Category Archives: Mediatech

License to control?

The Digital Economy Bill that is wending its glacial way through the UK parliament has produced an interesting row between the BPI (representing the interests of the major record labels) and the ISPs, telco’s and mobile network operators. They are arguing over who should pay how much to fund remedial measures to clamp down on illegal file-sharing. The BPI is in a tough place since the cheaper they argue the cost will be, the more the ISPs respond by saying “well then you can pay for it.” Minister Stephen Timms recently suggested the split should be 75/25 (with the BPI paying the greater amount).

The irony of this is that few people really believe that these remedies will make a blind bit of difference. Increasingly, the mood of the zeitgeist is that rights owners are wasting their money by trying to control file-sharing. They are neither succeeding in their efforts nor acting with fiduciary responsibility to the content originators whom they are failing to recompense properly.  Their vain efforts at control are merely Canute like attempts to maintain an anachronism of a business model.

The chorus demanding collective licensing of recording rights is growing ever louder. The argument is very simple, instead of spending money trying to stop file-sharing,  simply agree to monetise all the activity that is out there by licensing it, making it legal and charging for it. Essentially, this would create a baseline of revenue through a flat rate subscription which would legalise and remunerate the flow of music around the networks.

The first point in the argument is that a small levy of say £3 per month per subscriber to every UK ISP would generate more than the current £1bn that the recorded music industry earns at dealer price today. It’s of course a moot point and hard to argue without a) trying out a version of it somewhere small and harmless and b) seeking the active cooperation of the ISPs in trying to envisage how it might work.

The second point is that we could build added value services on top of the baseline revenues.  Services like recommendation and discovery engines, market/user analysis and data-crunching, ticket sales and gig guides, digital bundling with physical products, quality of service – higher speed delivery solutions, etc, etc. What’s not to like? And what’s not to recognise – when all of these kinds of products and services are already being offered by up-and-coming businesses out there online?

One objection from the majors to this, of course, is that these kinds of businesses are not owned or controlled by them and they are all broadly based on the presumption of access to all content – not on the nurturing and distribution of some sub-segment of it.  It’s true of course that innovation comes from elsewhere. They don’t own or control these new kinds of companies – although as we’ve seen very publicly with Spotify – the majors do take a stake if the market-entrant foolish enough to seek to jump over the licensing hurdle. The cost of jumping is very high – in cash and in equity.  If we can’t continue to feed our old business model, the majors argue,  how will we nurture and develop new talent? We invest in talent for the UK and make it internationally successful and these new ideas do not support that model, they protest.

The problem is that they are spending a lot of money defending the old model and it’s hard to find evidence of a single major record company investing in new ways of nurturing talent or developing artists careers online or offline. The nature of the recording contract has not fundamentally changed in fifty years – it has simply evolved recently to try to encompass even broader areas of an artist’s creative output.

So what might be the total added value of all these kinds of new services which live on top of the content?  Nobody knows, but clearly the opportunity is very significant. In fact it is so great that, in my view, it exceeds the value of the entire recorded music and live industries put together. After all,  it represents what the architecture of the new digital content industry will look like.

If we can shift from compulsory control (which has failed) to compulsory remuneration (which is highly feasible) then we can allow file-sharers to go crazy in consumption and we can all make money.

Independent labels (like Beggars Banquet and other smaller labels) are increasingly seeing the economic arguments in favour of the new model. The Zelnick report just published in France has recommended it. The UK Music Manager Forum has been calling for it for nearly a year. The UK music industry group called the Value Recognition Strategy group have been planning to trial a version of this on the Isle of Man for about eighteen months, but the major labels and the music publishers have prevented it. Universal music themselves proposed a form of collective license for unlimited downloads to the Virgin Media group for their music service and this has not launched due to the objections of the other major labels.

Running out ahead of the crowd,  a group of thinkers with a great deal of experience and insight into digital media has been proposing this for some time. Myself, Pete Jenner, Gerd Leonhard, Paul Sanders, Paul Hitchman, Matthew Brown and occasionally our cousin Jim Griffin in the US have been meeting for about five years to develop the thinking around this. But we have often felt ourselves to be in the wilderness. Jim has been trying to work through the issues with his Choruss group courtesy of Warner Music in the US but his proposed trials on US university campuses have yet to launch – hopefully we will see some action this year. Meanwhile, the UK Government’s Digital Britain programme has spawned Digital Test Beds which are being managed by the Technology Strategy Board and which may become precisely the kind of platform that could help try out some of these new models in a relatively risk free fashion – and with some public subsidy – how enlightened is that?

