Why Artists Oppose the European Union Intellectual Property Rights Enforcement Directive

John Perry Barlow, The Grateful Dead

“My name is John Perry Barlow, and I am a songwriter. I co-wrote about a quarter of the songs in the repertoire of the Grateful Dead, an American band. As an artist, I am vehemently opposed to the European Union Intellectual Property Rights Enforcement Directive.

While I agree with the directive in that “the protection of intellectual property must allow the inventor or creator to derive a legitimate profit from his invention or creation,” I do not believe that goal will be the likely result of this legislation. Instead, the directive is designed to over-protect those same distribution institutions that have preyed on musicians and songwriters for the last one hundred years. This directive perpetuates the dominance of these entities and will greatly inhibit the development of new economic models that would be far more economically advantageous both to artists and their audiences.

I also agree that the law must also allow the widest possible dissemination of works, ideas and new know-how, and that the protection of intellectual property rights must not hamper freedom of expression, the free movement of information, or the protection of personal data. But again, I do not foresee these laudable goals as a probable consequence of this directive.

On the contrary, the directive severely punishes the non-commercial shared enjoyment of music and other art. By over-zealously enforcing intellectual property rights, the directive will greatly diminish fair use (fair dealing), freedom of expression, consumer privacy, the enrichment of culture, and the development of technology.

The directive, like others of its sort, assumes that there are no differences of economic quality between intellectual and physical property and that atoms and bits can be owned in the same way. It assumes that there is a hard relationship between scarcity and value in the digital world, as there is in the physical world.

My experience as a songwriter tells me that this is not true. In music, there is a relationship between familiarity and value. The more widely one’s work is known the more valuable it becomes. The Grateful Dead allowed fans to tape all our concerts and to share those tapes non-commercially. This viral marketing technique was the central engine that made us the most popular performing band in the United States. It was not as good for our record companies, but it was very good for us, the artists.

I long for a future where anybody anywhere may have access to whatever art or knowledge they hunger for. I long for a future where the soil of future creation is richly fertilized by all that has been grown before. This directive robs humanity of such dreams in order to serve the short-term interests of a few companies.

Before imposing this unnecessary directive, I hope the European Union will stop to consider who really benefits from it. If it is intended that artists and creators be compensated, if it is intended that culture be enriched, and that the right both to speak and to hear will be preserved, then this directive should never become European law.”

~ John Perry Barlow

John Perry Barlow is a successful lyricist and author. From 1971 until 1995 he wrote songs for the popular band, the Grateful Dead, and he continues to write songs individually and with other artists today. Mr. Barlow has written for a wide diversity of publications, ranging from Communications of the ACM to The New York Times to Nerve. He was on the masthead of Wired Magazine for many years. His piece for Wired on the future of copyright, “The Economy of Ideas,” is now taught in many law schools. His manifesto, “A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace” has been widely distributed on the Net and can be found on more than 20,000 websites. Since 1998, Mr. Barlow has been a Fellow at Harvard Law School’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society and the vice-chairman of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a civil liberties organization. Mr. Barlow is a member of the External Advisory Council of the National Computational Science Alliance.