Why the Digital Economy Bill won’t work

The Digital Economy Bill attempts to outlaw music file sharing; it threatens to take away people’s right to use the Internet if they consistently download music and/or movie files without paying for them. Is this right? Does it protect the rights of musicians and actors whose income is being jeopardised by pirate file sharing on the Internet? The industry is divided on the matter.

Some think it is necessary to protect the creative rights of copyright holders who depend on sales of their work to make a living. There are those who argue that draconian measures are called for to protect the “creative industries” from this large-scale theft and loss of income.

So, is this knee-jerk reaction ‘fair dos?’ Research by the think tank Demos found that people who download music from file sharing sources spend more on average on legitimately purchasing music than those who obtain music only from legitimate sources. The Internet is awash with new music: it has to be. Musicians need to build up a following and get their recordings heard.

Eventually bands and artists get to a point where they want to go full time and to spend their time being creative, making music, writing songs, without the impediment of having to go out and do a job to pay the rent. This is where it becomes difficult. The record labels used to take on new artists and give them a living by signing them up to a contract. This rarely happens these days. Sales of CDs have plummeted; plastic music has been substantially replaced by digital music.

The other thing to note is that the total value of live music sales has now overtaken the total value of sales of recorded music. You can’t download the live experience. Seeing a band and being in an audience with like minded fans is one of the most exciting and satisfying experiences of modern life and far outweighs the value of listening to tracks on an i-Pod. Of course, it’s the pre-recorded music that in all probability has created the demand for the gig tickets and this precisely why the record labels should take the pain of the £200m loss on file sharing, simply because there is a bigger prize to be won from the music loving public.

Bands making new and original music have to give away their music in order to create a following for it. There comes a point however when a band has become established when selling songs becomes a realistic proposition. Many bands these days would say they do not need record labels; they can be their own label and sell their music directly via i-Tunes – they don’t need record labels to do this for them.

Controlling the Internet might not be the solution. The freedom of the Internet has both its winners and its losers. It might well be true that the record industry is loosing £200 million a year from illegal downloads. As Billy Bragg said: “It’s the record labels that are dying on their feet”. They are not dying because of file downloads; they are dying because they do not want to change the way they operate. They are run by old-style conservatives who do not want to change or keep up with the times. Louis Walsh believes that talented musicians need “The Big Machine” to get them on to the mass media. He would say that wouldn’t he – being one of the owners of the x-factor brand. It’s easy to understand the rage there is against that machine.

A lot of these problems will go away when the big corporate machines stop trying to own artists. There are too many corporate suits who want to get rich at the expense of the people they control. Ok this has been the reality of popular music for the past 70 years. Labels have made big money out of artists. The Internet offers a way out of that maze of vested interests. The more you try to control the Internet, the harder people will try to get round the controls. Control solves one problem but immediately creates another.

Surely the better approach is to concentrate on the technology of locking music recordings into highly encrypted packages that only a payment can unlock. Technology exists that is capable of creating an un-copyable CD and an un-hackable digital distribution source. If the government want to help the creative industries to get their money back from their work, let the Government fund the research and technology development that will make digital copyright protection a reality. A reality in which any kind of creative effort can be securely locked into a format which is un-copyable. The Government have got it wrong – it’s not the “creative industries” that are losing money – it’s only the record industry moguls that are having their power taken away. File locking is one thing but there is another way.

The government has never had a problem funding the BBC via a licence fee. Millions have to pay for the BBC to be creative whether they want to watch it or not. Presumably they could fund the creative industries by a tax on Broadband usage, so that those who use the greater bandwidth pay more for it and the money goes to fund the artists they want to listen to. Sounds a much more beneficial approach to me than trying to police the un-policable.

When it comes to the Internet, people should be given what they want. A basic service should be free to those needing only a basis amount of use. Those who want more, should pay. A generation has grown up which places no monetary value on music; all music is free. Kids cannot see that it costs anything to make recorded music. Even 99p is too much to pay to hear a tune. They want to hear the music but they do not want to pay for it. If they are downloading songs from the back catalogue of great bands because they want a musical education, then that is a good thing. We all want to listen to the songs that represent the roots of modern music. But let’s get the file sharing companies to pay for that education. Let’s engage the bit torrenters in educating their users about the economic realities of music and why it is not produced free of charge.

In the old days people would happily put a 10p into a juke-box in a bar and listen to a track being played. People would often spend a pound or two playing their favourite songs. All we need now is the digital equivalent of the juke-box and a micro payments system that will work on the Internet or the mobile phone. That however needs to be backed up with some educational work to help people to understand why it costs money to record music.

On balance I think I side with the musicians like Billy Bragg who reject the government’s solution as being misguided and failing to see the bigger picture. What we need to change is not how people use the Internet but the way that the music industry is organised.

What makes a good consultant?

Trevor Locke thinks about what a good consultant is all about

Skills

Having the right skills for the consultancy task is obviously critical. It is also
important to have good organisational and communications skills: they do not always come with the rest.

