A year ago British musician Billy Bragg was whining that Bebo should be paying musicians a portion of their $850 million liquidity event, arguing that “the musicians who posted their work on Bebo.com are no different from investors in a start-up enterprise…Now that the business has reaped huge benefits, surely they deserve a dividend.” We dismantled his emotional rant and suggested that, actually, Bebo should be paid for all the free marketing they gave those musicians. 367 comments later, our readers were still divided between the realists and the “it’s not fair” crowd.
Now he’s back again, this time targeting Google (NASDAQ:GOOG). Thank God the bloggers are here to call bullshit because the journalists, fearing their own looming unemployment, are jumping on board the idiot bandwagon.
Last week Bragg pointed his anger at Google, demanding that the company play music videos on YouTube’s UK site and pay the demanded royalty (Google just took the videos down instead of paying). His argument is ridiculous - that Google should literally be forced to play music videos that it no longer wants to play, and then pay a per play fee.
Really, this begging for handouts is unbecoming:
Sir, We have growing concern over the use of our music on the internet and the unfair way we believe music is treated by Google and YouTube, which it owns. At the heart of the issue is Google’s disagreement over the prices it should pay to PRS for Music, the not-for-profit licensing organisation. Music fans in the UK are confused and angry at Google’s stance. We, as songwriters and composers of music, share those concerns. It is not in anyone’s best interests to block access to music. Fans are denied enjoyment, creators aren’t paid and illegal music sites benefit from the resulting displacement of web traffic.
Google says it cannot operate YouTube if it has to pay a royalty — however small — every time a video containing music is played. In 2007 the UK’s independent Copyright Tribunal established that a minimum royalty per play was an essential requirement in the licensing of online services. Google fails to recognize this and ascribes little value to music — in spite of a huge increase in music usage on YouTube’s UK service. Royalties are a vital income source for all professional creators and must be preserved to ensure a continued vibrant music industry. We trust that Google will reinstate music on YouTube and pay a fair price for it.
David Arnold, Jazzie B, Billy Bragg, Guy Chambers, Robin Gibb, Pete Waterman, Mike Chapman, Wayne Hector, Pam Sheyne, Debbie Wiseman
The audacity of the letter is staggering. But The Guardian’s Henry Porter uses it as a launchpad to attack Google more generally as an “amoral menace”, adding that “Google is in the final analysis a parasite that creates nothing…”
Either he refuses to understand, or just ignores, the fact that Google is the one being bullied here. The company is making a simple profit/loss decision and apparently concluded that it can’t make money on the deal being offered. To suggest that Google must accept the deal is to suggest that Google needs to subsidize the music industry simply because it is a profitable company.
It’s ridiculous and only makes sense when Porter moves on in his argument to talk about newspapers, which provide his livelihood (with no discussion of the direct conflict of interest). He then spends paragraphs trying to tie Google’s success with the failure of newspapers. He never really gets there, but does say that Google is “delinquent and sociopathic” near the end, which at least keeps things interesting.
Let’s all be clear here. What Porter and Bragg want is a subsidy from Google. A sort of welfare tax on a profitable company so that they can continue to draw the paychecks they’ve become accustomed to. That isn’t going to happen, and all this hand wringing isn’t helping to move their respective industries toward a successful business model. They either need to adapt or die. And they’re choosing a very noisy and annoying death.