@ MidemNet: Frustrations On Fragmentation And The ‘Unwinnable War’

MidemNet 08Another year, another carnival of hand-wringing about the fractured international music licensing framework. The multifarious avenues via which online music service providers must license tunes is still curtailing development, we continue to hear. “The ideal world is a quantum leap from where we are,” Yahoo (NSDQ: YHOO) Music GM Ian Rogers (pictured) told a panel on the topic, calling the current system “prohibitive and expensive”. “The longer we wait to sort this out, the more that habits form around services that don’t pay the rightsholders.”

Alison Wenham, president of the indie label representatives World Independent Network and Association of Independent Music, says reaching an efficient licensing model is “somewhere between rocket science and alchemy”. Then she told Rogers: “We’ve created Merlin in order to ensure our artists get paid, and I don’t believe you’re paying us yet!“. Wenham told me Yahoo Music was not paying independent artists correctly despite having agreed deals with major labels. Rogers was unable to defend himself fully, citing rules surrounding Yahoo’s earnings, due next week.

Pointing to a Qtrax poster in the hall, “it pays to be free”, Wenham added: “We are often approached by companies that have revenue models for them, but they don’t have revenue models for us – it doesn’t pay us to be free.” A stark highlight to the challenge the ad-supported model faces.

After those folk wondered how to pay and get paid for their tunes, Stanford law professor and Creative Commons figurehead Lawrence Lessig put it in context with a speech aimed squarely at discouraging legal actions against those millions of consumers who are currently online lawbreakers. Damning what former MPAA president Jack Valenti once called a “terrorist war” on infringers, Lessig said: “Is this ‘terrorist war’ going to stop piracy? It’s ridiculous… What Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT) calls this “darknet” (illegal file sharing) is permanent as long as the internet survives.

“Its most important effect is to erode the respect that we have for copyright. This unwinnable war (trust me, I’m an American, I know about unwinnable wars) – is perceived by many as an unjust war. (It) can only make our kids pirates. Is this good policy? In my country, we live in this age of prohibition, living life constantly against the law. This is corrosive, it is corrupting of the very idea of the rule of law.”