UMG’s Complete & Total Paranoia About Piracy

Are we still talking about piracy in 2011?

Well, maybe it makes perfect sense, but it looks like incoming Universal Music Group head of digital Rob Wells is totally and completely paranoid about digital theft.  Just like the other ones.  “My biggest issue is piracy.  It’s our biggest global issue,” Wells told a small audience at Transmission in Victoria, Canada on Thursday.

In fact, an extensive interview – conducted by PacketVideo’s Jim Rondinelli – focused heavily on the matter.  The usual stats were trotted out, with the usual lack of specificity.  So, think “9 out of 10 downloads are pirated,” and “moving from 98% [piracy] to 95% is a big improvement,” etc., and you get the point.

But how does this translate into actual anti-piracy strategy?  It doesn’t look like UMG is headed back to the days of individual lawsuits – leave that to smaller Hollywood studios (for now).  But Wells offered little shift to an anti-piracy strategy that features a huge legal hammer, and a hopeful crusade to shift behaviors.  Actually, Grooveshark had a few executives bumping around this event, but were apparently tiptoeing around Wells.

So what about new ideas? Well, there weren’t many.  Wells flatly said “no” when asked about collective, ISP-level licensing, simply because it limits the amount of potential revenue.  Separately, Wells showcased ‘victories’ in markets like Sweden and South Korea, though there was little indication that Spotify was primed for US signature.

Still, Wells wanted to shift the tone towards digital partners, and tighten review periods and due diligence windows.  That included a promise to implement a 12-week end-to-end review process, not a multi-year drag.  And hey, he might just call you back.  “UMG is globally open for business,” Wells told Rondinelli, a bruised-and-frustrated veteran from Slacker.  “Whatever your experience was in the past, you’re going to have a very different experience this year.”