Which pirates are worse?

By | February 4, 2012
Record labels, publishers, and strangleholds over content producers

There's a problem with this article. You see, it's not the music industry that benefits from 'special' laws. It's the record label industry. And arguably they are worse than traditional pirates who plunder commercial shipping vessels and resell the stolen goods.

A look at the music industry
Consider Anna, a (fictional) small artist in Germany. She has a few options available: (1) sign a contract with GEMA and get at least some income from the existing system. Anna can now use an artist name without publically revealing her real name and home address in order to sell her music, enjoys some minimal income from however the intransparent trickle-down model works, and can't get her works to be played at an event unless the event operator signs a contract with GEMA. She thus limits distribution of her works and thus potential to gain critical fan mass. (2) Don't sign a contract with GEMA. Now Anna can virally spread her works through digital technology to grow her fan base, but only achieve income if she has individual contracts directly with the event operators (e.g. through cc licencing), needs to give out her name and home address to event operators to allow them to play her works legally, and risks her works being taken down from popular hosting platforms if some party doesn't like her and claims infringement (regardless of the claim validity).

Sound like fair competition? The same applies with differing details in other countries. But that's the type of stranglehold on artists today: you're damned if you sign and damned if you don't. Is this a conflict against the more fundamental principle of unfair competition by blocking competitors from using different business models?

The clear beneficiary here is not the artist, but the group in the middle – in this case GEMA. That's equivalent to major record labels: the middleman eats the lion's share of the profits and wants to keep it that way, so they negotiate with legislative groups to create special laws in their favor.

Now to the publishers
The publishing industry is currently in a bit better condition for small authors: the only special law they have is price regulation – price of new (and digital) books is set nation-wide. But that doesn't mean they are sitting quietly while e-publishing raises distribution directly from author to reader, cutting out the publishing company in the middle. There are currently wars over exclusivity rights contracts, but so far no crippling business model prohibitions like we have in the entertainment industry. These blocks are enough to make life difficult for small authors, but not enough to cripple the future of digital distribution models.


2 thoughts on “Which pirates are worse?

  1. Sophie Wrobel

    +André Fachat i'm not sure we have jurisdiction over youtube, as it is a US company subject to DCMA (i.e. a claim is sufficient to take down, regardless of validity). GEMA also has the special status that unless you've 'cleared' the music through a formal process by asking GEMA to check the title, artist's full legal name and address, they can legally demand payment (or block) virtually any piece of music.

  2. André Fachat

    I just again encountered another page where GEMA has got its right and blocked a video on YouTube – even though the author says the music is rights-free. And YouTube does not even react on any reports.

    In the high times of the civil rights movement that would clearly have been called censorship I guess…


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