Of course all sorts of issues remain unresolved, desperately in need of further practical examination. It’s only when you try things out in the real world that interested unexpected questions surface and can start to be resolved. If a collective license were compulsory how could artists protect their moral rights? On what kinds of grounds would it be legitimate for an artist to refuse permission for their work to be used?  It is perhaps not well understood or recognised, but today’s songwriters, lyricists and composers enjoy the fruits of a compulsory license by law. But should the law be reviewed for other matters? What is the relationship between the statutory license fee and the contractual sums agreed between artists and publishers? How do we balance the economic needs of creators against the creative competition of the market place? Perhaps artists should be arguing for statutory minimum royalties for any contract – over and above which publishers could offer premiums according to the status and value potential of the artist? What kinds of new agency should we establish that could collect and administer royalties appropriately and with the lightest touch enabled by technology? How could we group rights together using their meta-data tags so that they can be handled with the maximum efficiency and rights owners can get paid in real time – not with the kind of 15% overhead charge and six month delays that are the norm among current collecting agencies?

The Digital Economy Bill has not helped any of these discussions surface. It has sought to listen to the high cost lobbying efforts of the incumbents and paid little attention to long view policy proposals.  It has found political expediency in the short termism of the big business driven by quarterly results rather than really trying to place the country’s long term benefit at the forefront of its objectives. Perhaps the time is right to turn to Brussels for hope in this area with its broader perspective and more radical agenda – despite the bureaucracy and opacity of process – maybe change can be effected across all of Europe?

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Quotes from TED Global 2009 – Oxford, England

spreading ideas worth spreading

quotes from speakers at TED Global

“Globalisation will lead to a new Renaissance, a huge opportunity for innovation. But there are also two huge problems. Firstly, those who are left out and excluded. Secondly, managing growing complexity which leads to systemic shock (eg current recession, swine-fever, etc).” Ian Goldin

“Afghanstar, Poet of the Millions, the unintended consequences of Britain’s got Talent, in Asia and the Middle East, Reality TV is driving reality.” Cynthia Schneider

“Sound can be like a bowl of spaghetti,  sometimes you just have to eat it and see what happens.” Julian Treasure

“Regret factors associated with cyber warfare threat could be equivalent to weapons of mass destruction.” Guy-Philippe Goldstein quoting US military

“It is better to be sometimes cheated, than not to trust.” Samuel Johnson quoted by Susan Kish

“Today, the information monopoly is broken, so brands need to find a place for themselves in this swirling mimetic environment.” Andy Hobsbawn

“The pain of psychological death + the pleasure of beating yourself = hunger in paradise.” Rasmus Ankersen

“The opposite of snobbery is your mother.” Alain de Bothon

“The trouble with our meritocracy is that in the 21st Century people own their own success, but they also own their own failure.” Alain de Bothon

“Obsession made my life worse and my work better.” artist quoted by Stefan Sagmeister

“Super massive black holes represent the breakdown of our understanding of the physical universe.” Andrea Ghez

“I found a dead fly and plucked a hair off its head to make a paint brush. I would never do that to a live insect.” William Wigan, micro sculptor

“Mirrors would do well to reflect a little longer before sending back images.” James Geary quoting Jean Cocteau

“In Mexico, the Indians played music to stay in touch with their ancestors, but in Africa they play to stay as far from the grave as possible.” Mark Johnson

“The internet can be characterised as random acts of kindness by geeky strangers.” Jonathan Zittrain

“Work places and institutions are preventing our efforts to use technology to create greater intimacy between ourselves.” Stefana Broadbent

“What’s wrong with placebo’s? They have very few side effects and most of those are purely imaginary.” Rory Sutherland

“As an adman, I think of saving as consumerism needlessly postponed.” Rory Sutherland

“Bio-diversity is collapsing, mass extinction is taking place in our fiels without anyone noticing. You don’t look a corn seed in the eye, as you might a panda bear, but we still need seedbanks.” Cory Fowler

“Leaving something unfinished makes it incomplete and gives one the feeling that there is room for growth.” 14th Century Japanese essay on idleness quoted by Marcus Du Santoy

