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Martin Mills calls for more support for rights owners from tech-giant-obsessed political class

By | Published on Monday 28 January 2013

Martin Mills

Beggars chief Martin Mills was yesterday presented with an Icon award by Billboard at the MIDEM conference in Cannes.

And after eighteen months in which Mills has so often been the highest profile critic of the major music companies – and in particular the two EMI acquisitions that made Universal and Sony ever more dominant in the wider music rights business – this time the Beggars boss used his moment in the spotlight to discuss those areas where he is in agreement with his bigger rivals.

Although criticising the “predatory behaviour” of the majors, and expressing concerns at Sony/ATV/EMI’s recent decision to licence Pandora in the US directly rather than via the collective licensing system (a dominant rights owner using its size to secure a better deal than everyone else, Mills reckons), the latest Billboard icon told his audience: “I want to address the lack of support that governments, politicians and bureaucrats worldwide show to the creative industries”.

He added: “Many [in governmental and political circles] pay lip service to the value and importance of the creative economy, but most fail to match that with their actions. Creative industries are built upon strong and defendable intellectual property rights, and without that they will inevitably wither and fail. It is impossible to make the investments to produce new creative goods without the security that ownership of them is protected. Yet governments are seduced daily by elements of the new technology industry into diluting and compromising that security”.

Admitting that rights owners – especially the bigger ones – have made various mistakes in the way they licence online content services in the last fifteen years, and that the music rights industry still needed to work harder on developing better cross-territory licences, he continued: “I don’t believe that the present day music industry is a reluctant licensor”.

And, he added, “we do not need to have control of our rights taken away from us, to be forced to licence that in which we have invested at uneconomic prices, to simply allow huge tech firms to make even huger profits”. Yes, music companies needed tech companies just like tech companies need content, but “as someone who invests in music – and when I looked at the numbers a few years ago we had written off £25 million in unrecouped advances to artists over the years – it makes me fume when politicians cosy up to the big techs at our cost and spout philosophically about the needs of the modern world, about us being dinosaurs, and about music’s irresistible urge to be liberated and free”.

“All in life needs balance and vision, and the likes of [European digital commissioner] Neelie Kroos miss that point. When businesses make money out of music, music rights owners must have the right to a fair share of that income”. Noting also that the music industry pumps a lot more into the tax system than many of the tech giants putting pressure on rights owners, Mills concluded: “I’m incensed about the discrimination and the lack of understanding with which those like us who spend their lives creating art that brings people joy, can get treated by those in power. I very much hope that we can all be a part of changing that, because unless we do, the ladder we climbed will not be there for those who follow us”.

Elsewhere at MIDEM yesterday, U2 manager Paul McGuinness, who last year used his Cannes contribution to hit out at Google for failing to stop infringing content from appearing high up in its web searches, returned to that topic once more. According to Music Ally, he told the industry shindig: “I don’t want to engage in Google-bashing, but there is a sense of unease across Europe, across the world, about Google. Google have been making encouraging noises about restricting illegal sites or directions to illegal sites for acquiring music. The noises are very encouraging, but I’d like to see some action. It’s as simple as that”.

Read Mills full speech on the Billboard website, and Music Ally’s full report on McGuinness’s comments here.

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