Won’t you cleanse my soul / Put my feet on the ground

Mark Har­ris has a fas­ci­nat­ing post which goes through some of the rather ugly and unseem­ly machi­na­tions which led to the intro­duc­tion of the eth­i­cal­ly ques­tion­able (to say the least) Sec­tion 92 (A) amend­ment to the NZ Copy­right Act into the law­books of my home­land.

I’m gonna side­step a few of the issues, espe­cial­ly the gnarly legal and eth­i­cal ones as they seem to have been both dis­cussed and re-dis­cussed in some detail, and are sim­ply dis­turb­ing.

Instead I’m want­i­ng to make a quick com­ment about the less talked about ram­i­fi­ca­tions of this act.

Which is the stu­pid­i­ty angle.

Or, the angle per­haps bet­ter called the Haven’t-they-fucking-learned-anything-endgame.

Because, from a copy­right holder’s POV that’s the one that’s smack­ing me most in the face right now.

When I was a lad (I always love writ­ing that line) record com­pa­nies were most­ly uber cool. There was a kind of romance about the music indus­try. You either want­ed to be an All Black (not me), an avi­a­tor (for a brief moment), a pop star (no tal­ent) or work for a record com­pa­ny (oh yes…).

Switched on peo­ple, hang­ing out with pop stars (good for kids like me who were tone deaf, or had been dis­mis­sive­ly accused by our gui­tar teacher of try­ing to stran­gle the Yama­ha six string, just before he gave up), mak­ing records and liv­ing a show­biz life…I want­ed to be one of those.

And with that in mind, still as a lad, I went to see the leg­endary Phil War­ren in his bright­ly coloured office above Cook Street Mar­ket in Auck­land, com­plete with pho­tos of pop stars on the walls above the pur­ple vinyl sofas, and said “I wan­na be in the music busi­ness”. His advice was sim­ply to fol­low my instincts and if it was to be, it would be. It was.

Over the years I was fair­ly heav­i­ly involved in mak­ing records, sign­ing and man­ag­ing acts and run­ning labels, the indus­try remained reli­ably cool. I used to get, until a few years back, oth­er lads (and lass­es) com­ing to me and ask­ing if they too could get into the indus­try. I sim­ply passed Phil’s advice on. One of those ask­ing runs a major label now so Phil’s advice seems to have had some legs.

Peo­ple wrote fan­tas­tic books on record labels, like the one on the Warn­ers group, or the great Jac Holzman’s book on his leg­endary Elek­tra. Labels were anthol­o­gised, trainspot­ted, and the aura of romance, despite its over­whelm­ing­ly rose tint­ed façade, that wrapped around the leg­ends of labels like Motown or Atlantic or Island remained large­ly intact.

That is, until about 10 years ago, when it all began to change. There were a few things that caused the swell of change in the way labels were and are per­ceived. At its most basic lev­el the struc­ture of record labels and the per­son­al­i­ties that drove them changed. The old guard, the Berry Gordys, Chris Black­wells, and Ahmet Erte­guns were replaced by accoun­tants, Wall Street, and face­less bureau­crats who not only didn’t real­ly under­stand the busi­ness they ran, and the pas­sions that drove it, but saw an over­whelm­ing need to cut a prof­it in the cur­rent finan­cial year and were thor­ough­ly over­whelmed and con­fused by the trees in front of the for­est.

But, that in itself wasn’t enough to com­plete­ly kill the aura. After all record labels still released groovy records by groovy artists.adjust.jpeg

Then came Nap­ster and it’s after­math. It was the begin­ning of an extend­ed peri­od where the large­ly face­less automa­tons who now con­trolled the shrink­ing num­ber of labels decid­ed to not only bite, but quite vicious­ly attack the hand that feeds. The assault on the down­load­ers, the disc copiers and the gross­ly exces­sive ver­biage that accom­pa­nied it all has been doc­u­ment­ed repeat­ed­ly, and I don’t need to go into it again but it, as it always was going to, it end­ed up turn­ing the way the con­sum­ing pub­lic saw the labels, who were now fair­ly uni­ver­sal­ly regard­ed as irre­deemably greedy, exploita­tive and evil.

Thus the RIAA achieved the exact oppo­site result it intend­ed to and pro­vid­ed a jus­ti­fi­ca­tion, how­ev­er real, in the minds of those who want­ed to take the copy­right­ed mate­r­i­al owned by their mem­bers with­out pay­ment.

And it also missed the point that what­ev­er the down­side of dig­i­tal age vis-à-vis P2P and such, there were as many upsides for copy­right own­ers in terms of mas­sive­ly increased oppor­tu­ni­ties for sync, cat­a­logue exploita­tion, mar­ket­ing and so much more.

Spin for­ward to 2008 and the pen­ny has final­ly dropped, at least a lit­tle, in the USA. Whilst the ludi­crous claims as to the loss­es incurred con­tin­ue, and the likes of John Kennedy con­tin­ue to stri­dent­ly argue that it’s all about pro­tect­ing the artist (real­ly? Gosh!) the RIAA announced a mora­to­ri­um on the sil­ly granny suits and attacks. Maybe they’ve just worked out that there is some sort of future out there, if only they were will­ing to work through these things.

So flip across to New Zealand and what do we have…. a PR dis­as­ter care­ful­ly, and rather obliv­i­ous­ly put togeth­er by a vari­ety of indus­try lob­by groups, includ­ing APRA, who hav­ing seen their turnover rise in the dig­i­tal age, should know much bet­ter. And the bal­ance of income from copy­right exploita­tion will con­tin­ue to shift in the direc­tion of pub­lish­ing and non-sales relat­ed returns.

Hell, every­one can work that one out, sure­ly.

I can almost under­stand the rem­nants of the majors in NZ fight­ing tooth and nail to pre­serve what they have but the Canute-ism of it all is rather unavoid­able and it is, in every way pos­si­ble, as big a pub­lic rela­tions dis­as­ter for the labels (at least on a NZ lev­el) as the law suits against kids were in the USA, and thus is equal­ly as self defeat­ing as those ludi­crous legal mis­steps.

They hat­ed you before? They hate you much more now. How bloody stu­pid.

Any­way, as an aside, Mark has the T-shirt pic­tured here avail­able. The phrase on it was lift­ed from a post of mine on Pub­lic Address and Mark, after ask­ing per­mis­sion, ini­ti­at­ed the bits for sale at the link. I’m not sure if the phrase car­ried copy­right 😉

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