Call for the Torrentsmeller Pursuivant!

So, I’m sure you’ve heard all about Lizard face Mandelson’s latest hair-brained scheme to throttle the Internet.  If you haven’t, then I suggest you go here and read all about it.  Here’s what UK Synth-Electro-Indie-Pop band Hot Chip had to say on the matter.

“I was shocked to learn that only one in 20 music tracks in the UK is downloaded legally. We cannot sit back and do nothing,” said Lord Mandelson.

From statistics like this, the UK music industry extrapolates estimated losses per year of around £200 million.  And I have to say, from personal experience, that times are tough at the majors.  Last year our label EMI executed vicious job cuts, resulting in a situation whereby not one person who worked on our previous album is still there to work on our next album.  At the time, people were going in to the office every morning, not knowing whether they’d still have a job in the afternoon. It was very sad for us to see some of the members of the promotion team, the production team and all the numerous other workers – with many of whom we had a personal, friendly relationship – in such a state of disorientation and insecurity.

So it’s clear to me that the major labels, and some of the bigger independents like Domino and Warp, are feeling the pinch when it comes to downloads.  However…

The machine is still running.  The labels are working harder with fewer resources, and the majority of the coke-snorting, cocktail-slurping, teen-shagging ex-public schoolboy disgusting-excuses-for-A&R men have gone.  The industry is far less wasteful, and more cautious, than it has ever needed to be in the past.  And we hear recently that sales of singles are up, ; So why the breathless panic of Mandelson, the media and the labels?

Well one explanation is that rather than luxuriating in the licence to print money that the music industry once held, they now actually have to run things like a proper business.  Margins are lower, because the rules of the game have changed.  Downloads mean everyone has to work harder, “in a more diverse and competitive market”, to earn the same amount.  But let’s remember that “the same amount” means “an absolute shitload of cash”.  It wasn’t uncommon, even when we were being signed 5 years ago, to hear label executives talk of “bottomless pits of money”.  Now this excess money has mostly gone, and most of those executives are at the bottom of the pit instead, staring into their reflections off the back of an M People CD.  But the machine’s still running, and the pop hits are still rolling off the conveyor belt, and Lily Allen is still blowing thousands of pounds on brand new boots and panties.  Us artists are all right; we’re not making as much money as we were at one time, but we more than get by doing what we love every day, which is not a bad situation.  With most of our income coming from live music, it means we have to be out on the road more, and labels are already adapting with most contracts now taking a cut of musicians’ live earnings.  I can’t predict what’s round the corner, but I’m not worrying about downloads.

So please don’t assume that all musicians are in support of the 3 strikes policy.  Penalising file-sharing is incompatable with privacy laws, will waste more money in policing than it saves the music industry in losses, and will piss everyone off.  I look forward to seeing Mandelson’s new “law” get shot down in court.

It’s nice to hear this coming from an artist as big as Hot Chip (not that I listen to their music, it doesn’t appeal to me).  It’s almost reassuring to know that everything’s not as bad as we’ve been lead to believe.  If anything we’re seeing benefits from these changing times.  It seems that filesharing has really been a wake-up call to the music industry, making them realise that to stay afloat they’re going to have to produce some really excellent music and hire some class acts that people are going to want to spend their money on.

But the clamp-down on filesharing isn’t my main concern.  Pirates have always found ways to get round legislation measures and technological restrictions and companies now know that measures such as DRM aren’t the way forward.  In this respect, the Pirates are winning which doesn’t worry me in the slightest.  What does worry me is the affect that such a legislation will have on Human Rights as a whole.  Mandelson’s measures are, in effect, putting users of the Internet in a ‘guilty until proven innocent’ position, even if they’re wrongly accused of illegal filesharing.

I am even surprised that legislation such as this is even considered by our government.  Maybe if this were an American proposition then I would probably just brush it off as “those crazy yanks ruining everything for everyone else again”, but it’s not America this time.  It’s Mandelson.  Its Britain.

I’m interested to see how far this goes.

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