U2’s manager says the ‘free’ ride for music via the Internet is over


As far as solving the music industry’s financial woes, U2 manager Paul McGuinness still hasn’t found what he’s looking for. But he’s not about to stop beating the drum.

McGuinness writes a lengthy piece in the new issue
of Rolling Stone addressing the file-sharing and piracy issues that he
believes are largely the source of the meltdown of the music business
in recent years. It’s an update and expansion on ideas he put forth at
the international MIDEM music conference in Cannes
two years ago, an event at which I spoke with him at length about some
very specific recommendations on how to address those issues.

Now, as then, he holds Internet service providers —
and the giant telecommunications corporations that control the vast
majority of ISPs — responsible, arguing that they’ve built their
industry to a large extent by providing free content, often
irrespective of the intellectual property rights of musicians and other
creative types responsible for that content.

When I sat down with him in Cannes,
he noted that ISPs have no qualms about promptly shutting down the
accounts of users who don’t pay their ISP bills; they should do the
same for those who illegally share copyrighted Web content like music.

More than two years later, he writes in Rolling Stone’s Sept. 30 issue that’s just out, little has changed in that regard.

“For the world’s Internet Service Providers, bloated
by years of broadband growth, ‘free music’ has been a multi-billion
dollar bonanza,” McGuinness writes. “Unfortunately, the main problem is
still just as bad as it ever was.

“Artists cannot get record deals. Revenues are
plummeting. Efforts to provide legal and viable ways of making money
from muse are being stymied by piracy. The latest industry figures,
from IFPI (the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry),
show that 95 percent of all the music downloaded is illegally obtained
and unpaid for. … A study endorsed by trade unions says Europe’s creative industries could lose more than a million jobs in the next five years.

“Finally,” he adds, “maybe the message is getting through that this isn’t just about fewer limos for rich rock stars.”

Many of those rock stars have been reluctant to go
on the offensive, because the problem is often cast in precisely those
terms: millionaire musicians whining that they aren’t making even more

McGuinness still thinks, as he did back in early
2008, that music subscription services should be the way of the future
and that ISPs should be sharing their windfall profits with the artists
and labels that have helped them pull in that money. If they don’t do
so voluntarily, government intervention should be the next step. He
points to laws passed in France, England, South Korea, Taiwan and New Zealand
aimed at tipping the scales back toward equity for musicians. But that
still leaves much of the world without any such protections.

“I think we are coming to understand that ‘free’
comes with a price,” McGuinness writes, “and in my business that means
less investment in talent, and fewer artists making a living from

The $64-billion question is: How many
musicians, managers, record company executives or even ISP bigwigs will
be willing to get behind McGuinness?


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