Major record labels are still fighting the piracy battles of 1997 according to a leading rock musician and digital rights activist. Blur drummer Dave Rowntree told OUT-LAW that they should have realised in 1997 that their battle was already lost.
"If you turn back the clock when all this stuff was still on the horizon, the key realisation to have made was that we had lost the war already," Rowntree told OUT-LAW Radio, the weekly technology law podcast. "That's what I was going round telling everybody 10 years ago, saying 'the horse has bolted, there's no way of undoing what has been done already, the only thing you can do is to try and turn your business around so that you turn this into a plus rather than a minus'."
Rowntree advises digital rights advocacy group the Open Rights Group and has been a vocal opponent of the mainstream record industry's policies of chasing individual file sharers. When told that the last Blur album was leaked on to the internet he reportedly said "I'd rather it gushed".
Rowntree said that the major labels' policies of putting digital rights management (DRM) technology on music CDs to attempt to stop them being copied and shared backfired spectacularly.
"DRM was doomed to fail because the people who it was designed to stop, as in the counterfeiters or the mass file sharers or the people doing it for political reasons could easily bypass it," he said.
"But the people who were caught in the trap of DRM were the ordinary people who wanted to play their CDs on their computer as well as their CD recorder or who wanted to make a tape of it to put on in the car who were doing things that most people regardless of the law would regard as legitimate activities. "
"They have become very much the establishment…by the time that the industry was starting to fight what they saw as the war against file sharing they really weren't in anybody's good books any more, they didn't have the goodwill of the people whose behaviour they were trying to control."
Having watched the process as part of one of the UK's biggest bands, Rowntree was ideally placed to observe and advise. He says, though, that the industry was not necessarily ready to listen. "I told my own label EMI this five years ago, I said down with them and said that one of the major labels was going to go bust because of this, and they said 'it's all in hand'," he said.