Canary Down the Mine: Music and Copyright at the Digital Coalface
More than any other media or cultural sector, the music industry is commonly perceived as having undergone fundamental and irreversible transformation in the wake of the internet and other related technological innovations for the distribution and circulation of content. Stories of the decline or even demise of the music business at the hands of online peer-to-peer file-sharing networks have been regularly relayed via news media since the advent of sites such as MP3.com and Napster in the latter half of the 1990s. The proliferation of ‘free’ online music, plummeting record sales revenues, and routine closures of physical record stores are commonly combined in media accounts to paint a picture of a digital media Armageddon. In short, the music industry is widely conceived of as a digital horror show.
Yet, when we place the music industry – and all that it entails – under a more critical and analytical microscope, we notice not just significant changes in how it operates and is configured, but also fundamental strands of continuity. In fact, it is the continuities that ultimately tell the more crucial story of how the music industry has unfolded in the digital era.
To understand this evolution, we must view the music industry first and foremost as a copyright industry. Only when we regard it as an industry based around the exploitation of intellectual property – and not just around the sale of products (such as records) – can we arrive at a more thorough and holistic understanding of how this sector is evolving.
The music industry has traditionally been characterised by highly concentrated ownership. This continues to be the case despite the promises and potential of the internet for disintermediation. By recognising the music industry as an inter-connected set of sub-sectors that extends beyond the record industry to encompass a range of other revenue-generating possibilities for its major players, we can see how the utilization of music and recording copyrights not only bolsters and sustains the industry in a period of technological change, but also enables it to grow despite the advent of a deep financial crisis across the globe.
This interpretation challenges conventional wisdom regarding the recent evolution of the music industry. Far from conceding that internet ‘piracy’ is ‘killing’ the music industry, it points to the major music copyright owners using copyright law to wrestle an increasing level of control over (and revenue from) cyberspace. I will show how major music companies and artists are increasingly shifting the emphasis onto the licensing potential of recording and music publishing copyrights – across both new and traditional media formats – as a means of negating the potentially harmful effects of online copyright infringement.
Two core strategies have been adopted by the major music industry in its response to the evolving technological environment. First, the major music copyright holders have gone to court in an ongoing attempt to curb ‘illicit’ file-sharing and to extend the reach of ‘realspace’ copyright control mechanisms into cyberspace. Second, they have sought to maximize the revenue-generating potential of music copyrights across the broadest spectrum of platforms and spaces possible.1
Digitalisation, crisis and the ‘death of copyright’?
Since the dawn of the new millennium, music industry discourse has been dominated by crisis rhetoric. A plethora of journalistic and media commentaries, industry reports and academic accounts has evolved to convey a picture of fundamental crisis being visited upon this particular cultural industry sector by the transition to a digital milieu. In particular, the evolution and large-scale diffusion of peer-to-peer file-sharing technologies is widely blamed for inducing a significant downturn in the revenues of established music industry companies and actors and for radically disrupting their relationship with their final consumers. Headlines and commentary detailing the decline and in some cases demise of the music industry as a result of digital ‘piracy’ have been common in national and international news publications since the late 1990s (see, e,g, Rogers 2013: 5-8). By late 2009, at the end of what The Economist described as a “brutal decade” where “music was the first media business to be seriously affected by piracy and has suffered most severely” (Economist, 12 November 2009), the music industry had become “the poster child of failed digital opportunities” (Tapscott 2011).
Leaders in the political arena have also widely condemned online music ‘piracy’ and expressed concern over the future of not only music as a cultural industry, but also music as creative endeavour. This was perhaps most starkly illustrated by then French President Nicolas Sarkozy in 2007 when he declared:
We run the risk of witnessing a genuine destruction of culture.... The internet must not become a high tech wild west, a lawless zone where outlaws can pillage works with abandon, or worse, trade in them in total impunity. And on whose backs? On artists’ backs. (New York Times¸ 24 November 2007)
Moreover, when asked to consider the most significant changes that have occurred in the music industry in the twenty-first century, the initial responses from almost all our interviewees was that the widespread diffusion of internet technologies has severe consequences for the music industry. For example, for one independent record label owner:
People aren’t paying for music anymore. That’s the problem. I think the majors have collapsed and it is over for them.
Another major label executive puts it thus:
Peer-to-peer sharing, it’s a bit like this: a kid records something at home, and it’s like he’s stealing a chocolate from Willy Wonka’s factory, but the problem with peer-to-peer is that it opens up the whole factory and they steal the lot.