Consultants who deal with particularly complex problems need to have the right aptitude for analysis – being able to break down complex processes and
problems into parts, steps and elements.

Those who are good at this kind of work will have an eye for detail. They will be particularly finicky about details and will spot things that others will easily miss.

Partly that comes from experience but it also comes from having the mind-set
that is attuned to disassembling very complex things into smaller, manageable things and having a feel for what small bits can easily break the whole ‘engine.’

Background

Do consultants have to haved worked in an industry, profession or line of activity for many years to become a useful consultant? Well yes, if what is required is industry knowledge. Bear in mind, however, that outsiders can be incredibly useful simply because they are outsiders.

I have, on many occasions, taken on a piece of work that is to do with something I have never encountered before. I found I would soak up knowledge and see things very quickly and my “outsider” status allowed me to see things that those on the inside were not seeing. I could also come up with solutions that were, to me, obvious but far from obvious to the insiders simply they couldn’t think outside of their industry box.

Consultants often have to deal with unfamiliar issues, systems or challenges and, to get a grasp, they need a broad range of flexible and adaptable skills. I call these core skills – a toolset of practical abilities and competencies that can be applied to almost anything, within reason.

One of these is information handling. Complex problems or large-scale
development tasks require someone to gather, process, store and analyse large amounts of information, of all kinds. Storing that information requires specific skills in information handling. There are a lot of powerful software packages that make this task easier and faster but the competent consultant should be able to work with information manually. The software is a bonus that saves a lot of time and increases productivity.

Knowledge

There are two kinds of consultant: one who knows a great deal about a
specialised area and is a well-experienced and widely read expert in his field. The other is someone who is an all-rounder, who knows about problem-solving, analysis, management and organisational processes, can work fluently with large-scale strategic pictures, as well as minute components and who has a definite aptitude for soaking up, acquiring and using large amounts of new knowledge in a short space of time ( i.e. the amount of time available for the consultancy.)

Communicator

Consultants have to have great writing skills. Sadly, too many of them do not. It’s very frequent for consultants to have to present written reports. I have read quite a few of them. Not good, or fit for purpose. Laden with impenetrable jargon that even the client would struggle with, bulked out with useless generalisations and culminating in conclusions and recommendations for which there is scant or no evidence or justification in the body of the report.

Consultants should also be able to talk freely with people of all kinds. They
should be the kind of person who can be chatting amiably with an estate resident one minute and then able to talk policy with a Minister of State the next. And be convincing at both levels.

Consultants need good presentation skills because so often we get asked to
present our findings to a group of people. I’ve seen this happen a few times. Oh dear, not good. When the main findings and conclusions should be beamed out loud and clear, we get drowned in a sea of statistics. Writing and talking in plain English: so important for consultants.

Honesty

A good consultant will be honest about what they can and can’t do. If they can’t deal with a brief they should say so and call “next”. There will be borderline situations where a brief looks ‘do-able’ with a couple of ifs and buts. What the client presents (as a brief) isn’t always the real problem; it’s sometimes what the client sees the problem as being. The consultant might see through that and want to turn the whole thing around and stand it on its head.

We all present ourselves in the best light: setting out CVs that make us look
really good. But there is a boundary between stating demonstrable facts and
being economical with the truth. If someone believes him/her self to be
competent, they should say so but should still be able to justify that. Saying you have a competency in something (e.g. strategic planning) just because you think you can do it, is not enough.

Capacity

Consultants are hard working people whose life-work balance is often in see-saw mode. If someone waves a nice fat cheque in front of their faces they are inclined to say yes. They say “yes” before they have sat down and calculated how many hours of work this project will require and where they think they are going to fit it all into their current workload. It’s never wise to prioritise your wallet over your diary, however tempting it might be to do that.

Commitment

I spoke earlier about having being thrown into unfamiliar tasks. If I were to be
offered a brief to work on something that I know would bore the pants off me, I
would turn it down. I say this because excellence requires vision and passion. It is hard to work up either for these for something you don’t relate to and just can’t stand. I would never accept a commission from a horse racing society or do anything related to the racing of four-legged animals because I could not get excited about it. I would not feel likely to generate visions of what could be
achieved and get passionate about the subject matter. I know not all consultants will agree with me on this. But this is how I see it.

Understanding

Do consultants always understand the brief they are given? No. When negotiating a client’s brief, the consultant should be able to be

* Analytical about it (what’s this really about?)
* Penetrating (see beneath the surface to the underlying problem)
* Diagnostic (what made this situation come about?)
* Challenging (don’t just accept what the client says as being gospel truth)
* Clear about the end-results of the consultancy

Conclusion

If you plan to spend a lot of money on a consultant: get a good one. Even if your budget is modest, get a good one, if the outcome is mission critical. Consultants have been known to do more damage than good to an organisation. Don’t take the first one that comes along. Place emphasis on references and recommendations. Be prepared to have them pull your carefully worded brief to bits.