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Feargal Sharkey on three strikes… and after

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Interview

Feargal Sharkey needs little introduction. A chart-topper in his own right, and as the lead singer of one of the greatest pop groups of all time, The Undertones, he subsequently crossed into regulatory and policy work - constantly agitating for musicians, songwriters and performers. At the start of the month he joined British Music Rights, which represents music publishers, composers and songwriters - and an important counterweight to the BPI, which predominantly represents large record companies.

With the music and broadband businesses at a historic crossroads, Feargal gave us a glimpse of some of the closed-door discussions we might see next.

Feargal on... paying for art

I'm aware a lot of people seem to think that when downloading something off the internet for free, there's a large, black, soulless, faceless, moneygrabbing multinational company there that will never miss the £7.99.

But the brutal reality of life is: according to the Musicians Union, 80 per cent of musicians will make less than £10,000 this year. And according to the MCPS, 95 per cent of composers and songwriters will earn less than £15,000 in royalty income.

Invariably, it's artists and creators who are at the sharp end of this food chain, and they're the ones that will get to the stage that they'll give up and go and do something else - because they have to pay the rent, pay the gas bill and feed themselves, buy shoes, and deal with all the things normal people expect to deal with in life. So people have to realise there's an implication in this.

There's been all this play about FairTrade coffee and FairTrade sugar - but what about FairTrade bloody music?

I've never met anyone who's prepared to go to work from Monday to Friday and not be prepared to be paid at the end of the week. But that's exactly what we expect our musicians and our songwriters and our composers to do. I don't get it.

Feargal on... the end of big label control

Everybody concedes that very rapidly, we're going to change a lot of traditional methods we've used to get music to the consumer. For some of the record labels that presents a huge challenge in itself. Traditionally they've controlled their businesses by controlling the distribution channel. Well, that's pretty much gone now.

Sorry guys, someone else controls your distribution channel and it's called BT, or Virgin Media or whoever.

El Reg: And they can't set the price?

I'm trying to be sympathetic, but lately I've been sitting in meetings with them asking 'how much do you charge for this?'

And they don't know. So you're running a business, and you don't know how much consumers are paying you? Well how do you build any kind of model out of that? How do you do the normal business planning things like - how many people should I employ next year or how big an office should I have?

Feargal on... the right to copy for free

One week ago the commissioner for the internal market, and the man ultimately responsible for copyright in Europe Charlie McCreevy gets up - and whilst talking about a number of other things involving the music industry - says, to quote, "Unquestionably creators are entitled to compensation in exchange for the private copying exemption".

So suddenly you've got the European Commission saying one thing - and the UK government is saying the opposite. Now we have no idea what that compensation should be, or how that compensation should be structured, or anything else yet. But shall we just start with the philosophical principle - and that twenty-odd countries seem to have put something into practice that does exactly that.

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