“Some stars have swallowed their planets.” Garik Israelian

“People could stroll and get their learn on. People could come to this sidewalk garden and chillax.” Candy Chang

“What do scientists do if paradigms fail? They carry on as nothing had happened, saying yes I know it’s wrong, but if it were right…?” Elaine Morgan

“African students study under streetlights at the aiport because they have no electricity at home.” Paul Romer

“3% of arable land is taken up by the world’s current cities inhabited by 3bn people.” Paul Romer

“80% of traded food is controlled by 5 multinational companies.” Carolyn Steel

“40 cities represent 90% of the world’s wealth.” Parag Khanna

“Dry areas cover over 1/3rd of the earth’s surface.” Magnus Larsson

“In India, 62% of all injections given are unsafe.” Mark Koska

“90% of the feature requests for features in Word – are already in Word.” Aza Raskin

“Organised crime represents 15% of global GDP.” Misha Glenny

“40bn batteries are disposed of every year.” Eric Giler

“Only 3% of GDP is invested in technology R&D annually” Geoff Mulgan

“Life is a series of things you’re not quite ready for.” Rob Hopkins

“Design is a priesthood wearing black polo neck sweaters and designer glasses. Design is too important to be left to designers.” Tim Brown

“I wanted to know what had turned my best friend into a terrorist and why she had not tried to recruit me.” Lorreta Napoleoni

“The music makes my therapy, I have no advisor, no one to talk to, music helps my imagination.” Emmanuel Jal

“To change the world, using no resources, use music.” Ross Lovegrove

“Tritium is bred from lithium, using the neutron.” Steve Cowley

“In ballooning we understand that winds, at different altitudes,  blow in different directions. So in life, if we want to change direction, we need to reach different levels and to do this we have to throw things overboard, we have to get rid of a lot of ballast, certainties, dogmas, paradigms.” Bertrand Piccard

“The empires of the future are the empires of the mind.” Winston Churchill quoted by Richard Bernstein

“Always take ‘no’ as a question not an answer.” aphorism quoted by Geoff Mulgan

“We are here on earth to help others, what on earth the other are here for I have no idea.” John Lloyd quoting W H Auden

“Ice is the canary in the global coal mine.” James Balog

“If we refuse a single story and know that there are many stories, then we regain a kind of paradise.” Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

“Roman military expeditions were just one long shopping spree really.” Carolyn Steel

“Architecture is retrofitting the world to our needs.” Bjarke Ingels

“There is a severe mismatch between what science knows and what business does.” Daniel Pink

“The musical work is in your head, conductors are building the roller coaster with sound as the orchestra plays.” Itay Talgam

“We are doing nothing, because we want to see what is the inner point of all the difference.”  Brother Paulus Terwitte

Piracy, Pirate Bay and the Pirates’ Pirate

A few weeks ago, on a sunny spring evening in Stockholm, a friend of mine asked me to come and have dinner with a guy who he thought I might find interesting. We arranged to meet at a fabulous old restaurant located high above the city, looking out over the water – over the original Pirate Bay itself in fact.  As we went up in the rickety elevator reached through a rather down-at-heel office building, my friend turned to me and said: “Oh yes, by the way, he has an interesting idea, he wants to buy Pirate Bay.”

We sat down and were shortly afterwards joined by Hans Pandeya. A native Swede, Hans comes from an Asian Indian family and spent several years working in Sydney Australia before returning to his native Sweden.  His current company specialises in running internet cafes in various locations around the world. Hans is clearly an entrepreneur in the classic mould. We spent the evening discussing the pros and cons of the deal, the way in which it might look like a repeat of the Napster scenario, how we might avoid that and what my partner and I might do to help with a little scheme we were hatching.

I explained to him at length that whatever he thought he was buying, if he changed the service to one that pays rights owners  and charges users – almost by definition – the users would flee – en masse.  All that he would really be able to buy is the brand.


piratebay

And a brand whose values and business model are radically altered from what they were built from is a decidedly diminished asset.

