Copyriot: Afterthoughts to our panel on the future of copyright at Re:publica 2012

“I tell you there are no problems, only solutions” (John Lennon, watching the wheels).

Copyright was one of the most prevalent topics at this year’s Re:publica conference in Berlin. However, the common denominator of most discussions around the subject was the lack of solutions and concrete suggestions for moving forward. We are all familiar with the problems, so why are we incapable of constructively working together to solve them?

I am an independent musician. What I can share with you is personal, real life experience. Making a living out of music in today’s diminishing music industry is a tall order. It’s great that we’re finally discussing how to support art more effectively and how established laws need to be adapted to create a sustainable model that’s beneficial to all parties. In order to propose possible solutions, let me clear up a couple of points first:

1. A time of transition

I am what many in the music business refer to as “an artist of the next generation”, which basically means I do all the work myself on no budget and with slim chances of signing a major record deal. Of course I exploit social media as much as I can with the resources that I have and yes, I reap the benefits. As much as I am part of the new world, I also have to be part of the old one. Radio DJs, labels and fans are still not all ‘internet natives’ and I send out soundcloud links and physical CDs accordingly. Turning your back on either one would, at this point, be folly.

2. Dear EVERYBODY, it’s not just about the money

Copyright is not just about money. It’s about protecting your right to control how your work is used and for what. This, in many ways, is the way more important issue. I do not want my music to be used for commercials I have not approved of or to support a cause I do not agree with. Copyright laws protect my work from being abused by other people’s agendas. My songs are very personal and are each a little part of my decentralized self. As an artist, I need some kind of control over what happens to these little pieces of my extended “me” out there in the world. Over the last couple of years I have heard Beatles songs advertising for cars and TV shows – and it makes me shudder every time. The death of copyright is the death of the artist’s integrity.

3. Copyright vs. freedom of the Internet: really?

This is not a Harry Potter story, where none can live while the other survives… A free society is not one without rules. Having shared customs and laws is at the very heart of the definition of society. Surely we can all live together in functional compromise both on- and offline.

I am sure that most of those who are for, or have jumped on the bandwagon of, the abolishment of copyright are not professional content creators. It is widely underestimated just how much of an industry is behind the creation of music and just how much it costs to make it. From studio, to equipment costs, to pure time resources on promotion and booking if you’re an independent artist, or paying your team if you have one – making music does not come cheap. Most people have never even heard of a radio plugger, for example, and how much it costs to have one – so please try and inform yourself or ask before you make assumptions.

4.Copyright money: “it’s not Quatsch”!

One of my fellow panellists mentioned that the income artists receive from copyright is not a considerable percentage of remuneration. This is simply not true and I really wonder where this misinformation comes from. If you compose professionally for other artists, royalties can make up over 50% of your entire income. If I look back on 2011, the money I received from royalties (mostly radio play) was over twice as much as the net-income I had from live shows – and I tour lots.

5. Unconditional income is not the answer to the copyright issue

I am for unconditional income (bedingungsloses Grundeinkommen) and sincerely hope that it will become reality soon. However, this is not the answer to the copyright question. It is after all called ‘unconditional’ income, regardless of whether I am a songwriter or a plumber. The notion that content providers don’t need to be remunerated for their work because their basic living costs are covered by unconditional income is frankly absurd. If I want to contribute to society, I should be rewarded, not penalized. The argument that revenue from live shows / touring should be enough is also not very well thought through. Firstly, not all content creators are also performers (quite obviously) and secondly, unless you’re the Rolling Stones, you can only tour intensively for a certain period of your life. Furthermore, touring only brings in the big bucks if you’re already an established act. For up and coming musicians, you’re doing really well if you’re covering your costs.

6. Understanding exponential

Technology is evolving at an exponential rate and the music and publishing industry are just one of the first business sectors to be disrupted by it. We already had 3D printers at the re:publica conference and we need to fully grasp the impact they will have on all business sectors. Let’s please try to keep the big picture in mind when we discuss the future of the web and copyright. As my fellow panellist Conrad Fritsch already said: “soon you’ll be able to print out your new shoes”.

So what’s the answer?

What’s done is done and cannot be reversed: Ok, so people are now used to getting free music and content. I don’t believe that this can be undone. Of course criminalizing the end users is not the way forward. Educating the audience is more important than summoning them to court cases for downloading music. This makes copyright all the more important: If you can consume it for free you can only use it for your personal enjoyment and not for financial or promotional gain.

Subscriptions may be a way forward. A week before re:publica I got a chance to speak with the head of marking for Island Records. According to him, subscriptions to streaming and download services are a viable way to bring music to consumers while ensuring royalty collection for artists.

In addition to this, I think that streaming services should take a more integrated (on- and offline) approach. I would like to see direct links to “buy the album” or “buy a ticket to see this artist live” in order to help increase a revenue and support stream.

In Germany the GEMA already takes a percentage from CD burners and blank media. If we could extend this to include hard and software, this would cover the artists’ royalties as well as ensure otherwise free consumption of digital music and decriminalization of end users. This does mean that the load is shared and everybody from ISPs to Hardware manufacturers, creators and consumers do their bit to ensure artists are remunerated fairly for their work.

So how do we ensure royalties are distributed fairly? All officially released music has metadata attached to it. Data such as the ISRC code, track name and length, identifies the song, whether it’s downloaded online or played on the radio. The collection agency uses this data to determine usage of the song and then to pay royalties accordingly. This same metadata could be used to determine the percentage of royalties the artist is owed, only difference is that the money comes from the upfront subscription, rather than individual sales. In my view, the tracking of this metadata does not infringe anybody’s freedom or right to anonymity – everything that is created and distributed, be it a packet of juice, a car or a song has some sort of barcode so that the distributor knows how many items have been passed on.

We do need some sort of collection agency. In the UK we have two (at least that I know of), both seem to have a more egalitarian structure than the GEMA. Let’s look at all models out there, determine the points of failure and come up with a better one!

I realize that these solutions are just looking at the now. In the near future we won’t store our music and most software on our hard drive, but will ‘rent it’ via the cloud. It will be interesting to see how this and other technological advancements will impact how we use and distribute music. The suggestions I’ve made are just the beginnings of some possible solutions. I look forward to your thoughts, comments and contributions!

3 Replies to “Copyriot: Afterthoughts to our panel on the future of copyright at Re:publica 2012”

  1. I agree with this but have two small points: some of what you call copyright (eg “I do not want my music to be used for commercials I have not approved of or to support a cause I do not agree with”) is your moral right, which unlike copyright is automatic, and can’t be sold or transferred; and not all commercially available releases have metadata, though they certainly should, and producers (especially small producers) need educating in this respect.

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