U2's crazy manager wants to go after tech firms

Apple, Microsoft and others have had their "snouts" in the trough for too long.


Farhad Manjoo
January 29, 2008 11:16PM (UTC)

Here's proof that associating with reasonable people doesn't do much for one's own faculties of reason: Paul McGuinness, longtime manager of U2, that rocking font of geopolitical pragmatism, is demanding that the tech industry pay piracy reparations to the music business.

Microsoft, Google, Apple, Yahoo, AOL and other Internet firms have "built multibillion dollar industries on the back of our content without paying for it," McGuinness said yesterday at a music conference in Cannes. The record industry, he argues, ought to forget about prosecuting individual music thieves and should instead save itself by going after tech industry hogs: "We must shame them into wanting to help us. Their snouts have been at our trough feeding free for too long."

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Whoa! Behold a man of wondrous self-regard, a fellow so certain of his own inflated self-view that he's willing to go out there and just say it: That Internet thing the world's so in love with these days, with your Facebook and your MySpace and your YouTubes, all of that, it wouldn't have happened if it weren't for me! So pay up!

(And parenthetically -- and not to get too personal here -- but isn't it a little pot-kettle for a band manager to be calling other businesses parasites?)

What McGuinness wants from the tech industry isn't exactly clear. It seems he's seeking some kind of revenue-sharing model with ISPs, whereby they'd pay the music business in return for their members' getting access to music.

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Note that this is not by definition a crazy idea: You could say McGuinness is calling for something like the collective music license that groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation have long been promoting. In that model, the music industry would essentially allow people to trade all the music they want on the Internet. People would then pay a fee -- say $5 a month, presumably through their ISPs -- which would go into a general music-sharing fund.

Money in that fund would be distributed to the record companies, and thereby to artists, according to statistics on how often songs are trading online (so U2 and Justin Timberlake would get a lot more of the dough than, say, Yael Naim). This is basically the same model that radio stations use to compensate artists.

But this brilliant plan would require a sea change in the music industry, a recognition that it can do a lot better by radically refashioning its ideas about what it means to "own" and to "steal" music under current technology. But McGuinness, clearly, hasn't refashioned his ideas. He's not calling for the music industry to allow people to trade whatever songs they want; instead, he just wants tech companies to pay.

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Look at the pugilism: Though he admits to being "quite friendly" with Apple CEO Steve Jobs -- the two made a deal to release a U2 iPod, after all -- McGuinness says tech firms are behaving like a magazine publisher who "was advertising stolen cars, processing payments for them and arranging delivery."

That's nonsense, as Techdirt's Mike Masnick nicely points out. Even if file-sharing was indeed "stealing" -- it's not -- tech firms are neither arranging delivery nor processing payments for the thieves. Yes, the music travels down ISP lines to get between file-sharers -- but so, of course, do bank robbers travel in pimped-out Fords when they leave the scene, and you'd be a fool to insist that Detroit is responsible for that.

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But here's the thing that proves McGuinness knows nada of what he speaks. He floats the idea that Silicon Valley is feeding off the music business because of its countercultural origins: "Embedded deep down in the brilliance of those entrepreneurial, hippie values seems to be a disregard for the true value of music."

Hippie values? You could maybe make a case that Jobs is a hippie -- that he plays one on TV is closer to the truth -- but no one else in Silicon Valley even comes close. The leaders here -- Larry, Sergey, Eric -- are about as hippie as Ron Paul.

Silicon Valley's hippy values 'killing music industry' [The Guardian]
U2 manager urges ISPs to help fight web piracy [Financial Times]

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Farhad Manjoo

Farhad Manjoo is a Salon staff writer and the author of True Enough: Learning to Live in a Post-Fact Society.

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