Not to mention the lawsuits – the current one – and the ones that haven’t woken up yet…


Nonetheless, Hans remained determined. For a start, the tax benefits of one Swedish business investing in another might mean that he would only end up paying 50% of the asking price – so his investment is not $7.8m but nearer to just under $4m. Secondly, Hans felt certain that if the Pirate Bay had 100 million users and that only 10% of them stayed with the brand, then there was a great business to be built. My partner and I disagreed, but we had an interesting and enjoyable meal and as the sun set over the winking waters of the bay , it was clear that Hans was determined to go ahead with his plan. We wish him luck.

File-sharing and Digital Britain – the fall-out

As he stood in the Royal Society of Arts’  Great Room, adorned by James Barry’s celebrated paintings The Progress of Human Knowledge and Culture on the upper walls, I wondered whether Stephen Carter’s work had afforded us any real progress in either knowledge or culture. The final Digital Britain report feels more like the usual mangled series of ongoing compromises that has lost the pioneering innovation edge that the debate around the interim report suggested it might at one point have aspired to. The news of his imminent departure from government doesn’t do much to encourage confidence.

One of the key messages coming out of the final Digital Britain report was that Lord Carter would like to see Ofcom given further powers to implement technical means to reduce file-sharing and prevent online piracy. There are a number of serious concerns about this which need to be addressed.

Carter’s views on an approach to file-sharing are worth exploring. At one point during the launch, he explained that he saw a spectrum of views on file-sharing which he described as having, at one end, the “nay sayers who believe that nothing can be done about it and so let’s just move on and  those that believed it is morally wrong and who want something done to prevent it.” Carter positions himself firmly at the latter end. But, and I quote Carter again  “let’s try to be rational about this as opposed to irrational which is so often the British way.” Indeed.

The spectrum Carter depicted is a confused one. There is a moral spectrum which at one end has liberatarians and others who believe in a highly extended version of “fair use” and a notion that file-sharing without remuneration is acceptable – and at the other end those that think that file sharing is morally wrong and should not be allowed. Of course, if a creator says “share my files freely – I don’t mind” then there can be no moral wrong. If he or she is silent on this matter which mostly they are because they’re all as confused about this as the rest of us,  then we enter the terrain of debate.

The moral question is quite separate from the technical one which has its own spectrum of belief. At one end sit those who say “copying of digital media may be slowed but never prevented” and at the other end of the spectrum are those who say “it must be stopped and we will find stringent technical means to do so.” But of course the more morally outraged you are, the more you are prepared to invest in seeking technical solutions and going head to head with rational scientists who say it can’t be done.

There is a third spectrum of opinion to line up here too – the commercial spectrum. At one end of this spectrum sit those who say “file-sharing is really helpful, it is promotional and people who file-share often spend more on digital media than those who don’t”.  Their motivation to seek preventative measures is clearly quite low. At the other of the commercial spectrum are those who say: “This is theft and it is damaging our business because file-sharing is substituting for sales and therefore must be stopped.” Their motivation is quite high.

I’ve tried to express this debate in a simple graphic:

filesharing belief analysis

I’m more than happy to have anyone who wants to elaborate on this. I have tried to maintain its simplicity for the sake of clarity, but really I ran out of dimensions. After all, you may well believe, as I do, that file-sharing is immoral but not believe that it damages businesses particularly badly or that preventative measures are technically feasible.  Equally, you might feel as many kids do today that it’s not morally wrong, it does no-one any harm and there’s nothing you can do about it anyway.

Lord Carter’s high moral belief in this is of course in tune with the times. We are entering a new era of economic austerity, but also of high moral outrage brought on in the UK by both our bankers and our members of parliament. Illegal file-sharing sits on the other side of the table from the bankers and MPs’ scandals. Here is a proud and venerable industry, which would never dream of engaging in any kind of behaviour contractual or otherwise that people might think of as “immoral”, which has suffered unwarranted and crippling blows arising from the “wrong and immoral” behaviour of hundreds of thousands of consumers.  The music industry maintains proudly that illegal file-sharing is 95% of the activity out there and that is why they have lost so much value. The fact that hard disc sharing, blue tooth sideloading, and simple e-mailing of mp3’s is likely to equal if not exceed the amount of material that is file-shared does not enter the argument. The moral argument is in tune with the zeitgeist but it ignores its own complexity. What do we say of the student who downloads 15 albums but doesn’t listen to any of them? What of the student that downloads two albums and then goes and buys the CDs afterwards?

When the Digital Britain report refers to the prevention of “egregious offenders”, what does it mean and how will we know an “egregious offender” when we see one?

