Steve Redmond on the real story behind that controversial speech on copyright

Monday June 30, 2014

It would be true to say that ERA DG Kim Bayley's speech on copyright and licensing last week was not received with unalloyed joy by the music industry Establishment. Some of the language used to describe it was rather ripe to say the least. 

But reading the text - you can see it here - it's hard to see what the fuss is about. Its core premises seem self-evident. Although, credit where credit's due, things are considerably better than they were - streaming being a prime and positive example - the music industry clearly was and arguably still is slow in coming to terms with new technology. Licensing for digital services in Europe clearly is overly-complex compared with physical retailing. And there have to be opportunities to improve copyright law.

In fact Bayley's central argument that copyright law designed for a pre-digital age of sheet music and plastic discs needs to be updated is repeated almost word-for-word in a recent submission by the RIAA to the US Copyright Office.

To be clear, not everyone has been critical of Bayley's intervention. A stream of emails and calls to the ERA office, not just from members, but from artist and manager organisations have been overwhelming positive.

The explanation for the violent reaction from content owners is at least in part attributable to shock at the idea that retailers should have anything to say about copyright at all. For decades this has been a debate record companies and music publishers and collection societies have pretty much had to themselves. In that sense last week's kerfuffle is akin to that when the Music Managers Forum first came into being. Historically retailers have never taken an independent line on copyright, but there's a simple reason for that: in the physical world there was no need, not least because the relevant copyright law was designed for a physical age and worked pretty well.

Digital services in contrast only exist at all through licensing relationships based on copyright law. And many services feel the status quo is not working. Over the past months as the European Commission has conducted its consultation into copyright, they have watched bemused - and with increasing frustration - as one content owner organisation after another has lined up to declare that the current copyright regime is pretty much beyond improvement.

It was that frustration which formed the background to Bayley's intervention.

My sense is that digital services do not want a revolution, but they do feel the content industry has to wake up to some very real problems.

The important thing now is to get beyond the name-calling and frustration and see if the two sides can find common cause.

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