Published May 09, 2014As the boss at Beggars Group, Martin Mills has left his stamp on the music industry, and Canadian Music Week recognized his accomplishments by giving him the inaugural CMW Global Impact Award in Toronto yesterday (May 8). Rather than sing the praises of the music industry, however, Mills used his acceptance speech as an opportunity to lash out against Universal Music Group and Google.
He was honoured during an afternoon keynote interview with Fucked Up's Damian Abraham. In his speech, he noted that his primary job within Beggars is maintaining balance within the company, and he offered these thoughts on Universal's size and power within the industry.
"We operate in an industry today that is out of balance. And we need a balanced industry like we need a balanced diet," Mills said. "The first respect in which it's out of balance is in the size and dominance of the major players. Nobody in this industry, other than those trying to compete with them, can now afford not to have a relationship with Universal, and that gives them unprecedented power — power to upset the balance. The power, as their CEO proudly said, to get people into business, the power to stop people getting into business."
If you you're wondering how that balance may affect the music industry, Mills explained: "When they negotiate or renegotiate with digital services, they leverage that power to obtain a larger slice of the pie than should be theirs. And that effect echoes down the food chain, and leaves independents, those companies who have always started new trends, on who the musical culture of our nations depends, finding that Universal have eaten their lunch. "
His other target was Google — particularly its sub-company YouTube — and the United States' safe harbour laws that prevent the company from being responsible for hosting uncleared material.
"[Safe harbour provisions] were introduced, with some foresight, by the legislators in the U.S.A. framing the DMCA, to provide a notice and take down procedure for unlicensed content," Mills said. "But the legislation has been distorted into a protective wall behind which cyberlockers and torrent sites, and companies such as YouTube and Grooveshark, operate.
"The original intent was to protect reasonable people acting reasonably from falling foul of the law, to enable the digital economy to grow without 'gotcha' lawsuits against ISPs who had no idea that their networks were being used for infringement. They were not intended to provide fortress walls behind which companies could build billion dollar businesses on content that had not been cleared. They were never intended to become a de facto 'licence.'"
He went on to explain it's like if someone robbed your house but their only punishment was that they had to return the belonging and perhaps apologize, then being allowed to recreate the crime again and again.
He continued, "As you might imagine, policing the YouTubes of this world for infringing content is a herculean task, one beyond all but the largest of companies. For my community, the independents, it's a game of whack-a-mole they can only lose. These provisions are being abused. Many of the companies taking advantage of them are not start-ups that need a break, they dwarf everyone in this room. They've been in business long enough to now be able to identify that content. They know what it is."
Mills even went on to say that large companies that abuse certain provisions "hobble creators" and "give those that use them an unfair competitive advantage over companies such as iTunes, Spotify, Amazon and Rdio who do pre-license content."
He added, "Google says that safe harbours have been crucial not only to them but also to every other internet company. That's not true. And YouTube says it's paid out a billion dollars to music rights owners — but so has Spotify, from one 30th as many users. That economic discrepancy is because of the unreasonable economic advantage YouTube has over its digital service competitors because of its use of the safe harbour provisions."
While Mills said he supported the American government's attempts at reforming copyright laws, he added that safe harbour loopholes must be removed.
"We are at the point at which notice and take down must become notice and stay down," he said.
Mills concluded with a quote that stated: "We believe there is significant, credible evidence emerging that online piracy is primarily an availability and pricing problem."
But Mills doesn't exactly see things that way, saying: "Whereas that might have been true 10 years ago, today, in an era with myriad licensed services (and Australia has more than most), and with streaming services with free tiers, I think that's, frankly, rubbish. Who was it from? Google, the parent of YouTube, one of the companies that have made billions on the back of a statutory provision intended to protect ordinary people acting innocently."