I have two concerns about the proposed provision of further powers to Ofcom. The first is about privacy and the second is about the consequences of these actions.

In relation to privacy we are facing some of the most complex tensions of opportunity and challenge. The capabilities of companies like Detica to carry out deep packet inspection (DPI) and see almost anything that they want flying across a network are troublesome to civil liberties and privacy.  This kind of company is employed by our national security services to spy on potential militants, agitators and forces of evil intent. Should we feel comfortable that such powerful probes should be deployed against consumers and fans of music or TV shows too? If you’ve done nothing wrong you have nothing to fear comes the old reply – but if in the dystopia of Orwell’s 1984 it didn’t make Winston Smith feel too comfortable – why should we feel any different? At the same time, of course, the power and sophistication of data processing and analysis could have immense benefits for contextual advertising and content discovery. If only Phorm hadn’t screwed up their opt in opt out procedures so badly we might all be feeling better about this end of the spectrum.

The second concern is about consequences. The folk at Pirate Bay have allegedly already launched their encrypted paid for service which will enable all their users for a small fee, to render all their transactions anonymous and impenetrable. That suddenly places teenagers and students in a far more dangerous kind of environment where much more seditious material is likely to be flying around and showing up unexpectedly in search results, etc.  It’s precisely the kind of environment we would really have considerable social and security concerns about, but it would be much less easy to control or supress.

So we do live in a troubled time where the positions on these different axes do not point to clear or simple solutions. Many artists feel highly conflicted in discussions of this kind. They do not wish to see the very fans with whom they are trying to develop longterm relationships, turned into criminals for listening to their music. At the same time, they feel very strongly that work they have produced should not be exploited for profit by anyone who is not contracted to them in some way.

My personal belief is more carrot and less stick. The development of businesses that can attract customers with delightful services that are a pleasure to use will be the real way to win this struggle, not by giving more government agencies even more draconian powers to spend tax payers money on technical measures that will only serve to divide us further from each other and send our children into deeper darker undergrounds. We need to continue lobbying against the recommendations in Digital Britain – a lot more balanced thinking is required here about how to encourage the true potential of digital UK .

Quotes from CISAC Copyright Summit 2009, Washington DC

“The degradation of the quality image is the only thing I fear from the digital age.” (Frank Stella, artist)

Frank Stella

“How do you value consciousness?” (Frank Stella)

“Artists are lazy but they are capable of being mobilized. But they won’t organise around financial things but more about moral protests and causes.” (Frank Stella)

Paul williams

“In 1967, I turned up at A&M Music in a stolen car. I looked like a kid until you put me next to a real kid. Then I looked like a kid with a hangover.” (Paul Williams, songwriter)


milos

“The Internet is like a supermarket shopping bag with all the things in it for free too.” (Milos Forman, film director)

The End of the Last Word? What sort of future is there for copyright?

Daring to say that our copyright system is in crisis is regarded as heresy by those in the recorded music industry – to suggest that it is obsolete is unthinkable.

In 1616 the playwright Ben Jonson, became the first author to assert the copyright in his Workes by depositing a copy at the Stationer’s Registry. The first poet laureat, he was at the height of his popularity and he wanted to assert the primacy of his version of his plays.  Up until this time it was common practice for theatre companies to roam the land, staging plays with huge variations in how the parts were performed and the lines that were delivered because they simply didn’t know how the original went.  Today, artists in all areas of the creative arts are changing things and mixing things up precisely because they and their audiences know exactly how the original goes.

The copyright regime that we have enjoyed for the last three hundred and ninety three years has of course been gradually refined since Ben Jonson, but the dramatic changes of the last ten years brought on by the internet have made it look increasingly archaic. Copyright law can no longer protect artists from consumers copying their work and the mechanisms by which it is enforced have made it almost impossible for mash-ups and remixes to happen legally with any speed or fluency either. We neither properly provide for conventional content creators nor fully enable innovators. The system is broken, it needs fixing and as a result there is a fascinating debate going on in which rights owners’ rhetoric vies for the attention of governments against a global cultural community at grass-roots level who doesn’t have access to funding or lobbyists, the tech-savvy next generation of creatives, who want to talk about the exciting possibilities of the future.

