Sunday, October 5, 2008

Battle Heats Up Among Artists, Labels, & Digital Downloading

Musical artists have banded together to create the Featured Artists’ Coalition in order to demand greater control and ownership over music that’s distributed online and, more importantly, for a larger cut of the revenue pie. While it's easier to determine who gets what when a physical CD is sold through a retailer, things become stickier when you’re looking at individual tune downloads sold through various Websites. It’s like déjà vu with the Hollywood Writer’s Strike, which just took place late last year, and which centred around, among other issues, video content distribution online.

The organization is asking, among other things, that artists always retain ownership of their work, that all agreements are conducted in a “fair manner” (you mean this isn’t the case now?), and that artists must always be informed on how their work will be exploited. Recently, for example, artist Jack White wrote a song for the new James Bond flick, which was then reportedly unbeknownst to him released first in a Coca Cola commercial.

Artists are also asking that copyright be by license, not by assignment, and be limited to 35 years. When it comes to performers that don’t write their own work, these guys are asking that they receive the same rights as the authors themselves.

The artists involved in the Coalition already numbers more than 60, and include some really big name musical artists like Radiohead, The Verve, Craig David, Robbie Williams, and the Kaiser Chiefs.

It was only a matter of time. While we have seen a battle ensue within the music industry ever since digital music downloading has taken over, artists have never really taken a major, unified stand. Music labels have fought it out to create favourable deals with digital downloading companies, and have even taken legal action against illegal, peer-to-peer file sharing sites. But have any of these deals really worked in favour of the artists?

It seems that while everyone involved has slowly begun to warm to the reality that is digital music downloading rather than trying to stop it, another issue has been brewing: payment. A song sells for $0.99 on iTunes versus a full, $20 CD in the store. Who gets what out of this deal? Can we really divide profits from a buck 50 ways in a manner that looks out for the interests of all involved versus a full CD?

It sounds like whatever the current situation is, artists aren’t happy. And while the record labels or digital download sites could easily turn up their noses to the artists and say “too bad”, the reality is that these are the guys actually making the music. Back in the day, artists may have been at the mercy of the guys who could get their music sold, and get their name exposed to the public. It wasn’t so easy to record, create, and sell your own CD: what struggling artist had the means to do that? But today, it’s pretty easy to set up your own digital download Website, or to get your music out to millions with just one click (MySpace, anyone?) So it’ll be interesting to see how this drama unfolds.

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