Bono attacks illegal downloading, amazed by the backlash

Noting the “the latest figures from the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry shown that 95 per cent of all music downloaded is illegally obtained and unpaid for”, U2’s manager Paul McGuinness is calling on Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to take steps against customers illegally file-sharing on their networks.

In an article for GQ titled How To Save The Music Industry McGuinness writes that he is “convinced that ISPs are not going to help the music and film industry voluntarily. Some things have got to come with the force of legislation… Following the passing of new anti-piracy laws in April’s Digital Economy Act, Britain and France now have some of the world’s best legal environments for rebuilding our battered music business.”

McGuinness proposes that “Households [should] pay for a subscription service like Spotify, or they will pay for a service bundled into their broadband bill… But many customers will also take out more expensive added-value packages, with better deals, including faster access to new releases.” He believes that this approach is “immeasurably better than the ugly alternative of suing hundreds of thousands of individuals”.

According to McGuinness the key to changing the system “starts by challenging a myth – the one that says free content is an inexorable fact of life brought on by the unstoppable advance of technology. It is not. It is in fact part of the commercial agenda of powerful technology and telecoms industries. Look at the figures as free music helped drive an explosion of broadband revenues in the past decade. Revenues from the “internet access” (fixed line and mobile) business quadrupled from 2004 to 2009 to $226bn. Passing them on the way down, music industry revenues fell in the same time period from $25bn to $16bn. Free content has helped fuel the vast profits of the technology and telecoms industries.”

Pre-empting a backlash from fans and critics online, McGuinness acknowledges that there are several reasons why well-known artists very seldom speak out on piracy: “It isn’t seen as cool or attractive to their fans – Lars Ulrich from Metallica was savaged when he criticised Napster. Other famous artists sometimes understandably feel too rich and too successful to be able to speak out on the issue without being embarrassed.”

Never one to let potential embarrassment stand in the way of a cause he believes in, Bono wrote an op-ed piece in the New York Times in January declaring that “A decade’s worth of music file sharing and swiping has made clear the people it hurts are the creators… and the people this reverse Robin-Hooding benefits are rich service providers, whose swollen profits perfectly mirror the lost receipts of the music business.” However McGuinness wrotes in GQ that “even [Bono] was amazed by the backlash when he was mauled by the online crowd.”

Part of the problem is that fans see successful bands as hypocritical or greedy when they complain about financial losses through illegal file sharing. “Of course this isn’t crippling bands like U2 and it would be dishonest to claim it was,” McGuinness admits, but he believes that “artists and musicians need to take their business as seriously as their music. U2 understood this. They have carefully pursued careers as performers and songwriters, signed good deals and kept control over their life’s work. Today, control over their work is exactly what young and developing performers are losing. It is not their fault. It is because of piracy and the way the internet has totally devalued their work.”

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