How to save the music industry Even after three decades managing the world's biggest rock band, I have a lifetime hero as far from the world of U2 as you could ever get. He was a feisty 19th-century composer of light orchestral music. His name was Ernest Bourget.

It was Bourget who in 1847, while enjoying a meal in a Paris restaurant, suddenly heard the orchestra playing one of his own compositions. He was startled - of course he had not been paid or asked permission for this. So he resolved the problem himself: he walked out of the restaurant without paying his bill.

Bourget's action was a milestone in the history of copyright law. The legal wrangling that followed led to the establishment of the first revenue-collection system for composers and musicians. The modern music industry has a lot to thank him for.

I was thinking of Ernest Bourget on a January day two years ago when, in front of some of the world's best-known music managers gathered in a conference hall in the seafront Palais de Festivals in Cannes, I plunged into the raging debate about internet piracy and the future of music.

I had been invited to speak by the organisers of the Midem Music Convention - the "Davos" of the music industry - where, along the corridors, in the cafes and under the palm trees, the music industry's great and good debated the Big Question that dominates our business today: how are we going to fund its future?

My message was quite simple - and remains so today. We are living in an era when "free" is decimating the music industry and is starting to do the same to film, TV and books. Yet for the world's internet service providers, bloated by years of broadband growth, "free music" has become a multi-billion dollar bonanza. What has gone so wrong? And what can be done now to put it to right?

To my amazement, my speech was splashed across the world media. Partly this was due to the timing - President Sarkozy of France had just become the champion of the global music industry, tabling a new law requiring the telecom companies to finally crack down on internet piracy for the first time. But there were other reasons too.

Well-known artists very seldom speak out on piracy. There are several reasons for this. It isn't seen as cool or attractive to their fans - Lars Ulrich from Metallica was savaged when he criticised Napster. Other famous artists sometimes understandably feel too rich and too successful to be able to speak out on the issue without being embarrassed.

Then there is the backlash from the bloggers - those anonymous gremlins who wait to send off their next salvo of bilious four-letter abuse whenever a well-known artist sticks their head above the parapet. When Lily Allen recently posted some thoughtful comments about how illegal file-sharing is hurting new developing acts, she was ravaged by the online mob and withdrew from the debate.

Nevertheless, Bono has stepped into the argument. Quite unprompted by me, he wrote an op-ed piece in the New York Times in January and he pulled no punches. "A decade's worth of music file sharing and swiping has made clear the people it hurts are the creators... and the people this reverse Robin-Hooding benefits are rich service providers, whose swollen profits perfectly mirror the lost receipts of the music business." Bono is a guy who, when he decides to support a cause, does so with enormous passion. But even he was amazed by the backlash when he was mauled by the online crowd.

You have to ask how these inchoate, abusive voices are helping shape the debate about the future of music. I rarely do news interviews but when I spoke to the influential technology news site CNET last autumn I was set on by a horde of bloggers. One of them was called "Anonymous Coward." I'm not worried about criticism from Anonymous Coward. But I am worried about how many politicians may be influenced by his rantings. The level of abuse and sheer nastiness of it was extraordinary. Without Anonymous Coward and his blogosphere friends, I think many artists and musicians would be more upfront about the industry's current predicament. They might tell the world what they really feel about people who steal their music. But it's understandable why they don't - and that is partly why I don't mind filling the vacuum.

It is two years on from my Cannes speech. Some things are better in the music world, but unfortunately the main problem is still just as bad as it ever was. Artists cannot get record deals. Revenues are plummeting. Efforts to provide legal and viable ways of making money from music are being stymied by piracy. The latest figures from the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) shown that 95 per cent of all music downloaded is illegally obtained and unpaid for. Indigenous music industries from Spain to Brazil are collapsing. An independent study endorsed by trade unions says Europe's creative industries could lose more than a million jobs in the next five years. Maybe the message is finally getting through that this isn't just about fewer limos for rich rock stars.

Of course this isn't crippling bands like U2 and it would be dishonest to claim it was. I've always believed artists and musicians need to take their business as seriously as their music. U2 understood this. They have carefully pursued careers as performers and songwriters, signed good deals and kept control over their life's work. Today, control over their work is exactly what young and developing performers are losing. It is not their fault. It is because of piracy and the way the internet has totally devalued their work.

So how did we get here? How is it in 2010, in a world of iTunes and Spotify, of a healthy live music scene and hundreds of different legal sites, that making money fairly from recorded music remains so elusive?

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© s. kroeske - j.fictoor