ALANIS MORISSETTE came out in support of the opportunities that file-sharing application Napster can offer artists, during a US Senate Judiciary hearing on the future of online entertainment yesterday (April 3).
The Canadian singer-songwriter explained that her initial caution in the face of the rise of Napster had much to do with record labels dubbing the use of music on the application as ‘piracy’. She also called on the Senate hearing to listen to artists, not just their labels, before decisions were reached on the future of music online.
“We have now clearly evolved into a new and exciting digital era in which we are discovering new ways to share our music directly and interactively,” she said. “My initial resistance to the new services created online was based on the debate having been framed in terms of ‘piracy’. Being labelled as such by the record companies, it understandably sent a ripple effect of panic throughout the artistic community.”
She continued: “But what I have since come to realise is that for the majority of artists, this so-called ‘piracy’ may have actually been working in their favour. Most recording artists never receive royalties past their initial advance, due to the financial structure of most record company contracts. From these artists’ viewpoint, their music is free, since they do not, in the end, receive money from any of the sales. That ‘free’ Internet distribution allows the artist to aggregate an audience and create a direct relationship with that audience, as well as develop a community among the people who love their music. This in turn allows that artist to generate compensation through other outlets, such as touring and merchandise. For the majority of artists, this amounts to making enough money to be in survival mode.”
Morissette was joined by Eagles rocker Don Henley who was clearer in his demands over online entertainment.
“We believe recording artists should always be paid for the exploitation of their sound recordings on the Internet, unless the recording artist makes the decision to provide the recordings free of charge,” he said. According to MTV, he asked the committee to consider writing a law that would force labels to pay artists royalties on all online use of music.
“While we support the lawsuits [against Napster], the lawsuits should not be used to destroy a viable distribution system,” he said. “Compulsory licenses should be considered, though only as a last resort.”
The hearing, Online Entertainment And Copyright Law: Coming Soon To A Digital Device Near You, was held to gauge the current state of online music and other entertainment and to allow the Judicial Committee to consider whether legislation was needed to help develop the market.