This post is from a symposium I took part in for Princeton University.
By Samantha Murphy
As an independent musical artist traversing the waters of the digital age, my greatest desire as we transition into a new Music Industry is for transparency to lead the way.
When we look at history in terms of major label recording contracts, we see that artists have consistently been taken advantage of. I attribute this to the behavior of both the music industry and its artists. It’s difficult to say which came first: the greedy controlling industry or the lazy, victimized artist.
We are in a new time requiring new ideas that reflect the culture of today’s society. Stereotypes no longer apply. Today’s successful artists are tech savvy and very much in control of their own careers. Whether you like it or not (and I happen to love it), the Internet and technology are front and center in today’s world.
As people, we have been given the tools to achieve anything we set our minds to. As artists, there’s nowhere we can’t reach and, for the first time, no one is standing in the way of our fans. The playing field has been leveled and is only limited by our minds. At least, for the moment.
If I were a major record label the Internet would petrify me. It provides everything an artist needs to create and launch their own career single-handedly. Not only that, the artist has control of their own destiny for the first time ever! When you don’t understand something and it’s out of your control, you’re afraid of it. The Major Labels clearly don’t understand the Internet, so it makes complete sense that they would act out of fear.
Very wisely the majors are starting to hire people who do have a clue. One is Jim Griffin, who I respect and with whom I have agreed a lot in the past, recently hired by Warner Bros Records. Another recent notable hire is that of Google’s former CIO Doug Merrill by the flailing EMI Records. My first question is, how much room will these men be given to make changes? Who will be making the final decisions? I think we all know it will not be these men themselves.
Because this symposium is focused on Voluntary Collective Licensing, I will speak directly to the project Warner Bros Records C.E.O. Edgar Bronfman Jr. has hired Jim Griffin to spearhead.
There are three main problems I have with the Warner Bros project:
1. Performing Rights Organizations
Funds will be collected and distributed by ASCAP, BMI, SESAC, SoundExchange et al. Without going too deeply into why this is a problem I will simply state that there is no transparency within these organizations. They cannot be audited.
Their methods of sampling, collection and distribution have nothing to do with reality and they must be revised from the ground up before any pool of money will matter.
2. Control/Net Neutrality
Major record labels have always been in control of this industry and by creating a collective license that’s supposedly voluntary, they are taking control of the industry yet again, as well as adding a new level of power by beginning to control the Internet. Universities and ISP’s know that should they choose not to participate, they will be direct targets for lawsuits.
Consumers will begin to see that as well. Additionally, I agree with Techcrunch’s Michael Arrington that a blanket license will give major labels the authority to feed the public whatever music they like and to have the upper hand over artists reaching their fans directly.
3. Privacy invasion
There will most certainly be a database of those who opt in or out of the license, providing a very concise list of those who choose not to be controlled by or take part in the project. This list will be very easily narrowed down and, once the few who don’t listen to music have been filtered out, those who remain on the list will be tracked and lawsuits will most likely follow.
In agreement with Fred, I’m of the opinion that any blanket licensing must be on a voluntary basis in terms of artists, consumers and ISP’s. However, I do not believe that the project proposed by Warner Bros Records and Jim Griffin is in any way voluntary.
You can call it that, but everyone knows who’s running the show here. Universities and ISP’s will gladly pay a fee to sidestep the wrath of the labels and their lawsuits. This leaves them right back in control of everything:from the top, through the Internet, the PRO’s and all the way down to the artist.