A new and flexible system

Peter Jenner, former manager of many British Rock bands such as Pink Floyd and The Clash, nowadays manager of Billy Bragg and other artists, also founder of Sincere Management and one of the brightest and most forward-thinking persons of music-biz, talked with mica about copyright as a dead issue, liberating the young innovators and how to help the music industries to save themselves.

About two years ago I went to the opening night of the movie “R.I.P – The Remix Manifesto” – an interesting movie about current problems of copyright facing modern remix culture. The cinema was half empty, whereas in my suggestion five years ago it would have been overcrowded. Is the topic of copyright, struggling with certain new music-models, not up to date anymore, or is it – even worse – maybe too late for copyright anyway?
I am 68 years old so who am I to know about the youth, but I suspect it is perhaps seen as a battle which has already been lost. So the youth sees it as irrelevant by realising that the forces trying to bring copyright up to date have lost. And in a sense I think they are right: Copyright as such is irrelevant. I do not think that in a digital world we cannot base our business on controlling copying and trying to get paid for each copy that has been made at any point of the system.

If we look at the basics, the reasons how societies agree to copyright, because it enables people to make a living from doing creative work and for other people invest in people who are doing creative work, now it seems to me that was traditionally done by controlling copying. When you bought a book in a bookstore a lot of the money spent on it went to the publisher who controlled the copyright and who paid a proportion of this money by contract to the writer thereby enabling him to invest in other projects – some of them making money, some of them not. And that was the whole basis on which a lot of our culture has been built. It is a very important part of how Western Europe, the USA and some other countries have found a way of rewarding people to be creative. In a similar way they have done it with paintings. Now if we are in an environment, where this control becomes virtually impossible,… To come back to your question I think these controls are highly irrelevant. Trying to bring back copyright as a control-mechanism is a dead issue. So in that sense the reply to your question is: Yes, it´s too late. But on the other hand I think that it is a very life-issue how we generate revenue for creative work of all sorts. And I think that needs a different way of thinking. In a digital world we can´t think of a system run by controlling copying, that´s simply not possible. We should perhaps more look at it in terms of demanding innovation.

In other words: If people start shifting digits that contain creative content around, we have to find a way in which some of the money gets back to both the creator and the people who have supported him and invested in the creative work and helped marketing and promoting the work so some people got aware of the work. These are continuing issues, which we nee to address. And if we look at it in terms of copyright, we will come up with stupid solutions.

That´s the perfect bridge to my next question: The term extension for sound recordings. What is your opinion about that? Wasn´t that by putting high emphasis on reviving old markets the completely wrong sign for the whole music-scene?
Going backwards is an utterly and completely unjustifiable thing, which probably has a negative effect on innovation and creativity. It is a dreadful move, which I totally disapprove of. But I speak not as anyone other than myself. I am not representing anyone else than my own. There is absolutely no economic or social justification for what they have just done. Maybe there is a justification for doing it for new works, but for old works it is completely absurd.

Why do these arguments always have to be so polarized between extremes like Cliff Richard and the pirates, between Metallica and David Byrne, between copyright and copyleft? Aren´t there many more shades of grey than in this black and white kind of thinking?
Yes, but that´s like addressing political issues. If I am a politician of the left, everything a politician of the rights says is automatically wrong. If however I am a moralist, a sociologist or a social analyst, I might come up with a conclusion that would not suit either of them with perhaps bits of both of them. Now it seems to me there is a very good argument in favour of encouraging innovation. There is a very good argument in making it easy for people to licence and making it easy for people to use copyright material, making it easy for people to do mash-ups. I think there are very good arguments on that. I might have places where I´d like to draw the line and could argue and discuss that.

In some senses the copyleft people like their key-guy Lawrence Lessig, are in favour of copyright, but that includes the right of the author to make his stuff available and to say: “You can use it”. I can see that point, but I can also see the point that it should not be allowed to assign their rights for a too long period and that people should not be able to buy in a non-negotiable way peoples creative works and the benefits from them. In other words we could be thinking in new structures and a new administration of creative work, so that we develop a new market, which develops services, which commute the internet providing the services that the public wants, enjoys and happily will pay for directly or indirectly and knowingly or unknowingly. You know, we pay for a lot of things like water or electricity.

Water is not free. When I switch on my lights, my computer, I do not have to pay immediately, but at the end of the month, I might look at my electricity-bill and might say to myself, o my God I´d better go easy on that a bit. They are charging me on a granular basis at a certain margin, which is the key to the old way of delivering and distributing. We also have libraries and TV, advertising. All these things have found ways for letting people pay for it.

