Put the leader of Sweden’s Pirate Party in the same room as a bunch of music industry executives and you can expect fireworks. That’s exactly what happened as the music industry seminar In The City began in Manchester today.
Opening this year’s event with a chance for a self-proclaimed pirate to discuss his manifesto was a controversial move. Rumour has it that one major label threatened to ban its staff from attending the debate.
The Pirate Party famously won a seat in the European Parliament earlier this year, but few know exactly what they stand for. In a speech grandly entitled ‘Shelters or Windmills’, leader Rick Falkvinge described his party as a “Civil liberties movement” aimed at protecting the privacy of citizens both online and offline.
He argued that music should be free, with money made by attaching additional value to it. He gave the example of Evian and Volvic – they do pretty well out of taking something free (water), bottling it and selling it at a profit. People can still get their water free if they choose.
When it comes to specific policies, they can be boiled down to this:
- Deep Packet Inspection and any other methods of ‘looking inside’ the data being transmitted by individuals is wrong, just like it’s illegal to intercept mail in the postal service.
- ISPs should be immune from prosecution for what’s sent through their networks, just like the postal service isn’t prosecuted for moving illegal drugs.
- Individuals have a right to privacy online and offline
- Copyright should only apply to commercial work – bedroom remixers and mashup artists shouldn’t have to ask permission to release their work unless they want to charge for it.
- Finally, and most controversially, copyright on any song, film or any other creative work should be just five years. That would mean artists would only be able to earn a living from their music for five years before the song became public property.
It’s this final point that caused a stir. Until then the on-stage panel and assembled music industry had listened politely. Most had actually agreed with much of what The Pirate Party was proposing, but only five years to make money from music? It was too much for Dave Smith, manager of artists including Mr Scruff, who angrily declared “If this was the middle ages I’d burn you at the stake”.
Medieval violence aside, it’s true that The Pirate Party’s policies do seem a little half-baked. While they supportl an individual’s right to copy music as much as they want, they haven’t thought much about how artists get paid.
When asked how musicians could make money once their five year copyright term had expired he replied that it was simply muscians’ “entrepreneurial challenge”. He may have a point to a degree, but it did smack a little of “We really don’t care”, with a vague notion that voluntary donations from fans will fill the gap.
One encouraging thing that became apparent during the panel debate was that there’s a growing view within the music industry that the only realistic way forward is to find a compromise between the desires of fans and the demands of the industry.
Maybe we’ll find a way out of this mess yet.