The simple technological truth is that digital media can be copied and no one can stop that happening. The only thing that content creators and distributors can do is to put speed bumps in the road. Global culture increasingly wants music, video, games, and software to be available easily, interoperably and preferably for free. Fortunately there is also lots of evidence to suggest that online consumers are interested in spending dollars on content online – especially if it is easy, the format is attractive and the experience is enjoyable. But nonetheless, the IFPI insists that 85% of traffic across internet service providers’ networks is attributable to illegal file-sharing. And of course, it’s over the music industry, by dint of its small perfectly formed file sizes, that the waves of the digital tsunami have crashed first and most violently. The recorded music industry has lost something like 30% of its value in the last eight or nine years – and at least some of that is down to increased internet file-sharing.

Seemingly recognising this and a range of other contributing factors, the UK government has launched two public consultations in the last few months. Lord Carter’s Digital Britain report focuses largely on the future of broadcast, radio and wireless networks, but tries its hand at offering some kind of regulatory solution between rights owners and the internet service providers who are accused of benefitting from the traffic of all this illegally shared content across their bandwidth. The UK Intellectual Property Office sensing the insecurities and perhaps the inconsistencies in copyright legislation has launched its own “informal stakeholder consultation” into the future of Copyright in the 21st century directed by junior Rights Minister, David Lammy.

In Europe, the highly controversial EU Medina Report is due to be voted on by MEPs in the next few weeks. Medina aims to update the EU Copyright Directive in a number of different areas including extending the term of a recorded music copyright from 50 years to 95 years.  Considering how difficult it is to enforce any protection at all currently, it is hard not to feel that the EU is looking in the wrong direction on this one. The UK is already standing out against this recommendation and suggesting a compromise at 70 years. Given the current appetite for remixing and reworking, some are arguing that maybe 10 years would be more enforceable and lead to greater exploitation opportunities by allowing works to be open sooner for incorporation, adaptation or pure mashing-up (perhaps this might be feasible if there would be some compulsory remuneration involved for a set period before becoming fully public domain).

It’s not as if the legal fraternity has not attempted to address the problem. Stanford Law Professor, Lawrence Lessig has created a new framework which is designed to allow creators to permit others to use their work in non-commercial circumstances.  There is an entire movement gathered now behind Creative Commons (CC) and its non-commercial licenses are visible increasingly, often from more philanthropic or public-service oriented media producers like museums and galleries, through to the TED-talks or new young musicians interested in collaboration like those who work is on sale from CC only store Jamendo.  Ironically, although Lessig seeks to democratise certain aspects of copyright and enable a degree of legalised freedom of usage, Lessig’s licenses still depend upon a legal construct to impose some kind of control over the swirling, liberalising inevitabilities of digital technology. And so scary is the prospect of change that Lessig is regarded by the recorded music industry as some kind of pariah plotting the downfall of musicians everywhere. One senior record company executive whispered to me without a whiff of irony: “He’s funded by Google you know, there’s a massive technologists’ conspiracy to bring down the music industry”.

So strong has been the scandalised outrage at illegal filesharing and the daily abuse of copyright that it has been hard to start to talk about what the world might actually look like when the reality of the old copyright mechanisms are not just much reduced but vanish altogether.


gta-lib-cityThere are plenty of signs of how to begin to envision a culture in which music, games, stories, news, movies – are produced collaboratively and interactively. The games industry, the newest of the content industries and now the biggest, has also been the earliest to adapt. For example, the latest release of market leading game Grand Theft Auto – “the Lost and the Damned” is innovative both because it will be sold as a digital download only, but also because it comes in the form of a modified version of the previous release. The dramatic setting remains in the fictional Liberty City but the gamer gets to play from a new point of view of a different character with new story lines and new situations. For these recessionary times, this has the merit of saving RockStar Games, the developers, lots of cost on rendering new cityscapes and at the same time lets the gamer extend the previous episode from a new angle.  In the case of Sony’s Little Big Planet Playstation game, released last year, part of the appeal of the platform is how it allows users to create their own levels and their own characters and allow others to play with them. So far, says Ray Maguire, SVP of Sony Computer Entertainment UK, there have been some 2,500 new levels created and over 2 million plays of them.

One key effect of this is that the single author, the individual of vision, is displaced by multiple contributors who may lead or follow, play major or minor roles, agree or disagree with each other. In this culture the idea that any one statement or creative gesture can represent “the last word” comes to an end.  Instead there’s seamless versioning. Morphing of works becomes the expected. Charlie Leadbeater has called this “mutual media”.

