Crisis, what crisis? Copyright and the creative destruction of the music industry

Dr. Jim Rogers
School of Communications, DCU

The core theme at the heart of this conference – Crises, ‘Creative Destruction’ and the Global Power and Communication Orders – carries many interesting implications and meanings, especially in the context of the current financial and economic turmoil.

What is striking to note is how different media sectors experience crisis in distinctive ways. For example, while the concept of crisis in news media might tend to relate to certain more qualitative stakes linked to the that sector’s ‘public interest’ role or agenda, in the context of the music industry, crisis is primarily and commonly conceived of in terms of the ‘technological’, and possesses a longer-term historical trajectory far pre-dating the global economic downturn of more recent years. Moreover, while the emergence and the diffusion of new ICTs has heralded various transformations across the spheres of music production, distribution and consumption over recent years, the fundamental power structures underpinning the music industry itself remain significantly unaltered.

The music industry advances itself as a very interesting subject for analysis in the context of crisis. It is not only an important cultural sub-sector in itself but, given that it is often conceived as the ‘canary down the mine’ of the digital economy, it is also viewed as pre-figurative of developments in other parts of the media and cultural industries.

While, on the surface, the collapse of recorded music sales since the late 1990s offers evidence of a crisis of digitalisation threatening economic viability of the music sector, we must be attentive to how ‘crisis’ may be defined as a period of widespread ‘creative destruction’, restructuring and innovation on many fronts in order to establish the necessary conditions for a sustainable new phase or regime of economic development. The ability of the established actors in the industry to retain copyright of, and usefully exploit successful repertoire is significant here. It is important to consider the unique characteristics of music as a media form. Its nature enables it to colonise all manner of spaces and places in our private and public worlds. Moreover, it has established itself as a core component of many other media forms. Hence we can see the music industry accelerating the rate at which it shifts its emphasis on its content from a product for sale to a commodity for licensing. The proliferating range of platforms and channels for exploiting the licensing value of music copyrights has seen revenues collected in relation to global performing royalties grow to record levels for royalty collection societies and the music publishers they represent. Equally the live music industry has demonstrated strong growth across recent years.

So, ironically, while crisis rhetoric has dominated discourse on the music industry for the best part of two decades, by shifting our analytical lens beyond the technological and recognising the full scope of activities and interests pertaining to the music sector, we can see it as, if anything, a media sector that is crisis resilient.

Dr Jim Rogers is presenting in the Media Production Analysis (MPA) stream:

Session 4: Crisis, work condition and innovation
Slot Code: MPAT1a
Time: Thu 27 June 9:00-10:30
Room: QG01

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