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Domingo Joins Battle Against Music Piracy as Even His Own Income Declines

Tenor Placido Domingo recently added the role of privateer in Verdi’s “Simon Boccanegra” to his repertoire. Now, as digital thieves steal his income, he’s turned from operatic piracy to real-life pirate catching.

Domingo, 70, has been named chairman of the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry. As he stated in a July 26 London press conference, his personal mission will be to alert governments of the need to fight online piracy with tougher legislation.

“I was seeing my own royalties diminishing little by little,” Domingo said at the press conference. “At first, I thought it was logical. Old records sell less well over time. Then I stopped receiving any royalties at all, and I knew there was a problem. On my own, I couldn’t do anything. So when the IFPI asked me to help them, I immediately said yes.”

IFPI members include Vivendi SA (VIV)’s Universal Music Group, Sony Corp. (6758)’s Sony Music Entertainment, Citigroup Inc. (C)’s EMI Music Group, and Warner Music Group Corp. Another member, the composer and producer Mike Batt, told reporters that the IFPI had hoped to find a chairman who “knew people.” “Now instead we’ve found a chairman who knows everybody,” he said.

Domingo’s duties will include meeting prime ministers, presidents, culture ministers and those able to help legislate against digital piracy and educate online-music users.

Album Sales

The data released in the IFPI’s report “Recording Industry in Numbers 2011” make stark reading. Based on current figures, the estimated cumulative cost of online piracy in Europe in the period 2008-2015 will be 240 billion euros ($347 billion). Album sales in the global top 50 fell 77 percent over the period 2003-2010.

The trade value of the global digital-music market in 2010 was $4.6 billion, representing 29 percent of record companies’ revenue worldwide. This is an increase of 1,000 percent since 2004.

Yet the overall value of the global recorded-music industry has fallen 31 percent over the same period.

Domingo’s home country of Spain has suffered badly over the past 20 years. Almost half of all active Internet users in Spain use illegal music-distribution services. As revenue has plummeted, investment in new acts has dwindled.

In 2003, there were 10 Spanish debut artists in the top 50. In 2010, there were none. “Piracy means that fewer new artists can be supported,” said Domingo. “We’re losing our cultural heritage.”

Copyright Rules

IFPI Chief Executive Frances Moore said that the news was not all bad. As a result of their campaigning, European legislation is expected to be passed in September extending music copyright to 70 years from 50 years.

“I don’t understand why it’s considered alright to steal,” said Domingo. “Would you steal a pair of shoes from a shop? Of course not. The situation means millions of dollars are denied to people who have worked hard. Not only artists: engineers, producers and technicians too. Some good singers, if they retire at 50, might face real economic difficulties in 20 years time if they can’t get their royalties.

“I feel passionately about this,” he said. “I’ll speak from my heart.”

I later ask if the income from the new post will help offset Domingo’s losses of royalties. “All the terms and conditions of Maestro Domingo’s contract are confidential,” said IFPI spokesman Alex Jacob.

The singer already has commitments as a performer, conductor and administrator. He is the general director of Los Angeles Opera, and announced last September his departure from the same role at Washington National Opera.

The Washington Post reported in January that the latter opera company has accumulated debts of $12 million.

Rest and Rust

I asked Domingo, whose motto is “If I rest, I rust,” whether he was worried that he might be spreading himself too thinly with his new role.

“No. I’m going to fit meetings around my touring schedule,” he said. “I like to keep the day of a concert quiet, so I won’t be able to do much on those days. The rest of the time, I can.” He paused to consider. “Maybe in an emergency I could do it.”

Moore’s eyes lit up. “I’ll remind you that you said that,” she said.

For information about the work of the IFPI and Domingo’s new role as chairman, see http://www.ifpi.org.

(Warwick Thompson is a critic for Muse, the arts and culture section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

To contact the writer on the story: Warwick Thompson, in London, at warwicktho@aol.com.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Beech at mbeech@bloomberg.net.

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