Others take a more fatalistic approach, not just to the viability of music as an industry, but toward its very survival as a cultural form. One publisher advances:
This is the problem. The culture has seeped in whereby people are beginning to think that music is free. If you take that to its logical conclusion, well when the music runs out there’ll be no more music.
Evidence purporting to support such dystopian perspectives might indeed be found within International Federation of Phonographic Industries (IFPI) statistics that report how the global recorded music market has significantly declined since the late 1990s.
Retail value of recorded music 1999-2010 (combined physical and digital formats, in US$ billions) 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2010 38.7 36.9 33.7 32.2 32.0 33.6 33.5 31.8 29.9 26.5 24.4 Source: Author, compiled from various IFPI Recording Industry In Numbers reports 2000-2011; digital revenues included from 2004 onwards.
As the table shows, global revenues plunged from a record high of US$38.7bn 1999 to $24.4bn by the end of 2010. This represents an overall drop of more than 34%. Further evidence of a deep crisis has been the slashing of jobs at major record companies throughout the latter half of the last decade and the collapse of ‘bricks and mortar’ retail outlets for recorded music (see Rogers 2012: 41-46).
Running concurrently with the decline of major music companies, according to Kelly (2002), is the enhanced freedom of the individual musician. Empowered by new digital technologies, the “musicians with the highest status are those who have a 24-hour net channel devoted to streaming their music.” Other accounts also celebrate the liberating effects of digital innovations, pointing to a future where not only music production, but also distribution, promotion and consumption evolve along much more ‘democratic’ lines, where the relationship between artist and audience would no longer depend on major media corporations. Nicholas Negroponte, a professor at MIT (and celebrated guru of the information age) argued that: “Copyright law…is a Gutenburg artefact” (1996: 58), which becomes redundant in the internet age where it will “disintegrate,” with everything capable of being digitized being potentially “up for grabs.” Moreover, digitalisation will serve to “flatten organisations…decentralise control” and effectively level the mass media playing field (Negroponte 1995).
Indeed for Kelly (1999), the form and extent of the changes induced across society from digital innovations would ultimately imply the demise of the ‘old’ economic laws that have characterised the modern capitalist era.
In the music industry, control over the channels of distribution is crucial, and they have long since been monopolised by a small handful of very powerful major players (Negus, 1992). At present, just three multinational companies dominate the record industry – Universal, Warner’s and Sony.
Authors such as Théberge (2001) and Bakker (2005) have outlined how innovations in the digital realm emerged to threaten the power and control of those major music companies and visit radical disruption on the established music industry order. Many authors have addressed the potential of developments in the digital domain to enable artists to pursue a ‘do-it-yourself’ approach to the production, promotion and distribution of their music. While acknowledging that the digital distribution of music could potentially serve the interests of the major companies, Burnett also makes the point that it “could open a Pandora’s box that could ultimately destroy their own control of popular music” (1996: 148). By the turn of the millennium, much commentary suggested that the internet was inducing a process of disintermediation – removing the corporate ‘middlemen’ from the music industry chain. Costs associated with distribution and retailing would be eliminated. The rapid spread of the internet would bring to the music market the broadest and most diverse range of artists and recordings. These, in turn, could be accessed by anyone and everyone at the click of a mouse-button.
All of the above reflects the prevalence of technological determinist thinking in society and resonates with the earlier (highly influential, if hyperbolic) claims of such theorists as McLuhan (1962, 1964) and Toffler (1970, 1980). Such digital futures were celebrated and mourned in equal measure in numerous techno-centric accounts.
However, while the transformative potential of apparently new and emerging technologies is touted by many, others argue that it is impossible to separate technology from the social environment within which it emerges, and that the reification of the technological is flawed (Lister et al. 2008). While Williams (1974) stresses the role of ‘real decision-making groups’ such as political and economic elites in shaping the outcome of technological innovation, Winston’s detailed studies (1974, 1995, 1998) illuminate the complex set of social needs, political expedience, and economic forces that are behind the creation and dissemination of new media technologies. At the core of Winston’s approach lies what he terms “the law of the suppression of radical potential.” This refers to the pressure and actions of established societal institutions to combat the potentially disruptive effect of technology on existing social formations and power structures, with “the great corporation as the primary institution of our society” (1998: 11). This is highly pertinent to examining processes of change and continuity in the music industry.
