The Recorded Music Business

Similarly to the introduction of the printing press lead to changes in law, innovation in technologies changing the way music has been made and consumed have continued to shape and disrupt the industry of their time. Whenever new technologies are introduced, it seems historically the copyright holders within the music industry resisted change.

RollingStone: Inventions That Changed Music

In 1906 Piano Roll technology was the mp3. Souza’s “The Menace of Mechanical Music’ (1906), decried the new technology as “…substitute for human skill, intelligence, and soul”.

His comments sound scarily similar to some of the comments that industry professionals have made about how the digital economy has changed the business of music today- about the internet, file sharing or streaming for example. However back then, in the US, instead of pushing to penalise the users of this new technology the law was amended to compensate rights owners. Surowiecki (2002) wrote: “Congress said that copyright was about compensation, not control”.

In 1933, the Phonograph records caused another upheaval- and then the birth of shellac and vinyl as a format signalled the end of the piano roll and sheet music era but created the recorded music business, pre-digital- to summarise Silver citing Spencer Hyman (2013, p.132), a business that, up until the birth of the Internet, was centred around the ability to control how music was made, distributed, promoted and copied. The internet and the digital revolution changed every step of that process.


IP Law and Why it Matters



The first copyright law was the Statute of Anne- created in 1709, described as an ‘act for the encouragement of learning’. The Act was passed as a step to break some the stranglehold the church and the state had over knowledge (more precisely the printing press and books) during the ‘Age of Enlightenment’ as we know it now. These first ever protections gave some control back to the creators of literary works from the publishers. After 14 years the copyright would revert back from the publishers to the authors.

Moving forward into the 19th century, the Berne convention, adopted in 1886, was the first Act of its kind intended to address copyright internationally. According to Wikstrom, (2009) “It was the French author Victor Hugo who was the strongest proponent for recognising authors’ rights internationally, which eventually resulted in the Berne Convention”.

This was the building block for the more recent Acts protecting IP in the UK- the most current being the 2004 Copyright Act.

Digital Revolution

“If you go against the wave, like the music industry- you get wiped out”- Dr. Michio Kaku, Feb 2016

We are in the midst of the digital revolution. Some call the development of the Internet our destruction, some herald it as what will be our great redeemer- but whatever the outlook, the fact that the Internet stands as the greatest communications infrastructure ever created still stands. With so much information made available to so many at the touch of a fingertip it’s hard to imagine any industry that hasn’t been transformed by it- catalysing many inventions and business models from it’s webby fingertips. The music industry is no different, in fact the changes of the digital revolution lie embedded deep in the heart of the landscape of our modern industry, affecting the way music is made, monetised and consumed every single day.

According to the IPFI (2015), the industries global digital revenues are up to 6.85 Billion US dollars- in 2014, for the first time the same proportion had been made from digital as from physical formats- although digital had been increasing year on year, going from 4.4 billion in 2009 up to 6.9 in 2014.

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Read the full report here: Digital Music Report 2015