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FACing the Music · Monday October 05, 2009 by Crosbie Fitch

From comments on a P2PNet article entitled We are the walrus. Or, thank you Lily Allen.

Here’s the choice that Billy Bragg and others in the FAC (Featured Artists Coalition) face.

There are two perspectives that one can take with regard to the business of music recordings. Either the artist and production engineers are paid to make a studio recording and that’s the end of their interest in the matter – they have their money, the customer has their recording, OR the artist is a budding monopolist (their own record label) and will begrudge anyone who makes a further copy of their published recording who didn’t pay for it.

It comes down to whether you believe in copyright or not. Are you in the business of performing and recording music, or are you in the business of selling copies and broadcast privileges?

Do you believe that recording artists should be content that they have been amply paid for their studio recording, or would you go further and say that you will not rest until everyone who makes and sells or gives away an unauthorised copy (or performance thereof) is properly punished, and a severe deterrent is thus in place for anyone who even thinks of joining them?

It’s the difference between the equitable exchange of work for money, and the jealous guarding of a lucrative state granted monopoly.

The record labels are the ones in the business of selling copies and broadcast privileges. It is they who pay session musicians and studio engineers for their work, and they who say that should be the end of the matter. It is the labels who are in the business of selling copies and enforcing their monopolies, now to a draconian degree.

I suggest FAC should represent the artists who no longer wish the labels to pretend to represent them. FAC should comprise those artists who are indeed satisfied if they are amply paid for their studio recordings, AND that copyright is neutralised on those recordings such that the audience is then free to share and build upon them, without fear of prosecution or demands for royalty. FAC should comprise those artists in the business of performing and recording music. It should not comprise artists interested in getting into the business of selling copies and broadcast privileges (that business is ending).

FAC’s customer is their audience, their fans. FAC’s customer is not one or more record labels.

Sell your live and studio performances, and the recordings thereof.

That’s as far as you can go.

You can’t sell copies of those performances or recordings without a monopoly that suspends the liberty of your audience to make such copies themselves. It is that 18th century suspension of liberty that is so unethical. The audience and artists among them have a fundamental, natural right to copy and build upon mankind’s culture. It is that right to copy that was suspended three centuries ago and granted as the exclusive privilege of the ‘copyright’ holder. So you should recognise that this right to copy does not belong to the musician, but to the individual, to the members of the audience, to the public, to everyone. Be careful before you start talking quite so possessively in terms of your copyrights.

Sell your recordings. Do not sell uncopyable copies.

You’ve sold your recordings to labels for years, so it’s not like you’re unfamiliar with the concept. Start selling them to your audience instead.

Treat your audience like your new record label. They will take care of A&R, promotion, reproduction, and distribution. That’s why the labels are squealing blue murder – because their customers for copies are now able to disintermediate them and make their own for nothing. However, that shouldn’t upset you because you’re not in the business of making and selling copies. You’re in the business of making and selling music, performances, recordings. Your paradigm shift is that you’re now selling to your audience directly instead of via a record label. But, critically, your audience can’t make your music instead of you. That’s why, unlike the labels, you’re not confronting the inevitable end of your business. So you don’t need a law to prohibit your audience making their own music instead of paying you for it. You certainly don’t need a law prohibiting your audience making and distributing copies. Heck, unlike record labels, your audience aren’t even charging you for that service.

So, what’s it going to be?

Is FAC going to stick to the business of making and selling music?

Or is FAC going to continue this nonsense of ‘educating’ their audience against making unauthorised copies?

What business is FAC in? Music or copies?

Billy Bragg replies:


Thanks for offering your opinion of the state of play. I have to tell you that I don’t agree.

For instance, you can’t tell me “That’s as far as you can go”, no more than I can tell you you can share these files but no more.It simply doesn’t work like that. Who knows what means I might have of finding a niche where I can sell my work directly to people willing to pay for it? I doubt the new models for doing business will be either/or.

