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Music chief: preventing file-sharing is a "waste of time"

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By Barry Collins

Posted on 14 Jul 2010 at 15:27

A leading music industry figure has labelled attempts to thwart internet file-sharing as a "waste of time".

Peter Jenner, the former manager of Pink Floyd and now emeritus president of the International Music Managers' Forum (IMMF), launched a scathing attack on the music industry's tactics at a Westminster e-Forum.

"Attempts to stop people copying are clearly a waste of time," said Jenner. "Not only are they a waste of time, they make the law offensive. They are comparable to prohibition in the US in the 1920s."

Copyright is about the right to copy. We cannot control people's right to copy if they have computers

"It's absurd to expect ordinary members of the public to think about what they're allowed to do [with CDs, digital downloads, etc]... and then ask themselves whether it's legal or not," he added.

Jenner said the music industry was fighting against the economics of the internet age. "The marginal cost of a digital file is essentially zero," said Jenner. "That means the market is going to be pushing the cost of digital files to zero. This is an inescapable fact."

"We're fighting against the tide, we're fighting against economic reality."

Jenner said the industry had to consider entirely rewriting copyright law and find new revenue models to preserve the industry. "We have to start thinking radically. Copyright is about the right to copy. We cannot control people's right to copy if they have computers."

He said the industry could adopt the model of sites such as Rapidshare, which offers paying subscribers the opportunity to get faster downloads. "If we can get £1 a month from every person on this island [Great Britain] for music... this is getting very close to the current level of revenue for recorded music," Jenner claimed.

Criminalising a generation

Jenner wasn't the only one calling for a complete overhaul of copyright law. Vanessa Barnett, partner with digital law experts Berwin Leighton Paisner, argued that copyright law had lost the support of the public.

"People don’t feel in their hearts that it’s wrong [to copy music]. We’ve lost the battle over hearts and minds for copyright law."

"A law is only as good as the society that’s prepared to accept it," she added.

Barnett claimed the hurried passage of the Digital Economy Act had further undermined public support for content owners. "We need to properly reflect where copyright law is in the wake of the rush job of the Digital Economy Act," she said.

"From a hearts and minds perspective, the way the act was shoved through parliament has done more harm than good. People see the act as a tool of music industry lobbying."

Law-abiding public

I do accept there's widespread confusion about copyright among consumers

Other music industry figures disagreed with Jenner and Barnett, arguing the law still held firm. "I do not believe there is widespread rejection of copyright among consumers," argued Alison Wenham, chair and chief executive of the Association of Independent Music. "I do accept there's widespread confusion about copyright among consumers."

Will Page, chief economist of the Performing Rights Society, argued that the proliferation of file-sharing sites were damaging legitimate services. "Spotify would have a far better chance of surviving, rather than sinking, if it wasn't for the unfair polluting effect of file-sharing networks," he argued.

Independent record labels agreed. "We put out our records every week, they get ripped off, and we see them online," said Matt Riley, head of digital promotion at Hospital Records. "We want people to copy our music and share it, but we want people to buy it."

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User comments

A breath of common sense

When digital copies, which everyone knows are vastly cheaper to produce, store and ship, are priced the same as or higher than the physical media, people will feel ripped off and refuse to buy.
Copyright won't help.

A perception of value for money will. If a CD costs £8 with 12 tracks (66p per track) then selling them online for 72p is fooling nobody.

The same is true of eBooks.

When prices reflect true costs and not the "how much can we get away with?" price, then the majority of pirates will feel less enabled.

Current sales models need to be thrown away because they aren't working.

By cheysuli on 14 Jul 2010

It's a bit of an overreach... say the public is against copyright. Most people will acknowledge the importance of copyright law in seeing to it that creators are adequately compensated for their work. As Mr. Jenner says, it's when the enforcement activity comes to focus on personal use that people's support for it fades.

The challenge for various different creators, producers and distributers of copyrighted material is how to generate revenue streams that support the creation of these works without stepping across that line.

By TedLemon on 14 Jul 2010

This month's hilarious article in PcPro...

... solemnly quotes a record exec saying that it's wrong to copy music off a CD. Of course it is. it's just that I'm reminded of the Catholic priests of my childhood telling everyone that sex outside marriage is sinful as is divorce, homosexuality, etc etc etc... and the world keeps on shagging all the same.