Would you say the best compromise between – as you said – making it easy to license, making it easy to do mash-ups or other new types of products  on one hand and rewarding the creators so that they can probably make a living on the other, would be a flat rate?
Basically there are problems with flat rates, but I think there is no question that some kind of flat rate to provide a floor is really desirable. It has to be so low that then in a sense people, who want to spend more money than the flat rate, because they have certain needs, can do so. The flat rate for instance provides you with a standard mp3-file or whatever the current standard is, and if you want a better quality, you pay a little bit more. Or maybe if you want the content being curated for you, programmed, filed into playlists and all that kind of stuff, additional small fees are attached, and that people who build their business around that use of content, then they should too spend some of their money.

So that you get a situation, where the flat rate provides a floor or like the English say bread and butter, while the value-added services provide jam, ham and cheese or salami, you would put on the top of a nice sandwich. And there might also be services that would provide you with cake or even champagne, if someone wants to pay for it.

Do you think it is realistic to even talk about an upcoming flat rate-system, when at the same time the European Union seems to only care about reviving old markets for major-labels?
It is pure schizophrenia. At the moment on one hand the politicians do anything to revive existing markets, but on the other hand there is an increasing desperate awareness of the need to break into new technology and how we can develop services, which can compete with Google, Pandora and Itunes. And if we do so, we have to think in terms of liberating the innovator, the new young, spirited and gifted person, who comes up with new ideas and ways of using, accessing, collecting and making music or making products that contain music, and making it easier for them to build up their businesses.

In the United States within the fair use it is much easier to start your own business. You should look at Netflix in America: Netflix was a system, which sent you dvds in the post for a subscription. So they were providing people with dvds by the post, based on a law that allows the buyer of a film to do anything he likes with it, to lend it etc. And they were not paying according to the use, but according to how many they needed. And they invented the rules how they dealt with their customers. Everything was ok till the post-costs went up and people wanted to have streamings anyway. So Netflix went to purely digital service and that has been a catastrophe, because suddenly the have to pay licenses from all the film studios with all sorts of conditions and restrictions and the innovative service that they invented, was destroyed. And there is nothing going in this place.

So you suddenly had a completely different licensing model for quite the same effect of using material with copyrights on it.
Exactly. And the consequence is: The studios have not only sorted Netflix out, but they shot themselves in the foot, cause all the money they once got for selling dvds is also gone. There is no indication that revenue will be displaced, because what will happen is that people would rather go to high speed illegal services like torrent than to look for any other comparable services. So we have to find ways, which are consistent with the way consumers behave, the way, that technology works and which makes it easy for people to licence content for their services in a way, which is fair. Now if you have a flat rate, you have got a good chance that people can say that those, who are providing are not charged for the service. Once you start charging for that service I think it is fair that a little money is paid to those, who are creating the content. I don´t have a full view, I don´t have an end view, and it should change every year as the technology changes. We have to develop a new and flexible system and I think a good start is a flat rate, as I already said, to have a ground floor. So will the politicians put in a flat rate? No. So what has to happen is: The music industry has to deal with customers and mobile companies etc. to ensure that they can get some form of payment from them. I think the content Industries have to make it faster, easier and simpler to licence, which for me means we would have to move to statuary and compulsory licensing.

We have to force the industries to move into the 21st century and to help them save themselves. You have to remember that the record industries once wanted to stop radio because they thought it will be bad for them, that film industry wanted to stop videos, that the publishing companies wanted to stop records and so on. It is very easy to see, what damage a new technology can do to your business, whereas it is very hard to see how it might help your business in the future. And it is very hard for the people, who are involved in the old forms of business to recognise that they have to change what they are doing.

Are you optimistic that such a flexible system will come into live?
Yes, it will happen anyway. The question is, if we manage that the people, who are creative are getting paid for their work. We could all easily end up in a world of amateurs. Nothing against amateurs, but I think that professionalism and the records that have been made in the 60s, 70s and whenever with studios and the specific way they were made developed unique work without much money involved in the first place. If much money was needed, we would not have works of Michelangelo and many other unique artists. So we have to find a way for them getting paid for their craft as well as for their art. I am a great believer in the value of the craft. If Pink Floyd would not have made the records they made no one would have been able to build on their work.

Do you think that in this flexible system collecting societies, as we all know them, will play a role?
The must be radically reformed, they have to be transparent, honest and they have to pay across borders. When they support the local culture, it has to be upfront and it has to be clear. If they do not change, publishers are withdrawing from and that is a desaster for the authors, the radio stations and everyone involved. Now they are their own worst enemies. The same with record companies: They are their own worst enemies. You simply cannot cling on to your old business model. You have to look at the new business and try to make your way through a difficult transition. Maybe not in my lifetime but someday there will be new national collecting societies, who are able to license worldwide in a fair way, because the EU will also realise that it is in everyone´s interest.

Six years ago you said in an interview the future’s going to be pretty bright for indie labels, musicians, songwriters and entrepreneurs as well as network providers. Would you today still say the same?
Yes but the Independents are doing less badly and artists, who are able to adjust the new technology, will do better in the long run. They will find ways in the long run to communicate with their peers.

Markus Deisenberger