Your stated position is that of a diehard P2P user. In some ways it echoes the comments that FAC get from diehard record industry executives. Both of you expect us to be on one side or the other and are quick to condemn if we don’t show the same dedication as you do. Well, Crosbie, I have to tell you that FAC aren’t one your side to that extent – neither are we on the side of the labels. We seek to represent the third component of this relationship, the voice of the artists. What we want to do, as you’ll see from our website, is to ensure that artists can continue to make a living doing what they love most – making music. I’m talking especially here of new artists. We see it as being in all our interests to open a dialogue between the various parts of the new digital industry. As a result we talk to labels – Big 4 mostly – and we talk to ISPs. We talk to the Musicians Union in the UK and to the songwriters and producers unions too. We have so far never been able to have an ongoing dialogue with the P2P community, which is why Jon’s initiative is so interesting. If we can start to build confidence in this process, I believe that we all will benefit from your input.

Billy, I’m not telling you “That’s as far as you can go” as an edict, but as friendly advice to inform you and others in FAC as to your natural limitations.

I’m trying to help you realise that you can only hope to sell that which people are interested in buying from you.

Of course, you can try and sell copies if you want to. You can even attempt to enforce your monopolies against those who would promote your music to their friends by making and distributing unauthorised copies. You can try to do that, but I don’t recommend it as a business to get into because it doesn’t have a future.

To say you cannot sell snow to Sami, or sand to Saharans, is not a forbidding, but business advice.

I’m trying to tell you in the nicest way possible that you can’t sell copies to your audience.

I vaguely recall there was some ludicrous legislation in a South American country a few years ago that made it illegal to collect rainwater in order to protect the revenues of the local water supply companies, but really, to think that legislation against copying is going to create you a market to sell copies, is something either a pre-schooler or a mafioso would come up with as a viable business model. When the heavies are the state, and only a very few printing press owners can make copies, then perhaps such a protection racket has a hope of working, but those days are over.

If you read my previous comment again, more carefully, you will realise that I’m in complete agreement with you that you can sell your work directly to your enthusiastic audience willing and able to pay for it. But you don’t seem to be able to read that in what I write. All you can see is that I’m telling you that you can’t sell copies of your work.

I neither represent artists nor audiences. I champion individuals and their natural rights, against the anachronistic privileges granted for the benefit of publishing corporations. We are all artists, and all members of audiences of the artists we appreciate. Artists are individuals, as is everyone in an artist’s audience, so I champion all, indistinguishably. All have the same rights. None have rights that others do not. We are all equals on this planet. It is the anachronistic privilege of copyright that interferes with that natural equality. It is that privilege that sets publisher against public, artist against audience, and that privilege that should be abolished.

However, that’s just my position. What is of concern here is the position of FAC and its members.

The choice I’ve suggested that faces you is not whose side you are on, but what business you are in.

Are you in the business of making music, selling compositions, songs, performances, and recordings, OR are you in the business of making and distributing monopoly protected copies and broadcasts thereof?

When you’ve decided what business you’re in, perhaps then it will be clearer to you whether you need to sue your customers for disrespecting your monopoly, or whether you should explore ways of selling your music to your audience instead of to record labels.

It’s one of those red pill/blue pill dichotomies. Bear in mind that the software industry is already well divided by such a schism, and those on each side regard the others as having an alien mindset. That’s how deep the paradigm shift goes.

Don’t write it off as ‘freeloaders wanting stuff for nothing’ – that’s pure propaganda. We’re talking free as in speech, not as in beer. This is the cultural liberty of an emancipated people, not an impoverished and culturally stagnant cultist commune.

So, have you made up your mind yet?

Music or copies?

Billy Bragg replies:


This two pill thing…. its not such a black and white issue. Many musicians do both and manage to make a living. I know it would make things much more easy for you if you could force me to chose between music or copies, but we’re going to have to be a little more open to debate if we want to create an environment in which P2P is recognised as a powerful promotional tool. That’s what I want from our discussions here. You interested?

Billy, I’m always interested in discussion of the issues and progress toward solutions, especially where solutions restore people’s liberty to share and build upon published works, and enable people to exchange their labour in a free market.

I daresay there are many who would like to portray this clash of perspectives as an encounter between artists trying to make a decent living and a den of thieves. It’s a little more fundamental than that. It’s a conflict between unnatural law that says that information can’t be copied and natural law that says it can. The outcome of that conflict is obvious to anyone familiar with the schism concerning geo vs heliocentricity.

