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Howells condemns Robbie.

Byline: CATRIN WILLIAMS

ROBBIE Williams was accused by an outspoken Welsh MP last night of supporting drug and prostitution rackets.

Culture Minister Kim Howells, speaking after Williams called internet piracy ``great'', said he was appalled at the chart-topping star's comments, which had amounted to defending theft.

Welsh politicians and music industry experts lined up in support of the MP, saying that illegal CD copy-ing and music downloading threatened thousands of jobs in the Welsh music industry alone.

Williams, whose album Escapology was last year's biggest seller in the UK, is reported to have said at a Cannes music conference, ``I think it's great, really I do.

``There is nothing anyone can do about it. I am sure my record label would hate me saying it, and my manager and my accountants.''

Mr Howells, the MP for Pontypridd, said, ``He has an pounds 80m contract and probably doesn't worry too much about all those singers, songwriters, musicians and music publishers who depend entirely for a living on re-ceiving honest revenue from sales of their product.

Williams should not be defending theft, and this is real theft. It is the equivalent of going into a record store and shoplifting the material on sale.

``I hope musicians everywhere will condemn his statement.

``He should also realise that many of these pirate operations are linked to organised crime on a worldwide basis. In saying that piracy is a `great idea' Williams is doing the work for international gangs involved in drugs and prostitution who find music piracy an excellent way of laundering their profits.

``The industry should ask him to think again - not least his publisher EMI - which is one of the leading companies in lobbying the Government to take stronger action against music pirates.''

Williams said he spoke to the heads of record labels about online piracy when he discussed his new record deal last year but found they ``don't know what to do about it''.

Lembit Opik, MP for Montgomeryshire and a folk-music fan who released a single last year, said, ``Internet piracy is throttling live music and squeezing less famous and less wealthy musicians out of the business. I have to believe Robbie Williams said this without thinking things through, because if he means it he is damaging the very industry that made him what he is today.''

Also support-ing Mr Howells, the chairman of the National Assembly's culture committee, Rhodri Glyn Thomas, said, ``He is making an important point, especially about young, up-and-coming singers, producers and writers who are dependent on getting the royalties from these CDs in order to make a living.

``It is important we do control piracy and I do think Robbie Williams should reconsider his view. It is not going to affect people like Robbie or any of the big stars but there's a lot of people living on limited earnings in the industry. In these situations it is always the vulnerable that are affected.''

Rhondda's Steve Thomas, who has seen hundreds of bands such as the Stereophonics perform on Pop Factory, the television music show he presents, said he believed Williams was playing on his ``bad boy'' reputation.

``I am sure he says things to get a bit of a stir,'' said Mr Thomas. ``He probably has a new single coming out and needs the publicity since he lost his co-writer Guy Chambers. If everybody downloaded his next album off the internet and no one bought a copy I am sure he would not be the cheeky chap he is.''

The chairman of the International Federation for the Phonographic In-dustry, Jay Berman, attacked internet piracy yesterday at the same French conference attended by Williams, saying hundreds of thousands of jobs were at risk.

Dismissing the ``myth'' that it had no real victims, he said, ``In truth, online music piracy is not about free music. The music creators and rights holders - denied the right to choose how their music is used and enjoyed - are in fact paying the price.

``Consumers may get the short-term benefit but at the longterm cost of hurting the artists they most admire. Diversity and choice in music also suffer because of the fall in investment in local artists.'' Mr Berman pointed out that music sales in 2001 fell by 5%, with a further fall of 9% in the first six months of last year.

But Williams was congratulated by Bethan Elfyn, presenter of BBC Radio 1's Evening Session in Wales, who said, ``The newer artists trying to record, trying to get people to listen to their music, are big fans of the internet and see it as a good way for people to hear their music.

``There's yet to be proof that people do not buy their albums afterwards. The internet is a fantastic tool of the industry for bringing music back to the fans.''

All called for evidence to back Mr Howells's claim that internet piracy funds organised crime.

Mr Thomas said, ``Kim must have some reason for saying that. I was not aware it was that serious or that insidious.''

A spokeswoman for Robbie Williams would not comment on Mr Howells's attack.

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CONTROVERSIAL: Multi-millionaire singer Robbie Williams who is reported to have said internet piracy is `great'; Picture: Lionel Cironneau/AP
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Jan 21, 2003
Words:874
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