An idea whose time has come?

Looks like I'm not the only one to come up with the idea of compulsory licensing to pay musicians. Fred von Lohmann is a senior staff attorney at the EFF and has this article talking about the issue.

Of course it took about three minutes for an idiot from Slashdot to call it Communism, because we all know that tax is wrong. That's why America has such a great public health system and doesn't have any poor people or beggars or homeless people.

The music "industry" is over

When you download mp3s, you're downloading

I've talked about it before and it seems to be in the final death spiral. That's right, the music "industry" is terminal.

"The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side." - Hunter S. Thompson

The BBC reports today that international record sales have slumped yet again. Hardly surprising considering how easy it is to get broadband Internet access and, from there, download everything you could possibly want without a cent going to record companies or artists.

It's also hardly surprising that people are going to the small amount of hassle involved in getting tooled up to download and play back mp3s. Once you're set up, you can avoid the extortionate prices (I saw CDs in Virgin last weekend for £16!) and you can skirt the artificial scarcity. Instead you get as much music as you can handle for a small investment in time and equipment.

Technology has evolved in recent years to cut out all need for the record companies. These days their only functions are preserving their own existence and promoting the next bubblegum pop band. Talented bands these days can easily record albums themselves using cheap equipment at home, with perhaps a little real studio time for the tricky bits and some producer magic. What need for a record company there? Music fans have proven themselves quite adept at getting their hands on the latest releases, so the distribution arm of record companies is no longer really necessary.

"We live in an age of music for people who don't like music. The record industry discovered some time ago that there aren't that many people who actually like music. For a lot of people, music's annoying, or at the very least they don't need it. They discovered if they could sell music to a lot of those people, they could sell a lot more records." - T Bone Burnett

The one thing missing from this post-record company future is a revenue stream for the artists. Some have suggested a virtual "tip jar" where music fans can give up their readies for an artist they appreciate. If everyone gave, say, a couple of quid for each album they enjoyed, artists could potentially earn more than they currently get from their usurious recording contracts. The problem is that only nice people will do it, and nice people clearly aren't in the majority. So instead, nice people end up subsidising the nasties and the artists go hungry and get pissed off with making music.

The solution

I can only see one way out of this problem, and it's far from perfect. We need a license fee for music listeners. Similar to the television license fee in the UK.

Anyone who wants to listen to music under the new model must pay an annual fee. For their fee, they no longer have to buy CDs but can instead listen to any piece of music they can get. Their player equipment will be required to report what they listen to, directed at some central agency. According to these stats, the revenues are doled out to the appropriate artists. A threshold for each listener ensures that a maximum number of plays per track per artist is recorded, with anything above it discarded. This cuts out the fraud aspect.

People can opt out of the system and continue to "own" pieces of plastic they buy in records shops. (Though these people present an enforcement problem, the same as people who claim not to own televisions in the UK.)

There are many problems with this system, but I really can't see a better way to solve the revenue-to-artists problem. Can you think of a better way?

Who runs it?

Way back in 1999 I suggested the record companies could save themselves by implementing just such a system. I think they've missed the boat now though. Artists wouldn't trust them to run such a system and can see that an artist-run system would, clearly, have big advantages for them. An artist-run system is also within reach, whereas getting the big 5 record companies to pull their fingers out and work together is about as likely as Fidel Castro joining the Tories.

I know I won't be shedding any tears for the record companies when they finally die. The artists, however, need a way to make a living.

Getting at the heart of the matter

This war has seen even more of a control freak approach to news dissemination. That, coupled with purposefully inaccurate releases of information from both sides has made it very interesting to watch.

One of the more interesting sources of up-to-the-second news has been Command Post. The people submitting the stories and links seem to be the usual jingoistic racists you would expect to really get their rocks off over a war. However, they do seem to be plugged in and quite intelligent in their guesses and analyses, giving a very real view on what's happening.

I would suggest subscribing with some sort of RSS reader so you get the updates as they happen.

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Of course the French are finding this all a bit odd. And of course they see right through it to the three things that are really at issue: 1) the default stance of the British is to make fun of the French, and it always goes down well; 2) the paper is merely echoing its owner Murdoch's public stance and; 3) it's a big publicity coup, with other newspapers around the world reporting on it.

The French press:,5987,3230--310176-,00.html

So that's what a million people looks like

View down Picadilly

Wow the anti-war marches were absolutely amazing. Melbourne had 250,000 people, Sydney had 200,000 or more, even Terrigal had a small turnout. London was amazing with at least a million. It's hard to fathom that sort of crowd from the ground because all it looks like from there is people stretching as far as the eye can see in either direction.

One good guage of the number of people is the time it took us. To get from Temple to Speaker's Corner in Hyde Park took us five hours! That includes about half an hour stopping for lunch at Trafalgar square but most of that was spent shuffling along Embankment until we got to Big Ben, when things sped up a bit. A very good natured crowd with some notable funny placards.

We were marching (shuffling is a better term) under our Australian Greens banner, which got some supportive comments, though the lack of much pointing out the "Australian" bit probably confused people. The Greens over here are a lot more hippy-dippy feral than serious political force, and I have to say I don't agree with some of their more loony policies, like banning fluoridated water.

Make Tea Not War

All in all, a fantastic day out and an amazing turn-out. The government probably won't change their mind but they're certainly going to have to step up the credibility of their propaganda and peace could well turn out to be a major issue in the next election. Certainly if this war goes pear shaped, the people really can say "told you so" to the elected idiots.