What we’re left with is the problem of a lack of facilities that enable artists to exchange their work for the money of their audience. It’s a problem caused through the neglect of three centuries, a period in which no-one needed such facilities because of the reproduction monopoly known as copyright. Artists sold their work to printers, and printers sold copies that no-one else could legally produce. Copyright didn’t have to be legislated, but it was, and as a consequence the evolution of facilities for exchanges between artists and their audiences ground to a halt.

That’s why I’m trying to be upfront with you that this is the situation. We are all interested in how to buy and sell intellectual work in a world in which one can no longer sell copies at monopoly protected prices. If kids can make copies for nothing, you’re not going to be able to change that through holy fiat, education, or bandwidth squeezing, and so you’re not going to be able to sell them copies. Fortunately, kids can’t make your music (at least not without years of effort), so you can at least sell them that.

If this rapprochement is to discover how to stop kids file-sharing you’re barking up the wrong tree. If it’s to discover how to sell your music to your audience, well, come on up.

Odin Xenobuilder said 4038 days ago :

Their charter and other info is kinda vague, but they sure do seem to come across as pro-copyright. There is vague references about changing with the digital age but most of it seems to say “We want all the money because we don’t need the recording industry anymore”.

Seems like they are pushing for a step in the right direction though, usually small steps are how we get where we need to be. By reading their material, you would think they don’t get it though. I love the perspective you’ve put on it here.

Crosbie Fitch said 4038 days ago :

Thanks Odin. It’s those small steps that we should indeed look forward to, where artists move away from the mindset they’ve been programmed with by the labels (file-sharers are scum) and toward the realisation that it’s the label’s monopoly that’s the thief, not the members of their audience.

Billy Bragg is quite aware of the long tradition of folk music and how it became radically upended by copyright, with people scouring the countryside for folk music and songs precisely to claim the monopoly of copyright upon them. That is a theft of culture from the people.

What we have now is the people asserting their ownership of their own culture – in considerable conflict with the 18th century monopoly.

It is a pity it is so difficult for musicians to see that it is not their audience who are stealing their livelihoods, but the labels who are paying the musicians to steal their audience’s cultural liberty.

It’s going to be a long and fraught journey for artists and audiences to extricate themselves from the mess they’re in, but they’ll get there.

The audience pays the artist for their art, and the audience gets to keep their cultural liberty. That’s the way it’s been for millennia, and that’s the way it’s reverting to. We just have to put up with the embarrassment of a three century historical aberration in which someone thought it was a good idea to give printers a monopoly.

Maniquí said 4037 days ago :

Really interesting discussion, that touches both the theory and the practice on how the game is changing.

A few quick questions:

1. Couldn’t labels be seen as patronage? I would say “no”, as after funding the artist (and sound recorders, and etc) they pursue some economic benefit. But, hey, it’s about live and let live.

In other words, it’s seems (as for my current mindset) that it would be easier for artists to do their work if they are paid an amount of money in advance so they know they will be able to buy/get some food at the end of the day. Of course, that’s the kind of security that we all have been programmed to pursue (both by our genes and by corporations that play with our natural fears).

Even in this ages, when digital copy is so cheap (if not free), it looks more convenient/easier/realistic to have someone to patronage (and maybe, go a step beyond, profit from) an artist, so he is able to create his art, and then sell copies (yes, ideally without a copyright) of that work to the audience, than expecting the audience to donate/pay/fund/collect the amount of money an artist may want to get by his work to make a decent living.

I think I’ve grasped all the natural right vs artificial/forced suspension of copyright, but then, I ask again: isn’t it a matter of convenience?

Wouldn’t like to take this idea of natural vs un-natural too far, but then, it’s natural to be naked, it’s natural to, well, have sex on the outside, in front of other human beings, if you like it. But it looks there is a “convenience” on not being naked, or not doing nasty things in front of others. Well, at least, we are enforced on not to do so.

I’m using the word “convenience” too much. The question then is: “whose convenience”.

Again, we’ve been programmed to believe/accept a few things, that now, on a digital world which changed all drastically, seem to not make sense at all.
It seems we will have to break the spell.

