Now I appear to be the only person on the planet who doesn't consider the Beethoven MP3 project to have been a success. And here are my reasons. Just open this link, or this link for file sharing sites that are offering the Beethoven recordings. And if they have been taken down there are many, many other servers with these files which can be found in just a few minutes searching.
It is almost impossible to open a newspaper or turn on the radio in the UK without coming across another self-congratulatory story about the success of the BBC Beethoven Symphony downloads. But I beg to differ about the success of this project.
Creative artists, and that includes composers, musicians, producers, editors and arrangers as well as authors and artists, have only one currency - intellectual property. Beethoven's 9th Symphony is not a paper score, a plastic CD, or the bits and bytes of an MP3 file. It is the unique, original, and priceless, expression of a creative idea. Similarly Vassily Sinaisky's interpretation, and the BBC Philharmonic's playing of the symphony is another unique, and original, expression of an interpretative idea.
Copyright protects those unique and original ideas. This protection safeguards the interests of the creator, and allows, where appropriate, the creator to be rewarded for his work. Copyright laws originated in the 18th century to protect the interests of authors as printing became established as a fast, and cheap, method of producing multiple copies of books. If copyright laws did not exist there would be no incentive for creative artists to produce their masterpieces as financial reward would not be possible. It is no coincidence that creativity in western civilsation flourished after copyright laws were established.
Any new music (or book) distribution model must have embedded in it the ability to protect the intellectual property that is being distributed. This applies even if there is no charge for the distribution, as is the case in the BBC downloads. I posted a few weeks back about Naxos' music downloads from library web sites. There is no charge for these, but they are protected from onward copying by sophisticated (and expensive) digital rights management (DRM) software from OverDrive Inc which was available to the BBC.
The BBC let the Beethoven MP3 downloads into the market without any attempt at controlling their intellectual property rights other than some ineffective small print on the download page. The BBC didn't lose control of the copyright of these performances, they simply surrendered it. The evidence is out there on the internet, just open this link, or this link for file sharing sites that are offering the Beethoven recordings, and there are many, many other file servers which can be found in just a few minutes searching. Copy protection was both essential, and deliverable - see this link for discussion of how it could have been achieved.
I could understand all the baloney from the BBC if they had pioneered a new distribution model for recorded classical music. But they haven't. They've simply driven a coach and horses through an existing model. (New alternatives to copyright do exist, such as copyleft and similar admirable initiatives). Two truisms about new web business models come to mind. The first is that if something becomes technically possible, it doesn't automatically follow that it also becomes commercially viable. The second is that the internet is the world's most effective photocopier. I am not slamming the BBC for offering free classical music downloads, and I am delighted by any scheme that widens the appeal of serious music. But I am heavily criticising the BBC for not being professional, and ensuring that a copyright protection solution, from those readily available, was in place on these files before they were unleashed onto the internet. By their actions they have put the future livelihood of musicians and others at risk. And that is why I do not consider this exercise to have been a success.
The UK Government's controversial Hutton Inquiry castigated the BBC for acting first, and thinking second when reporting on the death of Government WMD scientist Dr David Kelly (see photo to right). The BBC have followed exactly the same sequence of acting first and thinking second with the Beethoven downloads. The Hutton Inquiry resulted in the resignation of the BBC's Director General Greg Dyke, and an apology from the BBC. It is particularly ironic that Dyke's replacement Mark Thompson is now maximising the positive spin from yet another action that was launched without being properly thought through. The horse has well and truly bolted on the Beethoven files and is galloping around the internet, so there is no chance of putting a lock on the stable door.
Never underestimate the power of the BBC. They have an assured income from a non-negotiable poll tax known as the license fee of nearly £3 billion ($5.5 billion) a year, and have one of the three most recognisable brands in the world. And they can afford to get it badly wrong. Official figures show that the BBC rolling news channel News 24, which has a budget of more than £50 million ($90 million), broadcast 472 hours in 2003 when nobody was watching at all; and the average spot audience was around 37,000 50,000 viewers (source The Road Taken, a book by BBC journalist and newscaster Michael Buerk, page 418). Let's hope they use their massive technology resources a little more responsibly when they start their 'Bach around the clock' marathon in the week before Christmas.
Regular readers who are fearing that on an overgrown path is morphing into another slash.org need not fear. My next two posts will be solely about the joys of live music making. But I just hope that the performers involved, the Serlo Consort and L'Orchestre Lyrique de Region Avignon-Provence and L'Ensemble Vocal D'Avignon still have the funding in future years to make live music. Or will the audiences simply be sitting at home listening to free BBC downloads of the works involved, the two Schumann Requiems, and Christopher Tye's Missa Euge Bone?
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