The music industry as the execs know it is over. Scary but it's already happened. That's the 'done deal', not the Digital DooDah Act.

By Noghar on 15 Jul 2010


It’s the fable of the cake eaten one crumb at a time. Of course, everyone believes in the principle of copyright, except when they want to copy something, when it won’t hurt, just this once… will it? And today, everyone has a networked crumb-eating machine.

A model like RapidShare, you say? One pound a month from every person on this island, based on volume of data transferred? I already know what the industry thinks of that. They ruined AllofMP3, rather than provide unquestionably lawful alternatives.

By pacid on 15 Jul 2010

Yes finally some common sense

The industry tried to fight this battle once before with tape cassettes and lost, will they never learn? Just wanted to point out that the ripoffs did not start with digital downloads, once you remove advertising the production cost of a CD is abount 2-3 euro, and that includes the artists rights....The rest goes to the editors, lables etc.

By sandman652001 on 15 Jul 2010

i don't accept this

The industry must FIGHT FIGHT FIGHT to defend copyright. Forget this Prohibition analogy, this is a creative industry and it needs its Churchill to declare "never give up" and fight on. Illegal filesharing will literally destroy an artform unless it fights back. As someone with a musical background, the way to fight is to focus on artists' lost revenue, to get the public to understand that without the financial reward of writing a song, less songs will be written, people won't be attracted to it by their dreams of making it big, there will never be great bands like the Beatles ever again.

Yes, filesharing is a great way for a NEW band to market itself. So record companies must adapt their marketing model - use the filesharing market to BREAK a NEW band, but after the first EP or 2, change to a charging model. EDUCATION is the key to stopping filesharing. Get people to understand the consequences of their actions using carrot and stick, and save Britain's greatest export. Who cares what some lawyer and some management guy think. What to they understand about actual music, about why bands are inspired to form themselves? Saving THAT is what this problem is about.

By gavmeister on 15 Jul 2010

the industry went from strength to strength during the cassette era, so there was nothing to "lose". Mixtapes never stopped people buying originals to a degree which filesharing does, never happened on a scale which represents an existential threst to the entire industry.

By gavmeister on 15 Jul 2010

The future........

Sorry gavmeister but wake up. If you are actually an artist then you should know to be truly great you should create music for the right reasons and not the wrong ones. The music industry has mutated into an extortion machine designed on old ideas for the rich to get richer.
I can’t help but see similarities in file sharing to Radio? In the 60’s radio became the medium of the nation and the government tried it’s hardest to control it. Against public opinion the Government issued laws to stop the illegal stations and even banned UK companies from advertising on the air. Is it me or does this sound familiar? Digital Economy Bill maybe? In the end the toffs gave in and radio became a profitable and accepted means of entertainment.
As for Peter Jenner and Vanessa Barnett I can only congratulate on their forward thinking that so many of the public have. The medium has changed and therefore everyone has to rethink their position, new artists don’t need big rich music labels to produce their music anymore which I think is great, finally Jo public can try and be creative and if your very lucky and people love your music then the money will follow. At the end of the day file sharing will separate the artists who are truly talented and loved from the ones that are simply seeking money and fame. The clock is ticking and those music labels that don’t adapt will be left behind.

By selwyn_c2 on 15 Jul 2010

@gavmeister - based on your post your 'musical background' obviously involves working for a record company and not accepting the realities of the situation, changing the copyright system and embracing technology is where the effort should be put, not lobbying for ridiculous legislation.

The world isn't suddenly going to stop producing music because fat cat corporations don't get a big enough slice of the pie, in fact the awful identi-pop tat they continue to churn out is a large part the cause of their own demise, they should focus on quality over quantity for a change.

By Deano on 15 Jul 2010

same old same old

As ever in this debate, there are lots of people happy to criticise the existing system, but few (none?) proposing a good alternative. As has been said repeatedly, most find the existing system fine until it means paying for media, when their morals crumble. I accept that the existing high distribution cost model cannot continue, but I'm not bright enough to design a whole new one. Selwyn-c2 seems to think Pirate Radio is a basis for a good model, but I don't see how that was profitable for anyone except the listener, who gets something for nothing. Even I'm clever enough to see that giving away your product for free is unsustainable. Can anyone help with some constructive comment?

