CANNES, France -- U2's manager, Paul McGuinness, came out swinging Monday at the opening of the annual MIDEM international music conference here, targeting Internet service providers as both the primary culprits and potential healers of the worldwide record industry's ongoing ills.
In a keynote address to several hundred convention delegates, McGuinness, who has managed U2 since the band started, directly attacked the creators and operators of ISPs, saying, "I think the failure of ISPs to engage in the fight against piracy, to date, has been the single biggest failure in the digital music market.
"They are the gatekeepers with the technical means to make a far greater impact on mass copyright violation than the tens of thousands of lawsuits taken out against individual file sharers," he said. "To me, prosecuting the customer is counterintuitive, though I recognize that these prosecutions have an educational and propaganda effect, however small, in showing that stealing music is wrong."
McGuinness likened ISPs' relationship to illegal downloading to a magazine filled with ads for stolen cars, one that also helped deliver them to anyone interested in having one.
"I've met a lot of today's heroes of Silicon Valley," he said. "Most of them don't really think of themselves as makers of burglary kits. . . . [But] kids don't pay $25 a month for broadband just to share their photos, do their homework and e-mail their pals."
While also chiding record companies for not treating musicians equitably, McGuinness reserved his harshest words for ISPs. At the same time, he challenged them to step up to the plate to acknowledge that they have "a moral obligation to be true, trustworthy partners of the music sector. To respect and take responsibility for protecting music."
After his talk, which McGuinness said has been posted on U2's official website, the manager said that musicians have "too little power" to force such actions and suggested that if "ISPs won't do so voluntarily, legislation may require them to do so."
He said this was primarily his cause, not U2's, although he prefaced his remarks by noting that "U2 always understood that it would be pathetic to be good at the music and bad at the business and [has] always been prepared to invest in their own future.
"We were never interested in joining that long, humiliating list of miserable artists who made lousy deals, got exploited and ended up broke and with no control over how their life's work was used, and no say in how their names and likenesses were bought and sold."
He also said he thinks a key change in the attitude of technology companies may come from Apple founder Steve Jobs' new role with the Walt Disney Co., ABC-TV and Hollywood Records.
"His point of view may be changing now that he owns content as well as selling those beautiful machines that have changed our world."
The MIDEM conference runs through Thursday and is expected to draw nearly 9,500 participants from 91 countries.