Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2008/06/05/burnham_ppl_agm/

Gov ready to drop Gowers?

Music biz hopes so

By Andrew Orlowski

Posted in Media, 5th June 2008 15:26 GMT

Is the Government edging away from the recommendations made in the Gowers Report? The British music business seems to think so - based on perceived nudges and winks from the new Culture Secretary Andy Burnham. Burnham addressed the Annual General Meeting of the non-profit collection society the PPL yesterday - but your reporter found it hard to detect anything as concrete as a policy wiggle. Not yet, anyway.

You read the runes, and be the judge.

The Gowers Report is loathed by the British music business because it fails to back a term extension on sound recordings and because it blessed the introduction of uncompensated format shifting - in contrast to most of the rest of Europe.

PPL chairman and chief executive Fran Nevrkla yesterday described Gowers as "deeply hostile, flawed, now discredited".

On the subject of the copyright term extension for sound recordings - currently at 50 years - Burnham said he thought there may be what he called "a new dimension" to the debate that hadn't been addressed. Performers who were reaching retirement were being deprived of revenue from popular recordings, just when they need the money the most, he acknowledged.

"If there's an angle around session musicians it might change the terms of the debate," said Burnham, who said this could generate new grounds for compromise. For now, he was content to punt the issue up to Europe, and see what Commissioner McCreevy decided.

However, when when he turned to online file sharing, Burnham appeared to give little encouragement to the audience.

"Young people don't see format shifting as an offence, and are not conducive to sympathizing with the plight of big corporations," said Burnham.

(Up to a point, Lord Copper. Freetard activists often sympathize with the plight of big corporations, we must point out - such as Google and large telecoms companies - when it suits them.)

Burnham urged the business to "have faith in human nature" and gave the example of Radiohead's In Rainbows, which demonstrated that people would buy something even when there was a free alternative.

Burnham also complained that the music business had taken "a disproportionate part of our disposable income" in the past - a statement that chilled some of the assembled. Then again, he admitted that he had bought The Wedding Present's single George Best four times in four different formats. And, er… whose fault was that?

Burnham acknowledged there was a need "to shift the perception of not valuing creativity" but was wary of speaking in anything other generalities.

There were "no cast iron solutions," he said. Not a lot to cheer up the recordings biz, there.

Responding to a question from Music Publishers Association chief Stephen Navin, Burnham said they needed to make their presence felt amongst the NuLab wonks and quangos. He pointed out that there were no music business representatives on BERR's "Convergence Think Tank".

"Ask yourselves - 'are you engaging enough?'" urged the minister.

But then the choice of appointees tells its own story.

Whatever you think about the merits of British music's claims, it's hard to imagine a French culture minister telling the French wine industry that they need to "keep in there" or else he'll forget that they exist.

As for the PPL, its annual figures showed a healthy demand for music. The collection society distributes money from recordings played on TV and radio as well as pubs and restaurants.

For the first time, the PPL annual income topped eight figures in 2007. The society returned £99.5m back to rights holders, after costs of discovery and payment - the deduction is 14.6 per cent of revenue. The distributable income was up 18 per cent on 2006.

The PPL credits the improvement to better systems - particularly an Oracle database - which means fewer people are needed to administer the system. 90 per cent of radio play is now based on actual usage, rather than guesstimates and sampling.

Reciprocal income from oversees societies grew quickly to reach £9.1m in 2007 - but there's much to do, the PPL said. After many years, a bill now proposes to bring US radio into line with the rest of the world and broadcasters may soon start paying recording royalties.

(See more on the background to this, here).

Online is growing, but is still a tiny part of overall broadcast. With the PPL now licensing 'interactive' digital media, royalties of £1.42m were collected, compared to £56.8m of total broadcast. ®