Why Musicians should Focus on Music and Leave the Lobbying to Others

by on March 29, 2007

I really wish that the pro-regulatory people would stop scaring musicians with wildly implausible horror stories:

The Rock the Net campaign, made up mostly of musicians who are on smaller record labels or none at all, said they are fearful that if the so-called “Net neutrality” principle is abandoned their music may not be heard because they do not have the financial means to pay for preferential treatment.

Some said they do not want to pay. The Web, they said, has allowed many unknown musicians to put their music online, giving fans instant access to new music and giving bands greater marketing capabilities.

This is implausible on so many levels that I don’t even know where to begin. I’ve argued in the past that ISPs are unlikely to have the bargaining power to extract preferential access fees, that any fees are likely to be bundled with basic connectivity, and that ISPs have little or no control over what appears on a user’s screen.

But let’s say I’m wrong about all that and a dystopian future does materialize in which the Internet is limited to the websites of a handful of deep-pocketed corporations. Then independent artists are screwed, right?

Well, not really. How do artists reach fans now? A lot of them use sites like MySpace, Blogger, and YouTube. Sites, in other words, run by large corporations with deep pockets. Even in the exceedingly unlikely event that the Internet is somehow closed off to all but the largest corporations, it’s likely that Google and News Corp. will pay what’s necessary to ensure that their own properties continue to function.

So to buy the artists’ fears, you not only have to believe that the telcos will succeed in radically transforming the Internet at the logical layer, but you also have to believe that they’ll be able to twist the arms of companies like Google that control the content layer into changing their sites to lock out local artists. Not only does it seem exceedingly unlikely that they’d be able to do that, but it’s not even clear why they’d want to. If News Corp is paying the appropriate bribe to give MySpace preferential access, why would Verizon care what kind of content MySpace is making available?

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