Like other radical technological innovations affecting mass media, the internet (and related developments) carries with it the potential to fundamentally transform industrial structures and the ‘rules of the economic game’, especially between different players within the cultural and media industries. This includes the potential to disrupt the power or role of media firms and their established industrial practices and interests, not least in the case of the music industry (Preston 2001; Burnett & Marshall 2003). However, the widespread adoption and appropriation of radical technological innovations must also be accompanied and facilitated by a diverse set of ‘matching’ innovations. The precise outcome of any radical technological innovation is always the product of conflicts and struggles between different interest groups in domains that are often far removed from any predominantly ‘technological’ logic or trajectory. In the contemporary ‘knowledge economy’ (in which music is a key player), this means that we must pay special attention to one particular area of conflict and struggle over ‘matching’ policy innovation – that related to the intellectual property rights regime, and more specifically for the case at hand, copyright. Thus, to borrow and bend Winston’s phrasing, copyright forms one of the key suppressants of the radical potential associated with the internet and other digital technologies in the context of the music industries.
Copyright and the courts – enclosing musical cyberspace
The record industry has used a three-pronged strategy against the unauthorised use of their copyrights. The targets of their litigation have been 1) the producers and suppliers of file-sharing technologies, 2) individual music fans, and 3) internet service providers (ISPs).
In the latter half of the 1990s, the popularity of the MP3 format led to the start-up of a variety of websites which challenged the power of the conglomerates by offering alternative forms of music distribution. The most notable of these early sites were MP3.com and Napster. The Napster software programme had was based on a decentralised model that enabled individual users to access audio files located on the computers of other users. The case of Napster needs to be reviewed as
… a clash between radically different value systems – between a particular notion of what constitutes a legitimate form of social interaction between fans, on one hand, and the commercial needs of the industry on the other. (Théberge 2001: 21)
However, as Gillespie notes, faced with such threats, “those in power turn to the stability and authority of existing law; using the law they tame the new technology into submission” (2007: 11). The rise and subsequent fall of ‘illicit’ sites such as MP3.com, Napster and a range of subsequent platforms that followed in their wake – most notably Grokster, Kazaa, and Limewire – demonstrate how the Recorded Industry Association of America (RIAA) and other national phonographic industry trade bodies around the world have used copyright law as the club with which to beat the suppliers of file-sharing technologies since the late 1990s. For evidence of this we can visit the ‘news’ page on the IFPI’s website, the contents of which, the major labels argue, highlight the scale of the problem facing the music industry. This site publishes a litany of accounts outlining the pursuit of file-sharing sites through the courts in different countries around the world.
In many cases, a familiar trend has evolved whereby the record industry first issues legal proceedings against the infringing website or platform; the site subsequently agrees to a settlement with the record industry; there follows a licensing agreement between both parties which has the effect of making the infringing site a legitimate operator with the potential to generate revenue for the record industry; and, in some cases, key stakeholders in the record industry subsequently acquire a stake in the once-illicit service.
For more than a decade now, the record industry’s representative trade bodies in various countries have also used copyright infringement as the basis to pursue tens of thousands of individual file-sharers through the courts. In an initial sweep between 2003 and 2005, the RIAA issued some 9,000 lawsuits against individuals across the United States for unauthorized file-sharing offences (Resnikoff 2009). Sterk (2011) states that this figure subsequently rose to more than 35,000 individual infringement lawsuits. Again, copious amounts of space on the IPFI’s website have been devoted to detailing such cases. While on one hand, such accounts reinforce the message that the problems posed by digitalization to copyright owners are many and widespread, they equally celebrate a significant level of success for the same copyright owners against ‘infringers’ in the courts. Thus, they advance another reality – the continued, successful and sometimes lucrative pursuit of individual ‘pirates’ by the record industry’s various national trade bodies across the world.
The fines meted out to individuals by courts for copyright offences have increased in severity over the years. For example, one such case that generated widespread media coverage in 2009 related to Jammie Thomas-Rasset of Minnesota. At her initial trial she was directed to pay the RIAA total compensation amounting to $1.92m in reparation for sharing twenty-four songs on the Kazaa file-sharing network. In instigating proceedings against Ms. Thomas-Rasset, the RIAA had placed a value of $150,000 in lost revenues on each of these individual music files and thus sought an overall penalty of $3.6m. However, the court determined an award of $80,000 per track as a more appropriate estimation of the losses incurred by the respective record labels. In a subsequent series of retrials and appeals, this amount was reduced to US$54,000, then increased to $1.5 million before subsequently being reduced again to $54,000. At the time of writing, another appeal by the music companies against the last reduction is ongoing. As Lessig (2001) has earlier argued, all of this illustrates how the penalty for sharing music in cyberspace is excessively punitive compared to penalties issued for traditional forms of theft in the ‘physical’ world.
