It's all music to downloaders' ears

May 7, 2004

Edinburgh University's Playfair library may lack the hardcore cachet of the usual music venue, but this did not stop Alex Kapranos, front man of band-of-the-moment Franz Ferdinand, putting in an impressive performance.

But Mr Kapranos, who lectured at a Scottish further education college before realising commercial and chart success with the band, was not there to sing. He was there to engage in a debate on the legalities of downloading music free from the internet.

He joined a panel of legal and intellectual property experts through the agency of his father, John Huntley, who is a professor at Glasgow Caledonian University's law division and a visiting fellow at Edinburgh University's Research Centre for Studies in Intellectual Property and Technology Law. The centre was set up in 2002 with support from the Arts and Humanities Research Board.

Mr Kapranos, who lectured on IT programming at Anniesland College, told The Times Higher he has been fascinated by the topic ever since he came across MP3, a compression system that reduces song files to a size that can be easily downloaded.

"I was considering writing a dissertation on it a few years ago when I did a postgraduate course at Caledonian in computing. I remember talking to my tutors about it, but they hadn't heard of MP3," Mr Kapranos said.

A self-confessed downloader, like the majority of the student audience, Mr Kapranos told the seminar that he had no truck with the view that downloading was killing the music industry and robbing musicians of their artist's dues.

"Anything that makes it easier for people to access music is a good thing from the perspective of people who like music and make music."

He was asked if his views would change if his accountant said Franz Ferdinand had lost £10 million in a year because of downloading.

Mr Kapranos was sceptical about the extent of any financial loss. "Does that mean people downloading the music would otherwise have bought it? I doubt it," he said.

He said file-sharing was fun, it was exciting and it was a "sickening presumption" that all music fans were thieves. Franz Ferdinand had played sell-out shows in the US before their records were available there.

"People said, 'I downloaded your album and I can't wait to buy it when it comes out.' It's like the radio, it allows you to hear new and old music for free, and introduces you to things you may not have already heard."

He condemned the "heavy-handed" reaction of the American record industry, which has sued almost 2,000 unauthorised downloaders, including a 12-year-old girl and a 66-year-old grandmother.

"The response the music industry has to take is to set up an alternative, more nimble, more user- friendly than their illegal counterparts," he said.

And what was Professor Huntley's verdict on his son's performance as a lecturer?

"Very good. I was really impressed."

Did he wish his son had stayed an academic rather than become a singer? "I would have been delighted," Professor Huntley said.

"But I'm delighted he's doing what he's always wanted to do. He's a communicator. That's what comes across."

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