2. Then, the question also is: is music (or art) something worth of money? is it something even worth of food?
Money is another convenience and another spell we should somewhat break.

Crosbie, thanks for the space and sorry for my english and the somehow loose points I tried to make :)

PD: while we are here talking about music, let me recommend Starstika (I’ve gladly pay them for their music). There is something on their lyrics that may be related to all this mindset changes we are pursuing.

Crosbie Fitch said 4037 days ago :

1. Couldn’t labels be seen as patronage?

Labels are 100% mercenary and sell their services to artists. They seduce them with an advance and then nothing further is provided until all costs (including the advance) are recouped. Predictably all the services the label charges the artist for are at very high mark-ups. Only the most wealthy independent artists would ever consider approaching a label for their services at the same price as they charge their contracted artists.

The only risk a label takes on an artist is failing to recover the advance and any other external costs of production and promotion (a risk they are careful to keep very low, and isn’t the same as the advance remaining unrecouped from the artist’s account – a highly probable eventuality).

Imagine a casino offering Tom Jones a $10,000 advance and a 1% royalty for singing each night on condition he pays the going rate to eat, drink and sleep in the casino hotel and the costs of booking the stage and paying the stage crew, until that advance is recouped. The casino could well recover that advance after the first night, but it may take Tom Jones a year before his advance is recouped and he starts receiving any of that 1% royalty on top. Of course, he could walk away at any time, but then his singing career would be over.

Here’s some reading for those who doubt things are quite as terrible as I imply:

The future for artists who recognise it’s about selling music, not copies, is in selling their work to their audience instead of the producers of copies (labels). So, yes, the audience becomes the artist’s patron, their true customer.

I think I’ve grasped all the natural right vs artificial/forced suspension of copyright, but then, I ask again: isn’t it a matter of convenience?

Natural rights are so called because they are the rights that people have naturally, through their natural ability and power. People have a natural ability to protect their lives, their private spaces and possessions, the truth of their actions, and their freedom of movement and speech unconstrained by the will of their fellows.

As individuals we only need that power that nature has given us. We do not need power over others, just as we do not need others to have power over us. An egalitarian government is supposed to only protect this natural power, and not to privilege anyone (or any legal entity) with any unnatural power over anyone else. Monopolies are quite inegalitarian, and have been recognised as such for centuries. Copyright and patent were enacted in an age when egalitarianism wasn’t particularly highly regarded.

The question then is: “whose convenience”.

Copyright was enacted for the crown’s convenience in controlling the press, and the press’s convenience in suppressing uncontrolled competition. It was never intended a means for individuals to control the press (as we see only too well here Edwyn Collins Can’t Give Away His Music ).

Then, the question also is: is music (or art) something worth of money?

Anything you don’t have is worth what you would pay for it. Anything you have or can produce is either worth what you’d sell it for, or what you could obtain for it in a free market. People tend to wait until the market value reaches or exceeds their sale value.

Things don’t otherwise have intrinsic monetary value. It is the moment of exchange when they do. It not the moment of delivery of work, but the moment when someone has agreed a price to pay for it in exchange, and the exchange occurs. We can estimate the market value of something, but that isn’t intrinsic monetary value.

Hard work does not represent intrinsic monetary value. Thus, no-one has a right to be paid for their work. What people have a right to is free exchange and the truth of those exchanges. Thus you agree what is to be exchanged, make the exchange, and given no deceit that is the end of the matter.

It is an attractive idea to be able to publish something and put a price upon it of your own choosing, and be able to prosecute anyone found in possession who did not pay for it, but that’s not a free market. Similarly, it’s attractive to some for a central committee to appraise published works, value them, and then reimburse the publisher from a fund collected through taxation – according to how widely distributed and performed their work is – but this also is not a free market.

In a free market the artist and their audience come to an agreement concerning the exchange of the audience’s money for the artist’s work, and then make the exchange. At the point of that exchange we find out how much the artist’s work is worth in monetary terms. But, remember, neither party is forced to make the exchange if they don’t consider it equitable – the exchange only occurs if both parties find it agreeable.




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