David Lister: Domingo is a genius, but not as an anti-piracy spokesman

The Week in Arts
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The Independent Online

The nation's record companies are feeling very pleased with themselves. In their battle against music "piracy" they have enlisted the services of a global superstar.

The most famous opera singer in the world, Placido Domingo, has become the face of the fight against people downloading music illegally. It sounds like quite a coup. In fact, it's a crass mistake.

Those who were at the press conference in which the IFPI, which represents the recording industry, unveiled Domingo as its new chairman say it had its memorable moments. When Domingo was asked about Radiohead's initiative in allowing fans to pay what they wished for one of their albums, he confessed he knew nothing of it. Some in the room sensed that he may not have known who or what Radiohead were either, but that we shall probably never know for certain. What Domingo did say was that he knew how detrimental music piracy could be as his own royalties had been affected by it in recent years. Teenagers across the country, across the world, must be heartbroken. They have harmed the earnings of a multimillionaire opera superstar. Music piracy could grind to a halt within days.

The record companies simply don't get it. Of course, they are losing a fortune because of illegal downloading and file-sharing. But there is no way that someone like Domingo, indescribably brilliant as he is in his own art form, could have any influence on the generation that indulges in these activities. A Lily Allen or Charlotte Church perhaps. But even they would be up against it. What the record companies can't or won't grasp is that the music pirates are not impressed by the bleatings of millionaire celebrities, and certainly not by those of wealthy multinational record companies that for years, with untroubled consciences, made enormous profits on CDs when they were the main way of hearing music.

The people who manufacture rock music no longer relate to those who consume rock music, if indeed they ever possessed that skill. Why should we sympathise with them when they foolishly refused to co-operate with Apple at the birth of iTunes, when they equally foolishly gave MTV music videos for free, when they encoded music so that it would play only on certain devices, when they failed to get close to governments and convince them of the need for a music levy, when they milked the public for profits for decades. As for the artists, they now get paid more than ever for live performance with the potential for unprecedented sponsorship deals.

Record companies need to stop complaining and making threats and start developing a new business model. They have unfairly presented the brilliant and guiltless Domingo to an audience he will never reach. To the illegal music downloaders he is rich, remote and out of touch – much like the companies themselves.

No dress-down Friday in the 1950s

I wrote last week about anachronisms in BBC2's drama series The Hour. Most of your emails agreed with me that a BBC interviewer in 1956 would not on camera have had his collar undone while wearing a tie as Ben Whishaw's character did. Roger Chapman pointed out that in 1956 it probably would have been a detached collar anyway and what would have been visible would have been the collar stud or absence thereof. I thought Alan Hall rather harsh in agreeing with me, then criticising my own byline picture for having an unbuttoned collar with a jacket. While I'm delighted that Ben Whishaw should make Mr Hall think of me, I feel that The Independent in 2011 can be a little more laid back than the BBC in 1956.

Sara Neill was among a number of readers who took exception to the use of "reference" as a verb, a much later linguistic innovation, or, as Ms Neill has it, "abomination". All in all it is surprising that the BBC, once so precise on period detail, has not taken more care in a period drama, especially a drama about the BBC. But don't let the anachronisms put you off watching. The gripping, beautifully acted drama is, for my money, the best thing currently on TV.

My name's Tony and I'm here to write

You're tired; your flight was delayed for hours; there was appalling turbulence on the way; and after all that they go and lose some of your baggage. The question is, do you then want to get the hell out of Heathrow and go home and sleep, or do you want to help Tony Parsons write his next book?

The novelist has been appointed writer in residence at Heathrow, and as a part of his duties he will speak to passengers as he builds up a short story collection based on life at the airport. It's tricky. One's responsibility to the future of the much endangered genre of the short story demands that one humours Mr Parsons. But my own humour at airports demands that I speak to no one at all, and I fear that what I might say to him would make a very short story indeed.

Perhaps he should take his place next to the mini-cab drivers holding up signs. He can hold one up saying: "Tony Parsons, short story writer: Help needed." And then we can choose whether to chat or not.