As Hesmondhalgh (2007) has argued, these strategies of the record industry for pursuing both software distributors and individual users serve to deter many from engaging in such activities. Moreover, as McCourt and Burkart contend, such actions serve in reality as “a legal and public relations foil” on the part of the record industry, designed “to relieve anti-trust pressures while legally securing a claim to the Internet as an alternative delivery system to retail outlets” (2003: 340). These authors question the timing of the record industry’s initial pursuit of pirate sites, arguing that it coincides with the issuing of lawsuits against the major labels themselves by federal and state agencies in the United States.
In addition, the music industry has also targeted ISPs. In recent years, the websites of various national record industry trade bodies, as well as the IFPI, indicate ongoing developments in a host of countries between ISPs, governments and the record industry aimed at addressing copyright violations and terminating the accounts of network users who are found to be repeat infringers. As these stories indicate, cooperation from ISPs is what the industry has been pursuing and in many cases achieving in recent years.
While in some cases, ISPs such as Sky in the UK forged partnerships with the major labels at a relatively early stage in order to provide additional platforms for the sale and licensing of recorded music, in other instances the record industry has also been successful in obtaining legal judgements that hold ISPs responsible for activities that result in copyright infringement on their networks. Developments in many territories have seen ISPs increasingly acting in the interests of major music copyright holders. For example, the publication of the Gowers Report (2006) in the UK recommended that appropriate legislation be drafted by the UK government in order to encourage the cooperation of ISPs to protect creative industry copyrights in cyberspace. This ultimately led to the Digital Economy Act of 2010. Under this act, ‘graduated response’ actions are provided for, which require the ISP to impose a series of increasingly punitive sanctions against users who persist in sharing music files on their respective networks.
In France, November 2007 saw French ISPs and copyright owners enter an agreement forged by the French government that approved the adoption and implementation of a ‘three strikes and you’re out’ approach to combating the online sharing of copyrighted music files. Network users would, in effect, receive a warning from the ISP for each instance of detected infringement. Three violations would see individuals risk losing their internet access. Related legislation came in 2009 in the form of the HADOPI law.
A recent cursory examination of the IFPI website indicates that many such developments, aimed at enhancing the cooperation of ISPs in the protection of music copyrights, are ongoing in many other countries including Ireland, Belgium, Japan, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Denmark, Spain and more. We should note also that intellectual property is enshrined in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union.
Exploiting Music IPRs in the digital age To understand how music operates as a copyright industry, we must also consider how music distinguishes itself from other forms of content. As Kassabian (2001, 2002, 2004) and others have indicated, the ubiquity of music makes it distinct as a media and cultural form. Music is everywhere. It colonises our private worlds and public environments. It can access places and spaces that are beyond the reach of other forms of media. We find music not only on our personal portable media player, our laptop, our home stereo system and our car, but also in our workplace, shopping malls, restaurants, hair salons and filling stations. In fact, music meets and greets us in almost every conceivable space we inhabit. Moreover, aside from existing as a stand-alone media form, music is also a core constituent of almost all other forms of audio-visual media, both traditional and new. We find it on radio, television, films, advertising, digital games and a plethora of mobile and online platforms (such as social networks, streaming services etc). As such, music’s value as a commodity to be licensed offers the owners of its most popular copyrights immense potential for revenue generation.
As the market for recorded music sales has declined since 1999, the major labels have intensified their focus on, among other things, licensing platforms. Here it must be emphasised that every space or site that music can access acts not only as a site of promotion for the recording itself, but also as a potential (or more likely probable) site of revenue generation for the recording and publishing copyright owner(s).
In cyberspace, ad-supported streaming services, subscription-based sites and social networks offer a wealth of online platforms (Spotify, Deezer and We7 are the most notable examples here). And offline too, the spaces for music to occupy have burgeoned.
Also, film, TV and radio – media that have long-since enjoyed a symbiotic relationship with music – have become more important to its financial health, not just in terms of the promotional value they bring to music and artists, but in terms of the direct revenues generated through licensing. With the rapid deregulation and privatization of the broadcasting sector that occurred across Europe since the early 1990s, radio and television outlets have proliferated, and in turn driven a vast increase in music licensing revenues.
