Coalition of artists says moves to suspend offenders' broadband connections are like 'cracking a nut with a sledgehammer'
A growing rift is developing in the music industry over proposals by business secretary Lord Mandelson to crack down on persistent filesharers by suspending their broadband connections.
The row has pitted big names such as Billy Bragg and Annie Lennox against record labels and the Musicians' Union ahead of an approaching government deadline for comments in its illegal filesharing consultation.
A coalition of artists including Lennox, Bragg and Pink Floyd's Nick Mason argue such laws would alienate their audience and risk criminalising music fans. The Featured Artists Coalition (FAC) says the planned crackdown fails to recognise "evidence that repeat file-sharers of music are also repeat purchasers of music".
But music industry figures have hit back that it is too easy for established, high-earning artists to take this view and that the big stars are neglecting the low-earning session musicians and lesser-known bands. Some fear divisions in the industry could derail their anti-piracy fight when new laws are close.
Fran Nevrkla, head of the royalty collection society PPL, says the FAC's claims are "grossly naive and desperately damaging".
"All of us look like a bunch of charlies," he says. "This is more than unhelpful. It's destructive, I wish I could understand the hostility. But if between us all we don't screw it up, within 12 months we could have some legislation in place. I am quietly confident."
Nevrkla stresses that 90% of PPL's 42,000 members earn less than £15,000 a year from music and that the FAC has neglected the low earners. "We don't understand why they feel they have the right to imply they speak on behalf of all artists and musicians. Their views are not shared by the majority."
Dave Rowntree, an FAC board member and the drummer in Blur, says Mandelson's proposals are akin to trying to "crack a nut with a sledgehammer" .
"For the industry as a whole, the more people hear music the better," says Rowntree. "For a so-called creative industry we are being very uncreative in the way we approach this topic."
He adds: "We have driven the problem underground and we are about to drive it into a place where we won't be able to find out what is going on.
"Given that we have managed to monetise the playing of music in all other ways in the music industry, it's not beyond the greatest creative minds on the planet to monetise this one too."
The Musicians' Union concedes that its members have a range of views on filesharing. General secretary John Smith says he has sympathy for the FAC's attitude but thinks its campaign "a bit blinkered" and "counterproductive".
"I am disappointed they went maverick without looking at the bigger picture," he says. "Our position is somebody should be paid for their creation."
The labels and many artist managers argue that piracy has hurt new artists. James Sandom, whose SuperVision Management company manages Kaiser Chiefs and newer acts such as White Lies, says artists need initial investment before they can live off touring and other non-sales revenues. "Fewer new artists are getting signed and finding investors to give them a foothold," he says.
His artists have direct experience of piracy. "Kaiser Chiefs' chief songwriter Nick Hodgson, when the last album was leaked onto the web a month before release, said it was like having his house burgled and someone was using the internet to sell all his belongings."
Artist manager Paul Loasby, whose clients include Jools Holland and Pink Floyd's David Gilmour, argues artists need to be given the upper hand.
"If an artist wants to give away their music, that's up to them. It shouldn't be up to pirates," he says. "A download costs 79p. Could you name me something that you could buy that would last you forever and give you pleasure for 79p? This is not a lot for people to ask for."
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