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*Beyond piracy – musicians rethink file sharing*


*Beyond piracy – musicians rethink file sharing*

Would you pay $3 a month to download as many songs as you like from the internet and know that your money will go directly to the artists?

Are you a pirate or a fan? That's the question posed by Canadian songwriter Eddie Schwartz at an end-of-year event in Melbourne on December 13, jointly presented by the Intellectual Property Research Institute of Australia and the Centre for Media and Communications Law.

Rather than the usual suited lawyers, this drinks and nibbles soiree boasted a large number of distinctly non-legal types, and even one or two of the law fraternity with rock leaning sensibilities.

You could tell them by their hairstyles and three day growths. It was standing room only as they gathered to hear Schwartz, a man best known for writing such classic hit songs as “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” recorded by Pat Benetar, speak about how music markets on the Internet should be organised. Professor Daniel Gervais, Professor of Law and Co-Director, Vanderbilt Intellectual Property Program, Vanderbilt University, USA, joined in at the end for the informal discussion.

Music lovers or not, any lawyer could appreciate an artist whose worldwide sales are currently in excess of 30 million recordings. Eddie Schwartz, who can boast that artists such as Carly Simon, Peter Frampton and Joe Cocker have recorded his songs, has credibility in spades when it comes to talking about how to make money from music.

However, Schwartz cautions that young musicians will barely break even if they hit the road today. Most come back from tours having sold a few T Shirts and caps; the successful ones are simply no better or worse off than before they left home.

"It's a difficult business making a living as a songwriter now," Schwartz told the audience.

For the truth is, the Internet is impoverishing the creators. If content is valued at zero, how are musicians going to flourish and make music?

Schwartz, President of the Songwriters Association of Canada, proposed monetising private non-commercial file sharing; not big infringers making money from file sharing, but specifically, private individuals sharing music for private purposes.

Schwartz said this proposal went against the idea put forth by large commercial interests in the music industry that file sharing is "evil and carried out by pirates."

"Actually, file sharing is one of the greatest things ever invented," he said.

Put this down to the fact that if information wants to be free, music wants to be shared. Schwartz said he was into file sharing as a teenager - except back then, it meant getting excited by a Jimi Hendrix record and taking it to a friend's place.

"Certainly, the Internet poses many challenges, and one of those is the music industry finding alternative ways of making money," Schwartz said.

He gives the example of the vast number of ipods and iphones sold every year. The majority of the music on these devices, he claims, comes from file sharing sites.

"Music has never been more popular - but where does that leave the artists who actually create the music?"

Schwartz proposes licensing people who want to file share, and then pooling the money and giving it to all the stakeholders. Technology exists to do this pro rata distribution, and importantly, he said, "no behaviour modification on behalf of the user is needed."

Professor Gervais said that a proposed model in Canada, with a $3 a month licensing fee on each ISP account, including an opt-out provision for those who don't download, would generate $360 million a year. "That's a lot of money for musicians."

It would also turn file sharers back into "an audience" who support their musicians, rather than "pirates" who rip them off.

"We don't want to have an adversarial relationship with our fans," Schwartz declared. He anticipated a licensing pilot program would commence in Canada in February 2011.

Come question time, one brave soul managed to articulate the pressing concern on every litigator's lips; if Schwartz's scheme works, what's the future for lawyers who earn a buck out of defending musicians?

"At least under this scheme, a musician might have a chance of actually paying their lawyer," shot back Schwartz.

There was much laughter – but, despite the lubricating champagne - it had the bitter echo of recognition.

ends


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