Pete Townshend says Apple iTunes bleeds artists like a “digital vampire”

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Pete Townshend, primarily known as the windmilling guitarist of The Who, came down hard on Apple's iTunes system while delivering his speech at the inaugural John Peel Lecture (honoring the late BBC DJ) on Monday, saying the company "bleeds" artists like a "digital vampire." He went on to suggest eight different ways the digital music industry can emulate the roles that record labels traditionally provided, to save the "dying" recording industry. That included Apple possibly hiring twenty talent scouts to discover talented, emerging musicians who they could then provide "creative nurture" for.

The sixty-six-year-old Townshend made no bones about his opposition to unauthorized file-sharing, that great big gray area responsible for billions lost in earnings and tax revenue, saying the internet is "destroying copyright as we know it."

"Is there really any good reason why, just because iTunes exists in the wild west internet land of Facebook and Twitter, it can't provide some aspect of these services to the artists whose work it bleeds like a digital vampire, like a kind of digital Northern Rock [bank], for its enormous commission?"

An obviously bitter, but still-wealthy, Townshend remarked that illegal downloaders "may as well come and steal my son's bike while they're at it."

Townshend, though, did concede the one great, inarguable benefit of widespread illegal downloading, which is that more people can now experience a wider range of music than ever before. He said "a creative person would prefer their music to be stolen and enjoyed than ignored." And since the genie's escaped the bottle, we have seen musicians achieve success with new, non-traditional distribution models, like in the case of Radiohead, who, with their pay-what-you-want model for In Rainbows, made more from digital downloads of that album than they did from physical sales of their Hail to the Thief album. Townshend's feelings are understandable, but some teenagers might wonder who the cranky dinosaur whining about his kid's bike is as they download "My Generation" from this cool new band called The Who.