Until very recently the listening majority has been content to hear some meaningful music when they’re driving in their car or doing the washing up.  For them, the world of interaction and collaboration seems remote, too much like hard work, not part of the couch-potato passive consumption they’re used to. But whether it’s in Little Big Planet, as we’ve seen, or in World of Warcraft with it’s current 11.5m monthly subscribers, new consumers are increasingly creators themselves. And the good news for the creators of these platforms is that people are keen to pay for the privilege.  The same is visible in the massive popularity of games like Guitar Hero and Singstar where it’s all about the player’s active participation. The quality of creativity may vary but the model in which users interact and create their own elements in a game is more and more visible.  The many thousands of video mashups on YouTube are further demonstration that this is a more common behaviour than you might think. Apple’s Garageband and other music creation applications like it are starting to attract the attention of lots of users at home and in schools. They’re beginning to level the playing field of music creation. Anyone can start having fun making music that sounds half decent – and from there it becomes something else and quickly can belong to everyone else too. Try listening to all the various re-mixes of Radiohead’s track Nude that their fans have submitted to the band’s website or the one they’re opening for remixing currently: Reckoner.

For the most part, rights companies like games publishers or even software creators like Apple, still try to retain a lot of control over their users’ behaviours. They tether the games to the platform devices and, only a year ago Apple was still adding its own form of copy protection to music on iTunes so that it could not be played outside their platform. The decision to cease doing this and the major labels’ agreement to remove digital rights management (copy protection) from their files on iTunes was an acknowledgement on their part that the system did not work and that it inconvenienced people too much. So even as they protest and lobby to try to protect their version of the copyright system, their commercial actions suggest that they are starting to understand how broken it is. The recent decision by the BPI and the RIAA to stop suing consumers for illegally downloading music is a further indicator that even the rights owning companies recognize the damage they are doing to themselves of going against the flow of where new active consumers and the internet are going. This does not mean the end of creators’ rights but it does demand big changes in the mechanisms for applying those rights. (It’s all about the meta-data stupid!)

radioheadmix

So as everyone tries to adjust, we’re starting to see the ways in which artists, writers and other cultural producers might begin to be paid again for their work – in ways totally different from today. Some have foregone value in the content altogether and go find it in the accompanying experiences. So, for example, the album becomes a promotional tool for the tour. It’s been that way for years for the Rolling Stones whose old catalogue is way more valuable than their new songs will ever be. But new or unknown artists are also finding that they can give their music away and use the recordings to drive their fans to their gigs. A little company called MusicGlue has created a platform that allows artists to take advantage of the huge, viral word of mouth effect of online communities and make the file-sharing networks become the opportunity to reach an audience and grow it not the means by which value is lost. In the new creatives’ rights culture, the way creators are getting to publicise new work is precisely by allowing it to be passed around and rewritten or mashed up by friends, partners, enemies – or total strangers from the other side of the world. Possibilities for our  new copyright culture start to emerge in which it’s not the content itself that retains the value, but the path that it takes, the hands that it passes through and the other content it consorts with along the way.

Of course, there’s still loads to figure out. Even the leaders of the pack, YouTube and Facebook, are stilittlebig-planetll experimenting with how best to make real money out of the relationships they enable between “friends”. Some of the more extreme or innovative new businesses like Twitter, MusicGlue or MusicMyne are emerging despite their economics not because of them.  Different sectors are at different stages and will respond in different ways. Amazon has launched the updated version of its new electronic book reader. The Kindle 2, released this month and the Sony eBook reader are the beginnings of the breaking of the digital wave in the book world.  eBooks currently represent a mere 0.01% of total book sales, but their year-on-year growth for the first nine months of 2008 was over 55% while physical book sales declined by some 3.8% in the same period. In November the growth was over 100%.  The book has tremendous enduring characteristics that suggest it will never vanish, but eBooks’ growth suggests that, albeit slowly, even the stuffy world of book-publishing is opening itself to the opportunities of digital distribution and ultimately collaborative interaction.

