Last week Geoff Taylor, chief executive of the BPI, made a rather brave admission in an editorial on the BBC web site. He fessed up to the fact that the record industry fucked up by not embracing Napster ten years ago and further lamented the lack of acceptance of any new models at the time. He goes on to excuse the industry by saying that they just were not equipped for the rights issues, DRM, etc. to be able to cope with digital downloading.
I first met Geoff when he was the general counsel at the BPI. Peter Jamieson was the CEO at the time, a very nice gentleman. He was tall and distinguished, but he always looked to me as though he’d been stuffed and mounted by one of London’s finest taxidermists. His bright blue eyes always looked to me as if they were #3 fish eyes, he had that faraway look. It was a meeting at my hotel in London regarding Mashboxx and Peter, Geoff and Steve Redmond were there. I was doing a presentation and Geoff and Steve were sitting across from me at a big conference table while Peter sat motionless in a corner just listening. Geoff and I got into what I would now characterize as a lively debate (if memory serves me correctly, I believe I was calling Geoff a Nazi at that moment) and out of the corner of my eye noticed Peter. I interrupted the “discussion” to ask Geoff and Steve if they had a hand mirror I could use to check to see if Jamieson had expired.
To paraphrase Humphrey Bogart in “Casablanca” that was the beginning of a beautiful relationship. Geoff and I actually grew to get on rather well. I like him. He takes my abuse well. But I have to take him to school on his defense of the record industry in the Napster case. He’s right in saying that the industry wasn’t equipped to handle the internet in general and Napster in particular. For years prior to Napster companies like Liquid Audio and AT&T’s a2b music were pulling teeth trying to get record labels to give them promotional downloads that were heavily DRM’d. It was a nightmare.
What Geoff doesn’t acknowledge is that there wasn’t the will to figure it all out back then. There’s the famous story about a comment allegedly made by Michele Anthony (at the time she was executive vp of Sony Music Entertainment) to the effect that “this internet thing will never happen”. They just thought that they could make it all go away even after Napster came along, as evidenced by the strategy of litigation as opposed to partnership. One guy got it though. Thomas Middlehoff. And look what happened to him. The rest of the industry ganged up on him and succeeded in bringing him down.
As the years have gone by, my former nemeses have evolved into pretty good friends. I consider the RIAA’s Mitch Bainwol and Cary Sherman to be friends, as well as their general counsel Steve Marks. John Kennedy, head of the IFPI is a true gentleman. And I really like Geoff, who I still refer to as my favorite Stalinist. These guys have been very supportive of my efforts in the past to try to bring some order and reason to the whole file sharing mess. They want new models to succeed and certainly have gone out of their way to help. They’re all great guys and try to do the best that they can.
So, Geoff, I applaud you for finally coming out and saying what needed to be publicly stated, and I agree with almost all of your points. It took balls to do that. But its hard to feel sorry for the industry based upon not only their lack of will but their outright contempt for technology 10 years ago. This was really due to a lack of intelligent, visionary leadership. And those qualities certainly weren’t embodied in the likes of Tommy Mottola’s , Donnie Ienner’s and Michele Anthony’s of the world.