Digital games and advertising have offered other useful avenues for the exploitation of music catalogues. That major music copyright owners have increased their focus on advertising is evidenced through the growing range of repertoire licensed to commercials in recent years. As one interviewee remarks,
There are so many new outlets and platforms…It’s become so much more sophisticated in recent years… Music to sell a film. Music to sell television. Advertising. Music to sell a brand. You have advertisers migrating to link with bands and music brands more and more… Music revenues are more and more generated by the application of music in other things. It’s music as a secondary factor. Music used as an emotional hook to attach you to other brands.
That the major record and music publishing copyright owners have intensified their efforts at maximizing the revenue potential from such avenues is perhaps most vividly illustrated through their relationship with the world of advertising. Songs by folk and rock artists that even in relatively recent history would not have been conceived in such a context, now find themselves used in national or global advertising campaigns for a range of products and services. For many, their main if not only experience of Woody Guthrie has been his Car Song, which was recently to be found promoting the Audi Q5 in a TV commercial. He might once have sung about the plight of migrant labourers and social inequalities, but now Woody Guthrie sells cars. Guthrie's arrival in the world of automobile advertising mirrors excursions into similar terrain by a few other notable troubadours. The music of Bob Dylan now sells lingerie (Victoria's Secret). The songs of Lennon and McCartney sell hardware and electronic products (Target) and banking services (The Halifax). Perhaps with the Beatles repertoire we should be less surprised, as such a context is less new. It is now approximately a quarter of a century since Revolution (penned by Lennon as a critique of the various political protests that occurred across Europe in 1968) was adopted by Nike.
However, when we consider the range of artists and music that is used in advertising campaigns, and how aggressively they are promoted to advertising executives by the major labels, this trend effectively goes against time-honoured standards for authenticity in folk and rock music culture.
And as Guthrie and Lennon both prove, being dead is no barrier to a musician carving a new career as an ad man. Copyright takes care of that. While recording copyrights last for 70 years, music publishing copyrights last for 70 years beyond the death of the songwriter. Here, we must remember that the principal owners and exploiters of music copyrights are not necessarily the creative artists themselves, but rather cultural industry intermediaries who can exploit these rights for decades.
The exploitation of music copyrights in such contexts is proving highly lucrative. When we take the above factors into account and place them alongside the thriving live music industry, the overall economic health of the music sector is very good indeed, and quite far from the picture of radical decline painted by viewing record sales data in isolation. For example, the International Confederation of Authors and Composers Societies (CISAC) point to strong and consistent growth in global performing royalty revenues, which reached a value of $7.5bn by 2010. Moreover, the Performing Rights Society indicated that overall music industry revenues have been steadily increasing in the UK throughout the 21st century, despite the downturn in the recording sector. They point to an annual growth rate of 4.7% across the industry with total combined revenues from recording, publishing and live streams rising from £3.2 billion in 2007 to £3.6 billion in 2008 (PRS for Music 2009). Winseck (2011) estimated the global combined value of music industry sub-sectors to have risen from $51 billion in 1998 to more than $71 billion in 2010. This represents an overall growth of 40% across those sectors over that 12-year period, and, this positive trend does not seem to have been affected by the economic crisis.
Here, it is worth noting that historically, the music publishing sector in particular has proven itself to be recession resilient. While, as Harker (1998) notes, Britain experienced a lengthy period of economic stagnation throughout the 1970s and 1980s, the music publishing sector thrived in this environment. The final years of the 1970s saw revenues generated through performing rights treble in value, and they continued to grow throughout the 1980s.
This all serves to illustrate how music has an economic relevance that extends far beyond the scope of record sales, and how revenue from licensing agreements (both recording and publishing) that legally facilitate the use of music across such an array of spaces has been fundamental to the music industry’s sustenance and indeed its overall growth in recent years. To this end, the major music labels have proved extremely successful at lobbying at both national and international levels for the extension and expansion of copyright control mechanisms in both real space and cyberspace.
Beyond copyright, music trademarks also offer themselves as potentially lucrative sources of income for their owners. Trademark can plug many of the gaps left open by copyright. As such, band names, song titles, album titles can all be trademarked and exploited in their own right. Alderman’s (2002) account of developments at Elvis Presley Enterprises provides a useful example here. The words ‘Elvis Presley’ and ‘Graceland’ have been trademarked since the mid-1980s. Many of the titles of Presley’s hit songs have also been trademarked. For example, Heartbreak Hotel was trademarked for a licensed restaurant chain and subsequently for use on “pants, shorts, shirts, sweatshirts, jackets, hats, and socks…shot glasses, martini glasses, goblets and tumblers” (Alderman 2002: xiii). Equally, All Shook Up, Love Me Tender, Don’t Be Cruel, Hound Dog and Jailhouse Rock are used to brand a range of products encompassing key chains, spoons, bumper stickers, pens, golf balls, snow globes and cigarette lighters. As Alderman bemoans, “alas, Blue Suede Shoes may eventually be used to brand everything except navy leather footwear” (xiii).
