing of your bloated organisations and reduced pay packets for your top execs won't be a bad thing. Because I think it might actually give indie artists and new, unique voices a chance to shine through. Let's face it, how can I care about a company who thinks Justin bloody Bieber is the pinnacle of pop culture?

You're a money machine. Be honest. It's not about a love of music, it's about a love of cash.

Comments

Dara Hickey's picture

Vair good...

Amen to that, Gerard!

sadfair's picture

What is the problem with scale?

You see, I'm a big fan of artists getting paid their fair dues, but when you scale things to the heights of Universal Music Group, I tend to be less sympathetic.

Why is that? Why should acts that choose to sign with Universal Music Group - the vast majority of whom aren't superstars making millions of dollars - be less entitled to protection of their intellectual property than those who sign with your beloved indies? For that matter, why should Beyonce be less entitled to reap the rewards of her work than someone who's less successful? Is there a dollar amount at which you'd propose we cap profits? Will you be the "fair dues" czar, comrade?

More importantly, you left out the really offensive part of Mr. Urie's letter:

Our community has never matched the noise created by those on the “copyleft”

That is, he equates those who violate existing copyrights through unlicensed downloads with those who propose new models of copyright for artists to use. This is a familiar refrain, one recently used by Paul Williams in his role as head of ASCAP, and a great deal more pernicious than a major corporation seeking protection of its property.

Gerard McGarry's picture

I tend to think of it this

I tend to think of it this way - major labels have deeper pockets than indie labels. They're incredibly well structured, they have gigantic marketing budgets to promote their acts and the music of their artists will invariably end up licensed and used in TV shows, movies, advertisements and all manner of other ways.

The indie labels don't have that power, and the artists who end up with them have a much harder time getting heard.

What I'm saying and what you're neatly sidestepping with your 'comrade' nonsense is that Beyonce and Lady Gaga and acts of that calibre will make a fortune on record sales, licensing and tours. I'm saying that compared to a struggling independent act, major label megastars can afford to take some level of collateral damage. They were doing it when we were all circulating cassettes back in school.

Take the time to read around Shout, and you'll see that the community here loves mainstream and indie music. So please don't try and paint us into a communist corner to suit your argument. What I think my friends here will agree with is that we need independent acts to challenge the status quo, innovate and produce new sounds and genres. I mean, if it weren't for the major labels, Ryan Tedder wouldn't have been able to release the same damn song about 6 times.

sadfair's picture

What's enough?

Why should the major labels be subject to any level of collateral damage from those who take it upon themselves to make copies of intellectual property without permission or compensation? Who's to determine when Lady Gaga's income from commercials, perfumes and butcher shops is sufficient to trigger free-for-all downloading of her recorded music? The secretariat of companies that are too big for the common man's taste?

You conflate those illegally sharing files from major label artists with those promoting indie artists. No one's stopped from promoting indie artists, nor is anyone preventing indie artists from marketing their wares. Given the nearly zero cost with which high-quality recordings can now be made and distributed, and the freedom with which artists can directly connect to listeners and buyers, there's never been such a golden opportunity for indie artists to offer their wares.

Are you proposing that we penalize the major labels for their connections and marketing budgets? That the only way for indie artists to gain a fair shake is for people to steal from major labels to limit their ability to outmarket their indie brethren?