Former EMI Boss: Fight Against Illicit P2P is “Useless”

At least on the surface, most in the mainstream music industry agree: illicit file-sharing is evil. However, when you aren't getting paid to have a certain opinion, things can change. No longer taking a salary from his former company, Ex-IFPI chairman and EMI director Per Eirik Johansen speaks freely.

While working for a big company, which in themselves are very often parts of an even bigger concern with global interests, it is taken as read that you toe the corporate line. Those that dare to have an opinion of their own can find themselves in sticky situations. Of course, the sway an outfit has over an individual is nearly always financial, but what happens when this point of leverage disappears?

Per-Eirik Johansen has been in the music industry for many years, and was noted for his ability to develop some prominent artists. At one point elected as chairman of the IFPI, it was during Johansen’s time as a director at EMI that he bore the brunt of a backlash against the copy protection his company put on CDs.

In 2004, five thousand people lobbied EMI to remove this DRM, with news site nrk.no calling Johansen’s office 27 times over two broken interview promises on the issue. Eventually he conceded, “I have neither the desire nor the ability to give out discs without copy protection,” while indicating that only EMI London could make such a decision.

“We always listen to consumers,” he objected. “I can inform you that over the last five months, in EMI we have sold about 400,000 CDs with copy protection in Norway. In the same period we have received 28 complaints from consumers.”

“What we are talking about is a tiny, tiny little thing,” he said. But did he really believe that it was so insignificant?

No longer working for EMI, in an interview with Joakim from Norway’s Dagbladet, Johansen – unrestrained from the shackles of a forced corporate line – speaks freely, noting that while he took a salary from EMI he felt obliged to defend their stance.

He now believes the music industry’s fight against piracy has been useless and says he disagrees with the assertion that illicit file-sharing is the same as theft. Referring to an earlier EMI anti-piracy initiative, Johansen noted, “The message of that campaign is that there is a reason why we have copyright, and I agree.”

“But the main thing is that a whole generation already violates copyright, and the only thing we can do now is find better solutions,” he says pragmatically.

Now, as the 49 year-old manages his own label, Johansen looks back on some good times with EMI, particularly those where he discovered and developed new artists. But times have changed. “Now that companies’ earnings have gone down, and you cut down on people, people no longer have the resources to drive this work,” he said.

Johansen still has optimism for the industry, pointing out growth in the live concert market and showing enthusiasm for new models to make money from music. “I am extremely optimistic. There has been a revolution, and in the wake of this, it is very chaotic. Today there is an entrepreneurial spirit that is both healthy and exciting. We do not know how the industry will look in a year or two, but I am convinced that the future looks promising.”

Noting that as a whole the music industry hasn’t fallen in value, Johansen says it is the recording section that has suffered most after it did nothing for too long and failed to adapt their business model to the new era.

“No one has ever won a battle when fighting against new technology,” he said.

Time to embrace it then.

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