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Wednesday, May 27, 1998 Published at 17:50 GMT 18:50 UK

Biz: The Economy

Composers battle the Net
image: [ In the days of vinyl, musicians were more sure of being paid for their work ]
In the days of vinyl, musicians were more sure of being paid for their work

Songwriters and composers have staged a campaign to protect their trade from the "free-for-all" spirit of the Internet.

Many fear the growing trend for online music will rob them of copyright payments. In response, they have formed the campaign group British Music Rights.

Leading names in show business, including the former Beatles producer George Martin, launched the group's wide-ranging manifesto at London's Festival Hall on Wednesday.

Other big names in attendance were the broadcasters Melvyn Bragg and Janet Street Porter, as well as Ashley Slater of the band Freakpower.

[ image: Compact disc sales are also threatened by online music]
Compact disc sales are also threatened by online music
The audience, which includes specially-invited politicians, heard demands for a government task force to investigate the electronic trade in music.

The composers asked for guarantees that copyright laws will cover music on the Net, and, on a different tack, demand that music education is made compulsory in schools.

Their fears have been prompted by the surging number of Websites containing music packages.


Many are in the form of fanzines dedicated to individual bands, which sometimes offer music which has been taped from concerts or from studio out-takes.

A further threat is that of unscrupulous dealers, who offer music for sale without meeting copyright obligations.

It has been estimated that around 26,000 sites use music writers' work illegally. The BMR feels without proper controls, the Internet could wreck the industry.

Director-General Nanette Rigg, said: "If you can't enforce copyright and you can't protect it, companies will be less likely to invest because the returns will be minimal.

"The industry is losing about £40m a year to pirate record sales and that will be duplicated on the Internet unless we have the correct legal framework."

Small companies

At particular risk are the small companies with turnovers of less than £50,000, she said.

They are also calling on telecommunications firms and Internet providers to share responsibility for infringements on their systems.

Among those attending the manifesto launch were the Chairman of the Commons Backbench Culture Committee, Gerald Kaufman.

Ms Rigg said she was expecting a positive response from politicians. "The UK Government is sympathetic to the things we are saying," she said.

"The bottom line is that it's in everyone's interests - there's the consumer and the creator and if we get it right somewhere in the middle we will all benefit."

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