Dear music industry,
Thank you for inviting me to be the opening speaker at your conference In The City in Manchester, UK. I am inspired by your courage to bring what must be seen as a threat into the midst of your ranks.
I must say it was an eye-opener to experience the industry’s reactions to the pirate perspective; some reactions of support in private, but mostly resentment, anger, and even fury in public. What piqued my interest was not the contrast; such contrasts can be found wherever new ideas gradually win ground, but rather, the immense value you attached to copyright as a concept.
Still, and this is what struck me, I don’t think you’ve ever considered where that value comes from. It comes from legislators. From people like me. The value you attach to copyright shows clearly that it has some form of value, and that value is created in an exchange.
That exchange, quite specifically, is with legislators. In this aspect, legislators are responsible before society for maximizing the culture available (somewhat simplified). The tool for accomplishing that has been to hand out an exclusive monopoly on duplication and public performance to people who create.
This agreement has been executed because you, the music industry, have convinced legislators that no music will be created otherwise.
What struck me is that I believe you fail to see or emotionally acknowledge the existence of this agreement. That you have not one set of intended customers, but two: first, the legislators who give you a monopoly in exchange for creating music to be put on the market, and second, the customers who give you money in exchange for music on that market.
The first transaction, the monopoly, is payment for the service of creating the goods in the first place; the second transaction, monetary, is payment for goods (CDs) or services (concerts, etc).
However, your agreement with legislators, where you used to be the only supplier, has recently come under quite a bit of competition. As it turns out, people are creating music like never before, and they are doing it not because of copyright, but despite copyright. Never before in history has there been as much music available to society. Creative Commons-licensed music and other types of artistic works, just to take one new easily-measured model where creatorsexplicitly reject their already-awarded monopoly, is exceeding your cultural production by magnitudes.
This, of course, brings our agreement into question. If other providers are offering to perform the same service — creating music — without the cost that you have charged, in terms of a life-plus-70-years-monopoly, then we, as the legislators, are going to renegotiate the terms of that agreement.
We won’t be negotiating new terms with you, of course. No, we’ll be negotiating new terms with our new suppliers and just terminate the contract with you, as is the norm in any business.
Dear music industry, you’ve been underbid and outcompeted.
Outcompeted by millions of people who create music simply because they love to do so. They are not demanding any monopolies; in fact, they see them merely as obstacles that divert attention from what they want to do — create even more music — and reject them outright.
The proposal to shorten the commercial copyright term to five years from the date of publication is actually far more than our new suppliers are asking for. But in the name of simplicity, it is desirable to have the same term for all kinds of works, and there are some kinds that require heavy investments, without which that particular type of culture would not have been created. Hollywood blockbusters and computer games come to mind. But the ROI horizon of these are far shorter than five years, so five years of a commercial-only copyright monopoly would be safing on the overly generous side from us legislators.
(Oh and by the way, the exact same reasoning applies to the book publishing industry as to the music publishing industry. More is being written than ever before, not because of copyright, but despite copyright.)
I believe that’s why I found it so odd that some of you were angry with me at the convention. You don’t realize that I’m a customer, in my role as a lawmaker. Your first line customer that, in your model, enables your secondary, monetary market. While it is understandable that you may feel resentment, anger, and even fury at the notion that you won’t get as sweet a deal as before, the fact that you’ve come under competition is indisputable, and no strong emotion is going to save your business. Only a better offer than your (purposely unorganized) competition will do that.
After all, telling your customers to fuck off (to applause!) in a room full of reporters rarely brings you more of those customers’ business, does it?
(Add to this that you are now demanding a higher price from leglislators: the abolition or erosion of society’s civil liberties such as the postal secret, right to trial, right to communicate, messenger immunity, and more, just in order to safeguard the old monopoly at any cost, and the case for changing suppliers is even stronger. This higher price that you are now demanding aggressively is what we have mostly been focusing on; however, your previous offer is far outcompeted, too.)
This letter is free to republish in any shape, form, location or quantity, but please credit the author as such.