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Interview w/ Walter F. McDonough, Future of Music Coalition
By Margee Fagelson
(more articles from this author)
2001-01-03
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[Margee] Why do you think FMC is being perceived as partisan, the anti-RIAA?

[Walter] I'm flabbergasted that anyone would think that of us. We've never gotten into it with anyone. We are NOT anti-RIAA. We want to bring people together to create a positive discussion. I think if we're against anything, we're against demonizing people. We have lots of common ground with everyone from Hilary Rosen to Jon Potter [DiMA]. I think this is the time to explore common ground and see how we can advance policies that will be a fair and transparent digital music distribution industry. I can't imagine why anyone would think we are anti-RIAA or bomb throwers. Our goal is to be a think tank and repository for the dissemination of information in the international music industry and the role and status of recording artists and independent record labels. Hopefully, the RIAA will continue to advocate for the majors and we will provide research for the indies and the recording artists. At it stands now, almost 80% of our agendas overlap. The 20% disagreement comes in areas like SoundExchange where we have a different position but we feel that we are being productive in the dialogue as we contribute our ideas. We're debating about ideas and policies and not personalities. How someone like me can be seen as anti-RIAA? I came from the music background and talk to the majors all the time. We're actually on the same side of many of the most important issues. In other ways, we share some of the same concerns as Jon Potter and the DiMA folks when it comes to the potential growth of webcasting because we see it as a way to maximize revenues for artists. People like Noah Stone [Director, Artists Against Piracy] couldn't be nicer to us. The RIAA is also going to participate in our conference. We have never had a problem with an institution. I can count on one hand the people who came up to me with a negative response and they have ended up eventually agreeing with us. In some ways, I think we're good for the RIAA. In their latest filing with the copyright office, they said that they represent the major record labels. Isn't it good that there is a separate organization that represents the artists? It takes the responsibility off their shoulders and they can spend the bulk of their time representing their member labels.

[Margee] Who brought you into the coalition?

[Walter] We started it together –– Jenny, Brian and I –– and Michael Bracy came in later. It started at the Harvard Law School Signal of Noise conference when Jenny, Kristin and I were all in the audience at the seminar. Brian was actually on the panel. I was getting angry from my audience seat and Charles Nessen, Professor and moderator, saw me getting angry and came over to let me ask the first question. Next thing you know, I'm on the panel. I was the only one who had done legal work in both music and technology. The rest of the panel was either music people or technology people. I always ask the technology people if they understand the music industry and I ask the music people if they understand the technology and, unfortunately, the answer is usually ‘no'. After the conference Jenny, Brian, Kristin and I started talking and we all scattered our separate ways. Jenny was already talking to Michael about low power radio. Over the course of the next few months, we all saw that there was a need for an organization to say ‘‘Napster interferes with artists, not just the music industry but litigation may not be the only way to settle this.'' We were in the right place at the right time because no one was coming at the controversial technology developments from the perspective of recording artists and independent labels. People and institutions began to respond to our message. And now we can talk to anyone –– hardware manufacturers, accounting people, Wall Street, record labels and the artists themselves. We decided to build it out and be a think tank that collected information on these issues. There is a vacuum that needs to be filled. We are totally volunteer; we have put in our own money so far, although we need benefactors. We have the least resources of anyone. But most of what we say is common sense, so it resonates with a lot of people.

[Margee] What is your role in the coalition?

[Walter] Basically, quasi-general counsel. My role ultimately is doing the research -- 90% of it in the legal area. Now that we have Peter [DiCola, FMC], it's great, getting an economist on board. I do a lot of serious copyright research. We have a variety of people who all do specific things. I've done a lot of legal work in the music industry and a lot for technology companies so that is basically my area of expertise. I can do a recording contract one day and an ASP contract the next. It's sheer luck that I fell into these two areas of expertise. For example, I direct the research teams looking at direction of copyright law, both here and at the EC in Europe.

[Margee] What will the conference accomplish?

[Walter] Hopefully, by having so many influential people there, Senator Hatch, representatives of the Copyright Office, prestigious attorneys, the RIAA, Michael Robertson, it is a great opportunity to redirect the dialogue in a more productive path. Especially in light of the state of our government right now –– 50/50 Senate, it's going to be very hard to get things done in DC. But a lot can be done if we start a meaningful dialogue in this space. Music now is just at the forefront of a long series of battles over copyright that will cover everything from movies and TV to traditional book publishing. Perhaps we can be a catalyst to make this process less divisive.

[Margee] Who should attend this conference?

[Walter] Anyone who is interested in the issues. The conference is different from all other because it is set in the nation's capital. Every entertainment or tech lawyer should go. It will be the definitive discussion of the legal issues. Just look at the panelists Jenny [Toomey, FMC] has gathered. Anyone in the digital entertainment space, lawyers, managers should go. The managers and producers are a constituency that needs to get involved. I think people who can come, should come. This conference will be the best for what it is. The standards –– Webnoize, Plugin -- they're great and the music conferences like CMJ, SXSW and Midem are too. But this will be the first of its kind. This one has never been done before. Everyone can discuss legal concepts and business models in great depth.

[Margee] Who/what are you psyched to meet or see?

[Walter] The Europeans. I get to talk to a lot of great people in the US but the Europeans really fascinate me. They're developing this whole system out there; it's almost like a parallel cyber universe. We can learn a lot from them and they from us. We need to be careful that we are not creating a legal framework that is in conflict with theirs. I was approached by several people from England and France at Webnoize. They expressed the concern that the US and Europe may be taking different paths regarding the music industry and the Internet. We need to be sensitive to that as we go forward. I also want to know what they think about the Florida recount.

Linkography

Artists Against Piracy - www.artistsagainstpiracy.com
CMJ - www.cmj.com
DiMA - www.digmedia.org
Midem - www.midem.com
Plugin (Jupiter) - www.jup.com
RIAA - www.riaa.com
SoundExchange - www.soundexchange.com
SXSW - www.sxsw.com
Webnoize - www.webnoize.com

Related MusicDish e-Journal Articles:
» Interview w/ Kristin Thomson, Future of Music Coalition (2001-01-03)
» Interview w/ Peter DiCola, Future of Music Coalition (2001-01-03)
» Interview w/ Jenny Toomey, Future of Music Coalition (2001-01-03)
» Interview w/ Michael Bracy, Future of Music Coalition (2001-01-03)
» Interview w/ Brian Zisk, Future of Music Coalition (2001-01-03)


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