Singer/songwriter/activist Billy Bragg's just launched a new effort to try to push for a reform of copyright laws: a Web site that acts as a forum for conversations between artists and fans. It's being dubbed the Net's first and only artists-to-fans-to-artists blog.
Bragg's been a prominent figure in pushing for music reform for a long time, and he walks a very fine and complex line indeed between the lawsuit-hungry recording industry, governmental regulation, and the evolving ways that the public behaves with online music availability. For example, Bragg was involved in forcing MySpace to change its music-playing policy, making the company change its terms and conditions after he very publicly pulled his music from the site because MySpace's legalese implied it could onwards-license tracks without paying the artists for the privilege.
While that sounds like the activities of a fiendish IP-guarding artist, it's actually at the core of Bragg's philosophy: The copyright system is broken, and aggressively suing your fans because their downloads are classified as illegal serves the interests of the record labels rather than funding the artists themselves. Bragg's also a leading member of the Featured Artists Coalition, a body of prominent musicians who are pushing for a softening of the U.K. government's aggressive "three strikes" Net disconnection policy for digital pirates.
All of which makes Bragg's A2f2a blog all the more important. Bragg, in collaboration with fan Jon Newton, has set out the site's agenda as being the fact that "artists need to be paid, and fans want to pay them"—a position supported rather well by Radiohead's choice of letting fans pay what they thought it was worth for their In Rainbows album. According to the site it's goals are simple:
- Help each community better understand each other
- Help find a practical and workable system, which offers artists fair remuneration in exchange for access to material by fans
- Help set the agenda for discussions about the role P2P can play within the emergent digital record industry
The adoption by Bragg of a social media-like environment to do all this work within is certainly novel, and could prove powerful—such thinking is at least in part behind the White House's move to Drupal to power its Web site. We suspect some important debates on the future of copyright will spring up from this new source pretty fast.