Perhaps the best example of trademark revenues in operation for the music industry relates to Lyric Culture, a company founded in 2006 that produces clothes and jewellery lines ‘branded’ with song titles. The company has secured licensing rights from the publishing arms of all of the major labels to reproduce the titles of ninety-two different songs on items including jackets, tee-shirts, jeans, scarves, rings and bracelets.
The above strategies and developments show that the figure of the recording artist has undergone a fundamental re-conceptualisation in recent years. No longer does the recording artist sell records and perform concerts; nowadays the figure of the music artist represents an all-encompassing bundle of IPRs that can be simultaneously exploited across a range of platforms.
Often, the music artist is positioned as a universal source of revenue for one central rights holder who controls and administers all rights on behalf of that artist. The evolution of ‘360-degree’ deals has seen some of the most established international recording artists sign all-encompassing contracts with music companies. Such a deal means that one corporate entity acquires the rights to administer all of the artist’s copyrights, trademarks and brands. This gives one label control over recording, publishing, live performance, merchandising, and all other rights associated with the recording artist. Madonna, Jay Z and Nickelback offer some of the most high profile examples here.
As one interviewee (the manager of an internationally successful singer-songwriter) explains,
The labels are obviously very keen to get their share of every aspect of an artist’s income, from recording to publishing to merchandising to live to whatever. That’s very much one way that they look at the future, one sort of big umbrella organisation with everything under the same roof.
Thus, any downturn experienced in one area (such as record sales) can be offset against profits arising from within the range of other potential revenue streams managed by the ‘universal’ rights owner.
Undoubtedly the music industry has experienced significant change since the advent of the internet as a medium for the mass circulation and distribution of music. The spheres of production, distribution and consumption of music have all evolved through a period of intense technological turmoil. The extent and form of digital platforms for music presents both established and aspiring recording artists with a wealth of possibilities for promoting and administering their music and brands in a manner that would have been inconceivable to earlier generations. For consumers and music fans, the spaces and opportunities through which we can experience music in our lives have increased multi-fold over the past few decades to a point where recorded music colonises much of our private and public environments. Additionally, there exists an expanding range of new media technologies invading our lives to facilitate the flow of music to our ears.
In the context of all this, the recording industry has apparently endured a mammoth decline with sales of recordings radically falling throughout the early years of the 21st century.
Nevertheless, it would be wrong to assume that the core power structures of the popular music industry have been fundamentally undermined with the shift to a digital economy. As the above has demonstrated, the disruptive potential from innovations in the realm of technology has been suppressed by a set of matching innovations in other areas, none more prevalent than that of intellectual property. The strategies adopted by the major music copyright owners have seen them extend and expand the reach of copyright control mechanisms and grow their revenue-generating potential. The music industry has not only negated many of the potential challenges posed by technological change to its oligopolistic dominance; it has also remained as concentrated as ever. Ownership of the most lucrative and popular copyrights (in terms of both publishing and recording) has served as a bulwark against the effects of ‘limitless substitution’ of music files in cyberspace. Forces of change have thus been significantly tempered by forces of continuity.
There is little doubt that revenues from record sales have gone south (and with that, the major labels have experienced significant job cuts), but equally, opportunities for licensing music have proliferated. Music's value as a 'licensable' commodity for synchronisation and other uses is rarely acknowledged in the numerous media accounts that address the music industry's ongoing struggles with file-sharing technologies and other perceived ‘horrors’ of the ‘internet revolution’. Yet the exploitation of music copyrights and brands across a proliferating range of platforms and the nature of music’s ‘embedding’ in other media forms offers the major music industry economic sustainability and continuity.
The more things change, the more things stay the same, or, to quote The Who: ‘Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.’
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1. I draw significantly here upon doctoral and post-doctoral research conducted in Ireland between 2007 and 2012. My research included in-depth interviews with 45 individuals spanning the spheres of music management services, live music promotion, record production, manufacturing, music retailing and music journalism, as well as personnel from both major and independent recording and music publishing companies. The results of this research, parts of which are summarised here, have earlier been published in a series of academic journal articles (Rogers and Sparviero, 2011, 2011a; Preston and Rogers, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013), and in a book (Rogers, 2013).