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Op-Ed: Jon Webster, CEO Music Managers Forum


Music Manager Forum CEO Jon Webster responds to my commentary last week critical of a proposed UK tax on manufacturers whose devices  enable  format shifting - tracks copied from one device to another including for personal use.

Jon_webster_4 I am one of the members of the UK Music Business Group that proposed licensing device manufacturers who benefit from format shifting.

The music industry contains as well as the major record companies, other labels big and small, self releasing artists, songwriters (with and without publishers), artists, paid session musicians, music producers, studio technicians, collecting societies etc etc.

We, as constituent parts of the music industry, seldom agree but when we do as on licensing and the payment for format shifting it should carry some weight. We effectively are representing everyone in the value chain. And that is our point.

There is huge value in the ability to format shift. Yes when a consumer has purchased a CD they should have the ability to legally make copies across different formats for their listening pleasure. This has not been the situation as it has been technically illegal in many countries but no-one has been prosecuted for those transgressions.

There is already an "I-Pod" tax in 25 European countries and it has been so for many years. The proceeds  are distributed in 25 different ways - some are good, some are less so  but  they should all be transparent and fair. And it would be better if they were the same. And they should reward the creators in all parts of the chain. We are totally aware that those parts of the chain are rapidly changing with the shortest being that an artist creates on a laptop and communicates that product directly to the consumer.

We are proposing a license  so that the people whose creativity effectively sells music carriers are rewarded in some way. Surely that is fair?

We live in a digital world where no-one has to pay for music if they don’t want. Yet those who manufacture devices that store this creativity or transmit files over their bandwidth seem to be blind to what is happening whilst making billions of dollars from the process.

We know that most of the music on MP3 devices is not ripped from personal copies but rather illegally downloaded or side loaded from other peoples CDs.

It is easy to say that there are new models for monetizing music but what are they? Should Kate Bush be forced to tour and sell merch to make some income ? Why can’t she just be a recording artists and have some expectation of seeing some reward for it?

When you sit on a train or a bus and pick up a discarded newspaper that was either paid for or a free sheet funded by advertising do you enjoy reading it? Doesn't it have a value? Doesn't music obtained for free or moved from computer to car to portable device have a value as well?

In the immortal words of Peter Gabriel - "the same process that stops me earning another dollar from Sledgehammer is the process that stops a starving musician in Mali making a living". This is far from  being about the RIAA and fat cats. This is about some of the value in the chain being passed on to the people who created it. You won’t even notice it in the price of your device – but many, many artists will.

Jon Webster CEO MMF