Is Pete Townshend right to call Apple a vampire?

Pete Townshend from The Who said today that Apple is bleeding artists like a digital vampire. He also said that digital file-sharing is ‘destroying copyright as we know it’. Pete thinks that Apple should be doing more to support the acts that it makes money from, but is he right?

Putting the moral issues to one side for a moment, a buyer would rather get their music for free than pay for it. If everyone does that then there is no money to support the artists and no music gets made. At first thought this might seem like a tragedy of the commons where the fans use up the free music until no-one is prepared to make any more and there is no music being produced for anyone to enjoy.

However, Pete Townshend also says that ‘a creative person would prefer their music to be stolen and enjoyed than ignored’.

This gives us an interaction between the musician and the fan where the musician would rather give their music away than be ignored and the fan would rather not pay for it. The result of this is that the cost of music is driven down as the artists drop their prices to be noticed and still produce music even when it isn’t being paid for. They hope to be one of the lucky ones that will be able to make big money from concerts and other sales.

The difference between this and a tragedy of the commons is that in the tragedy there is a finite resource which does not get replaced fast enough and is used up. In the case of music the resource isn’t finite as there are always more artists willing to produce music in the hope of getting noticed.

The result of this is that more music is produced but the general standard is lower. Some people are still prepared to pay and so there is still money for the most successful acts. Pete may see Apple as a vampire but they have no need to spend money on developing acts as there will always be new talent coming through anyway.

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