For some, it all looks too much like a medieval, lawless, anarchic world in which the rich and strong, the famous and the corporate survive – and everyone else rips each other off all the time and flounders in the mud. But our current copyright fixation on the ur-text is antiquated. Instead, we will find ways to be engaged by the conversations that the work provokes, by the paths its super-distribution takes, the iterations that it undergoes and the interactions it provokes.  This implies a totally different model of consumption as well of production of creative works – and one that we already have glimpses of in our blogs, Twitter, the music mixes on MySpace, the video mash-ups on YouTube and mod-ed (modified) video games posted on game sites all over the web.

So does this mean that there will never be any masterpieces ever again? Does this imply that a fixed and perfected work of genius will never emerge as the must-read book or the must-see film or the must-listen album? Of course not, we live in a highly individualistic, even fetishistic, hero-worshipping culture. We will always crave that defining statement, the single authoritative view, the unique voice of the star. Just as newspapers, radio and television have not been superseded by websites, so digital culture will only be enriching.  But however detached, crafted, manicured and “finished” a work may be – if it’s digital, it is appendable, amendable, adaptable too.

Whether content is merely shared or produced by active collaboration, as it is passed from user to user and clustered with other works, it begins to tell a new story that has its own value. And in that story, the patterns of consumption, ordering and selection reveal as much about the users as does the content itself  (we’re just not sophisticated enough yet to understand the new stories that will be told).  Interactive responses to this new cultural richness are becoming the norm in all sorts of better-informed, super-smart ways today. It is the complete opposite of the ill-educated, oral culture of the dark ages before Ben Jonson, but it might just possess something of the same spark and vitality of that medieval pre-technological anarchy. When millions of songs are available to choose from and smart systems guide us to the songs it thinks we might prefer, then the way we spread the word to others, to whom we speak, and how we modify the messages with our own voices, become new sources of knowledge and value – and maybe just hint at what our digital future looks like.

The Featured Artists Coalition

The Featured Artists Coalition got off to a roaring public start this week. I had the honour of presenting the first general meeting of the organisation and introducing the key speakers Billy Bragg, Ed O’Brien, Kate Nash and Dave Rowntree. They each spoke from their individual experience and with great personal passion about how much freedom they felt in being able to create their own direct relationships with their fans and audiences, and make their own decisions about how to release their work. The meeting started with this video and it was clear that they each felt the incredible degree of change in the world has to be a source of excitement and opportunity for forward-thinking artists. The FAC is a reflection of that.

No one knows yet exactly where the focus of this new organisation will be exactly or what direction it will take, but the vibe in the room at Heaven was energised and hugely optimistic. There was a real sense that this was a historic moment in the development of the music industry, that this was the day when artists finally were acknowledged as being at the centre of the industry – and not a peripheral asset to be bargained down and exploited – the day when the record companies joined the ranks of suppliers to the artists – alongside collecting societies, publishers, digital delivery platforms, social and mobile network operators – and even gasp – managers!

Of course, the range of opinions among different artists about how to respond to technological and business challenges will be as diverse as are the artists themselves. But the underlying principles of a desire for transparency and for fair-dealing in the commercial aspects of making and selling music – and the desire to maintain personal ownership of their creative output –  are incredibly strong unifying factors which bind together the interests of new and established acts.

There were unsigned bands who expressed real concerns: “If we sign up for the FAC, will that put our relationship with a major label under threat?” asked one new act about to sign a  recording deal with a major.  From the organisers of the FAC that was certainly not the intention and by the sounds of the welcoming comments from the BPI, it was not the view of the labels either. But there was also a real hunger for guidance and advice on a wide range of topics from navigating the digital landscape to contract reviews to advice on selecting a manager. The arrival of the FAC will be a tremendous enlightening and progressive force in the industry and should quickly be able to get to a point when it can act as an authoritative guide and give bands a chance to take a step back and reconsider their options.  The FAC has the opportunity  t0 offer real advice on approved alternatives to artists so that they can make informed choices about whether they want to sign to a label, go via digital distributor platform or set up their own site to sell to their fans.

Much has been said too about how the FAC will negotiate rights for its members and seek to take a seat at the table with the major players when deals are being struck. It will be interesting to see how the strengths of the organisation can be directed to best use in this area. Some companies like Myspace Music have been cautious in their response to first soundings, while others like Nokia welcome the direct involvement of artists and the creative community in what they’re doing.

There is lots of work for the FAC steering committee to do right now, including hiring a staff to turn these aspirations into reality. So wish them well on this journey, music should be the better for it!