Anti-war marches go global

The world has started the massive protests against war on Iraq, which Melbourne sporting up to 250,000 demonstrators, depending on who you talk to. London is expecting half a million or more tomorrow. The breadth and depth of opposition to this war is astonishing, with many people marching in a political protest for the first time. Hell this is even expected to top the pro-hunting Countryside Alliance's recent march through London which "only" had 400,000 people.

Of course the Yanks and their media have, as usual, confused disagreement with anti-americanism. Amongst other rational, well-informed and historically accurate critiques, the funniest is probably the "cheese eating surrender monkeys" barb being directed at the French.

But hey, the government would never lie to us now, would they?

Elected Upper House? Perish the Thought!

A strange thing is happening to a strange pre-democracy relic in this country. The House of Lords is about to vote on whether it should be abolished.

For those of you who don't understand, the House of Lords is the upper house in the British Parliament. They have the power to review and reject laws. In the past, the Lords was filled with aristocratic toffs whose great-grandfathers had passed the title down the line. These Hereditary Peers (not your or my peers, mind) are supposedly being gradually phased out. The rest of the Lords is made up by people appointed by whoever happens to be in government and can hold the position until they die.

This system ensures that no matter what kind of seachange occurs in British politics at the ballot box, the incumbent government can continue to exert significant influence on law for decades to come. At the moment many of the peers are either converted hereditary (conservative, privileged toffs) or appointees from the Tory years, so in effect you get a Tory house.

The hilarious thing about this is that, if it comes down to it, the Lords can actually be completely bypassed. If the Lords reject a bill twice, the Government can slam it straight through to the Queen (don't get me started on that particular hereditary position) to be signed into law. So in fact the Lords is a rather silly, powerless chamber of toffs to have their conservative say. These are the kind of people who consistently reject things like same-sex marriage rights, single and same-sex adoption and the like. Nice bunch with views that would have been considered regressive in the 17th century.

"Reform" (also known as "status quo")

So anyway, they're talking about "reform" for the Lords. Blair is hell-bent on keeping the appointed upper house, with a few tweaks. He wants to be able to appoint them by committee, allowing for more representation from the two major parties, entrenching the current system with a few extra Labour people.

A few other propositions have been raised, mostly fiddling around the edges rather than considering the radical "democracy" option. So we've had the ridiculous idea of 80% appointed, 20%elected option. Like the 20% election will give anyone any say in anything.

A Modest Suggestion

Now I'm not about to describe Australia as a paragon of democratic choice, but I suggest that the pommies have a look at our Federal system. In it, we have an electorate system similar to the UK for our lower house, albeit with the much more sensible preferential voting. In the upper house we have a state-based proportional system, which means that if 20% of the population in a particular state votes for a particular candidate, they get 20% of the seats allocated for that state.

The beauty of this marriage of electorate and proportional voting systems is it creates a house of review. People can vote for the candidate of their choice, who generally comes from one of the major parties, in the lower house. In the upper house, they can vote for a minor party to provide a bit of balance. In this way a disaffected Labour voter might be able to balance the worst excesses of Blairism with an upper house Lib Dem vote.

The way this works in Australia is through the emergence of a few minor parties which do well in the upper house. The Democrats have as their semi-official slogan, "Keeping the bastards honest", although there has recently been some questioning of this with people asking who will keep the Democrat bastards honest after they supported an unpopular government tax bill.

The Greens are fast becoming a major force in Australia due mainly to the electoral leg-up that the proportional system provides, giving the parliamentary visibility of actually winning seats.

So, British voters, I suggest you get your butt in gear and demand that your MP look at the Australian system and vote in favour of a fully democratic parliament. You might also want to check out Charter 88's campaign.

Critical Mass rides again

Wow what a ride! That's right I'm talking about the monthly Critical Mass rides in Sydney. Every last Friday of the month, hundreds and even thousands of cyclists head for Hyde Park and ride around the city to show we exist and hopefully get some better facilities.

This month was the big one. The Harbour Bridge. Lots of fun crossing the major landmark, no thanks to the shock radio jocks telling us we were the cause of war, famine and pestilence.

People were ringing talkback stations blaming us for slow traffic going in the opposite direction to us before we'd even left Hyde Park! If only they could see the irony :)

The next really big ride (as the next ride falls on New Years Eve, I wouldn't expect a bif one) is the Summer ride to Bondi in January. Always lotsa fun.

On a related note, I've finally gotten some of my pictures from Reclaim The Street up here. Enjoy.

Ahhh Kooky

Three and a half years ago, Holly and I spent our last night out in Sydney at Club Kooky. All this time on, and it's gone through moving location, stopping for a time and now it's back at Club 77.

I went last Sunday night and had a fab time. Club 77 has removed a bunch of internal walls and stuff, making it a much better space. The sound still sucks and the air conditioning is still inadequate, but it is an improvement.

Kooky is just awesome because it's one of those rare places with a great, consistent crowd, excellent music and a quality vibe. It's a queer club in the truest sense: completely mixed in terms of gender and sexuality, making it quite unique.

I wish I could find something as diverse in London...

Also went to Frigid last Sunday before Kooky. The new venue (old Newtown RSL) is excellent, the crowd great and the vibe very good. Had a great time and managed to catch up with loads of people I wouldn't otherwise have seen.