By Mat1971 on 15 Jul 2010

@Mat1971 Fair point I may not have a solution to the problem and I was not suggesting pirate radio as a good alternative. My point is that the government has been down this road before and failed to keep the status quo due to public opinion. As for your point on sustainability of a free product, I disagree, Google comes to mind.

By selwyn_c2 on 15 Jul 2010

Proposing a good alternative

Mat1971, I propose the alternative of a free market where artists directly exchange their intellectual work for the money of their fans. After all, if copies cost nothing all you have left to sell is your work.


By CrosbieFitch on 15 Jul 2010

living in a hippie dreamworld

@selwyn_c2 / @deano my background is training in classical music and i perform occasionally, I don't write music, but I know people both artist and business side in the music world.

You picture this as a battle between the public and greedy record labels. You forget the people in the middle who actually create the music, and whose case I am arguing. This is about them, and ensuring they get paid. Your dismissive attitude of their rights is embodied in the phrase "if your very lucky and people love your music then the money will follow". Luck has nothing to do with it. What do you think the PRS is for? They are fighting a constant battle against rapacious record labels and members of the public like you who think they deserve something for nothing, who think artists should consider themselves bloody lucky if they get a penny from you. Brilliant.

Do you actually know how artists feel about this situation? Have you actually asked any? I have, and they have mixed feelings. They like the promotional power of filesharing in getting their music out there and listened to, but they feel people should pay a fair amount for consumption of that content. That is where my suggestion came from.

Sounding off from an ignorant, consumer viewpoint from your sofa with a hard drive full of free music, without even engaging with a single actor in this crisis, is going to get us precisely nowhere. Wake up yourself.

By gavmeister on 16 Jul 2010

constructive comment

@mat1971 doesn't my suggestion above constitute constructive comment? i.e. -

Filesharing is a great way for a new band to market itself, and for kids to find out about them virally. So record companies must adapt their marketing model - use the filesharing market to break a new band, but after the first EP or 2, change to a charging model.

By gavmeister on 16 Jul 2010


I take your points, not sure about hippy dream world though.

I have a couple of friends who are in bands, one is on the verge of being signed but the offer from the record company is very poor and seals them in for a number of albums. How is that fair? They want to sign but with a view to having more control and monetary success in the future. Fairness and ensuring the artists are protected are far from the list of priorities of the music industry at large, it is all about greed. If you want to accept that or not is up to you.

Personally I've just signed up to Spotify, I hear there has been issues with the rights holders with this too though... but so much music for £10 a month is fair to me, that's just a touch over the cost of one actual album a month. People are willing to pay if you offer them something good, easy to use, feature rich and at a fair price. Plus it syncs with my Android phone which is great.

By Deano on 16 Jul 2010

Not a dreamworld a reality!

@Gavmeister the article is about the pointless campaign that music companies continue to strike at the very people that purchase their product. Stick to the subject and rather than assuming the public are the ones to blame maybe you should direct your anger that those who have damaged the industry to the point that public feel they’re being cheated and resort to using illegal methods.

By selwyn_c2 on 16 Jul 2010

this IS the subject

@selwyn_c2 you are erroneously trying to separate artists getting paid from labels/publishers getting paid. under the current model artists only get paid when labels/publishers get paid. They are not separable. I envisage a future in which the major labels go bust and the industry splinters back down into small labels marketing online and the industry grows back up from there - unless a major can find a model that works. Sticking it to The Man will not save music. This crisis is nobody's FAULT - it is simply an unforseen consequence of broadband internet combined with people's love of music. it needs vision to find the way forward, not finger-pointing.

By gavmeister on 16 Jul 2010

Analogy to Prohibition is False

The analogy comparing music to alcohol prohibition is false, as beer was totally banned and not for sale at all, whereas, music is for sale everywhere. The analogy might be correct if the mobsters stole the beer from legal manufacturers like Budweiser and served it for free to destroy the legal manufacturers market, which was not what was happening.

Second, I agree that copyright is about the right to copy. That right has regulations and rules, like all rights under a constitution. Free copying without rules is not democratic nor consitutional, it is thievery and anarchy. Additionally, copyright infringers have no right to "distribute" and that is what placing it online at webites is. Not sharing, it is illegal mass distribution stealing commerce.

You'd think a good music managers might know these things.

By alias2u2 on 16 Jul 2010

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