Lightning Rod: U2 manager Paul McGuinness (right), pictured next to entertainment lawyer Pierre-Marie Bouvery, made his first speaking appearance at MIDEM since his famous rant against ISPs in 2008. (Photo: Andrew Hampp)
The last time U2 manager Paul McGuinness spoke at MIDEM, he sparked a global debate about how internet-service providers should be playing a more involved role in piracy solutions. For his first formal MIDEM appearance in four years, McGuinness spoke at length about his current thoughts about the role of ISPs and companies like Google in the piracy debate, the progress (or lack thereof) of SOPA and why services like Spotify haven't quite replaced the importance of radio when it comes to debuting his clients' music.
Below are five excerpts from an hour-long press conference titled "Commerce of Chaos: Why Copyright still Matters Online," where McGuinness appeared alongside former Billboard editor Robert Levine (author of content copyright book "Free Ride.")
McGuinness on ISPs:
"The thing that puzzles me still about this huge question is why the technology companies, to describe them in a generic way - but I include the ISPs, manufacturers of the machines, the Googles and so on - why are they not more far-sighted? Why are they not more generous? Why are they not bringing the things they really do understand - and they're incredibly clever people with enormous resources - why are they not trying to solve the future in a more generous way? Ultimately it is in their interest that the flow of content will continue, and that won't happen unless it's paid for. Though there is some improvement in the digital environment in terms of people getting paid , the vast majority of content distributed through their pipes is not paid for. That's, in my view, utterly, utterly wrong. I don't think we can rely on politicians who are afraid of being unpopular to accomplish this without some real willingness - as I say, generosity - on the part of the technology area which…has shown this in the last few weeks to be very well able to make its case in a popular way. Never underestimate the ability of a monopoly to defend itself.
McGuinness on piracy:
There's always been a lot of inconsistency and hypocrisy in this area as the debate takes place. It amused me a few years ago when one of the guys that ran the late, lamented Limewire service, he was asked "would it be possible to get a free download of the Limewire software?" And he said "No, no you don't understand our business. We have engineers and designers, guys working around the clock on these algorithms. We couldn't possibly distribute them for nothing." Obviously that begged the question, why in that case were they making available all the work that record companies and filmmakers and producers have been spending all their time and their money on? People get confused about this… I was making a speech to quite a hostile audience in Bussels a few years ago, talking at a shop called the European Internet Foundation. The chairwoman was a German MEP [Model European Parliament] and she - as I say it was quite a rowdy, hostile audience. It was after dinner, which probably isn't the right way to discuss these things, and she'd had enough of what I was saying. And she was saying, [affects German accent] "Oh shut up." Oh, now I'm just doing a German accent. But, "Oh shut up. You're only here to talk about more taxes." I said, "Madam I beg your pardon I'm not here to talk about more taxes, I'm talking about workers and let me remind you voters getting paid for their work."
McGuinness on Apple and Google:
Their ruthlessness applies to the quality of their products and design, so you can kind of put up with it. They didn't invent the MP3, they just made the best one. It's always challenging to negotiate with them. The problem with the way in which Google - and again I'm generalizing - Google are just so much the biggest force in this argument we might as well call it "Google And Their Allies." They turned the political environment on its head in the last few weeks. They were using viral marketing techniques, if you like, that are now commonplace in American politics. Obama was the first person to do this in a very big way. The fact that Google were able to turn their entire network in to a lobbying device does not really mean that every single person who took the pox considered the arguments. It seems to me what was going on in American politics, the general consensus was on the need to fight piracy. They had an all-party support for politicians, who thought they had it pretty much squared away. But they were wrong and they did not calculate on the enormous amount of opposition that could be rallied. It really wasn't a debate it was a demonstration, really. I'm sorry it happened that way.
McGuinness on the future of music-subscription models:
I would hope in a few years' time we'll be sitting in a room saying, "What was all that fuss about? Now that we get our music and pay for it through our phone bills and ISP bills. Why did it take so long to get it together?"
McGuinness on Spotify:
Spotify ultimately is a good thing. [But] is it a means of monetizing distribution for product or is it a promotional medium? At the moment I'm inclined to treat it as a promotional medium. If we have to choose where to put records on their debut we're unlikely to give it to Spotify. I'd rather give it to a DJ on a great station. We have arrangements like that around the world with people we've worked with over the years. Spotify has yet to become popular with artists because artists don't see the financial benefit of working with Spotify. That's partly the fault of the labels, and the labels partly own Spotify - and there's sufficient transparency. I see no reason why the basic Spotify model should not be part of the future. It is essentially honest so it's to be encouraged. I'd like to see it everywhere and adopted everywhere, quite honestly.