June 7 2008

U2 Manager Likens ISPs To Shoplifters

Bono and Paul McGuinnessPaul McGuinness, the long time manager of the super group U2, is up to his antics again.

Back in January of this year, Mr. McGuiness made an infamous speech about how all Internet Service Providers (ISPs) should institute a three strike policy for people caught engaging in music piracy on the Internet. As I said in my commentary in the incident, The Music Industry Vs Net Neutrality, Mr. McGuinness has no real understanding of how the Internet works, or what role ISPs play in the system, and his new comments just go on to demonstrate this point again.

In his latest diatribe about the industry, given at the Music Matters conference in Hong Kong, he likened ISPs to “shoplifters” that are “turning their heads” to the troubles of his industry.

“The recorded music industry is in a crisis, and there is crucial help available but not being provided by companies who should be providing that help — not just because it is morally right, but because it is in their commercial interest.”

How is huge investments in new equipment necessary for deep packet inspection “in their commercial interest”? Not to mention the potential violations of Net Neutrality that says all information should be treated equally? Does Mr. McGuinness and his ilk propose to pay for the fines that ISPs will run up against for violating neutrality? I sincerely want to know how any of this “is in their commercial interest”.

He also went on to say:

“Cable operators, ISPs, device manufacturers, P2P software companies — companies that have used music to drive vast revenues from broadband subscriptions and from advertising. They would argue that they have been neutral bystanders to the spectacular devaluation of music. I don’t believe that is true.”

Well, Mr. McGuinness, that’s okay, because I quite frankly don’t believe the ignorance that comes out of your mouth. I would like someone to point me to one advertisement from an ISP that talks about stealing music. I have seen ads about getting music, but they are always talking about commercial subscription programs like Napster, and not about things like BitTorrent theft. What devices is he talking about? And, newsflash for this guru of the Internet, P2P software is generally freeware or shareware, costing the users nothing, those companies are not making money. Yes, tracker sites do run advertising, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard of Torrent people getting rich.

The thing is, he used the line that “they would argue that they have been neutral bystanders”, and the problem with this is that they would be correct. ISPs are nothing more than a portal to the Internet, they have absolutely nothing to do with what their users are doing. This is like saying that the cable companies are responsible for someone recording a television program that they aren’t supposed to. The scale of his “solutions” are so immense and daunting as to be inconceivable. Every single packet of information transferred would have to be inspected, and that just is not even a remote possibility.  Mr. McGuinness has said many times that he is not looking to turn ISPs in to Internet Police, but really, what else could you call this?  He wants them to monitor our traffic, turn over people they find to be sharing music, if that’s not a cop, I don’t know what is.

Let us take the case of someone like my own family and their Internet connection. My parents have a connection because they want to email friends and family, they want to do online shopping, they want to play games, never once have they said, “You know, son, we got the Internet because we want to steal music!” I think you would find the vast majority of Internet users are similar to my parents, but no, the truth is that ISPs are getting rich from all of these people stealing music, silly me.

music piracyMcGuinness paints the entire Internet industry in extremely broad strokes where we are all on the Web for no other reason than to steal from his clients and the rest of the industry. First of all… get over yourselves, the music business is not only industry in the world, though I think you might have a hard time convincing them of that. If anything, I think some one has planted this bug in McGuinness’ ear that this could be a money spinner for the music industry, and like a dog with a bone, he’s just not going to let it go.

As I have said numerous times before, the music industry has to look inside itself to find their problem. The Internet has become an easy whipping boy for them to conceal that their problems go far deeper than they are saying. Quality has slipped, prices have soared, and yet it is those evil ISPs that have caused all the problems for the industry, and it’s now them making all the money from luring in innocent consumers to a life of piracy.

Something about this whole story intrigues me, though. At the conference, McGuinness really harped on how even ringtones are being stolen over the Internet, and Lachie Rutherford of Warners Music said that 2% of ringtone money goes to the artists, and that has to be protected.

Wow… a -whole- 2%? Excuse me, but who are the thieves again, the line seems to be getting a bit fuzzy for me.  Could this possible be a view into who is really upset about music piracy?  Could it really be the record labels, because, I’m sorry, but 2% of ringtone revenue going to the artists is laughable.  Let us say that the wholesale price of a ringtone is 50%, where are the other 48 percentage points going?

Remember folks, it’s all about protecting the artists… pay no attention to the men in suits behind the curtains.

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