I wrote an article back in December about intellectual property becoming one of the big ideological political footballs in ther 21st century and it got a good reception. Time for an update of some recent trends methinks.
First of all, numerous posters have recently gone up around Islington claiming that, as you can read in Islington Now (PDF), DVD piracy “finances crimes including child trafficking, drug smuggling, gun crime – even terrorism.” If I were an Islington council tax payer I’d be demanding my money back.
Leaving the claims to one side for a moment, why is council and the police devoting so much resources into what is a civil matter? Couldn’t these resources be better allocated elsewhere? This is doing the film industry’s job for them, isn’t it?
Fundamentally though, is there really any evidence that dodgy DVDs fund trafficking? I get the impression that Islington officials have been watching too many 1960s espionage TV series. There is no global criminal organisation that exists to simply do evil things for their own sake. Is it really that complacent for me to suggest that if child trafficking, drug running and illegal arms dealing were such loss-making industries, people wouldn’t do them?
As for terrorism, anyone who has ever sat in a pub or cafe around Chapel Market will know who does the bulk of the illegal DVD selling in Islington: it is Chinese immigrants of presumably dubious legal status. I have to say I’m rather dubious about the claim that the money they make will be going to Al Qaeda or even Kim Il-sung. Is it really so hard to believe that illegal activities might be going to fund… criminals?
Onto other matters, and a return of the Performing Rights Society. The Federation of Small Businesses has been complaining that many of its members have started being harassed by the PRS – something which I reported on here late last year. I can certainly confirm that when the PRS rang my office it was of a distinctly threatening nature.
I can understand why any business which uses music as a marketing tool ought to pay the PRS, but why should TV license fee payers, listeners of commercial radio and individuals who have already paid for the music they want to listen pay twice? In that, I’d include car mechanics and people sitting in an office listening to their personal stereos. This isn’t about whether people should pay for the music they listen to, it’s about why they should be forced to pay twice.
And as for the PRS’ claim that 90% of their members are small traders themselves, that may be true, but you can bet your bottom dollar that those members don’t get 90% of the revenue the PRS raises. Perhaps if they did (but really, why should they?), they might expect a little more sympathy. But of course it is the big music stars who get the lion’s share so let’s not kid ourselves this is about sticking up for the little guy.
Finally, from PRS harrassment to harrassment by the US military. Clive Stafford-Smith wrote an interesting and at times amusing article in the Guardian on Thursday about how the US uses music as a torture weapon, and how the music industry doesn’t seem to care. It’s ironic, isn’t it? The music industry is busy trying to lock up everyone with an illegal download on their iPod yet are quite sanguine about using their intellectual property to hurt people (presumably the US army has a PRS license though, so that’s okay).
What is most interesting is the reaction of the musicians themselves. It should surprise no-one that Napster-slaying and all round dickheads Metallica seem to think it is wonderful (“If the Iraqis aren’t used to freedom, then I’m glad to be part of their exposure,” according to James Hetfield). David Gray at least laments it: “It’s shocking that there isn’t more of an outcry. I’d gladly sign up to a petition that says don’t use my music, but it seems to be missing the point a bit.”
He has a point in that the real issue is music being abused in this way, not whose music. But he can do more than sign a petition – it is surely within his rights to not allow it to be used in this way? If intellectual property rights are worth fighting for at all, surely they should be used in this way? If I owned a gun and left it lying around I would be criminally negligent. Surely it is equally negilgent (morally, if not criminally) of musicians to knowingly allow their music to be used in this way? If musicians aren’t prepared to stand up for their rights, why should we respect them?