Billy Bragg – suing file-sharers is killing music

UK musician Billy Bragg is furious at attempts by major labels and the music industry groups they dominate to prevent file-sharing, saying they don’t understand musicians, don’t understand fans, and don’t get the new age.

On suing file-sharers, he was incensed, “You know who the pirates are?” he thundered during the closing moments of EconMusic yesterday. “The pirates are our fans, when you sue our fans, you drive our fans away,” he yelled, arguing that the industry must change if it has any chance of survival.

What really annoys Bragg is that music labels demand the lion’s share of income from new start-ups and music services, “That’s my income stream you’re pissing with,” he exclaimed, urging labels to pay a higher percentage to artists in the digital age.

“Yeah, and no breakage fees on digital product,” an audience member connected to Warner/Chappell agreed.

“How much do you think MySpace makes from advertising?,” Bragg asked, answering, “$800 million? And how much do they pay for content? – not a lot.”

“We need to establish the principle of paying content providers, not just musicians but for everybody,” Bragg urged. “In order for us to to make a living, the industry has to recognise that the old model doesn’t work anymore and has to be restructured.”

”Everyone’s making a shitload of money, it seems, except the content providers,” he complained, recommending artists of whatever stature should band together to demand that labels and online services should pay content providers fairly.

“Ultimately they all benefit from the relationship between the consumer and the artist,” Bragg explained, “they have to find a fair way to pay content providers if we are to move forward.”

The risk, of course, is that should industry (music and technology) fail to achieve a fair system of compensation that guarantees artistic survival, then there will be no content created at all – leaving music and technology companies short of a business.

Bragg’s particularly angry at industry attempts to control use of the internet, “by trying to alienate our audience, the industry undermines the whole potential of the internet.”

Bragg was speaking as part of a panel discussion, sitting on a panel with leaders from Bebo, We7, LastFM and Index Ventures. Feedback from other technology leaders on the panel was that even when tech firms do decide to pay artists the cash, the existing music industry set-up makes even the process of trying to pay the artist incredibly convoluted.

“It’s turned out to be incredibly hard to pay people,” said We7’s Stephen Purdham, sitting on the panel with Bragg.

In a world in which “at the end of the day, consumers want their music when, where and how they want it, “we have to deliver it to them,” Purdham added.

“We need root and branch reform of the way we move money around the industry,” Bragg added. Meanwhile the industry remains incredibly complex, frustrating new innovation as major labels attempt to maintain a non-digital business plan in a fast-evolving digital world. And while labels claim to be defending the artists, they are not, Bragg explained.

“The industry resists at all points because they say they are defending artists,” said Bragg. “They are not. It’s my income they are pissing with. I want access to these people and their technologies (he said, pointing to the technologists he sat with on the panel), I want to have my right to do just that….”

“As artists and a music industry we need to figure out how we can configure ourselves to help these people (technologists) make shitloads of money for us, the artists….reducing the complexity of music licensing is critical for future innovation,” he stressed.

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