Townshend blasts iTunes, illegal file-sharers in lecture

Iconic rocker Pete Townshend called Apple's iTunes web store a "digital vampire" and criticized unauthorized music file-sharers in the inaugural edition of a new lecture series.
The Who's Pete Townshend, seen performing during the halftime show for the 2010 Super Bowl, blasted unauthorized file-sharing of music and challenged Apple's iTunes to do more for musicians. (Jeff Haynes/Reuters )

Iconic rocker Pete Townshend blasted Apple's iTunes web store as a "digital vampire" and criticized unauthorized file-sharers in the inaugural edition of a newly established lecture series.

The Who guitarist and songwriter delivered the first-ever John Peel Lecture — a BBC initiative established in memory of the influential British DJ and underground music champion — in Salford, England on Monday.

Changes to the music industry amid the rise of the internet and practices like file-sharing were key themes his speech. Apple's online retailer iTunes was one of Townshend's targets.

"[ITunes]'s a fantastic piece of software. I use it all the time," he said. However, with iTunes accounting for the majority of authorized music downloads, Townshend challenged parent company Apple to do more for artists and provide guidance and support services that, traditionally, record labels and music publishers have.

"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...for its enormous commission?" he asked.

He urged the company to employ talent scouts to find and guide new acts, as well as to provide financial and marketing assistance to up-and-comers. Apple declined comment on his remarks.

Townshend also likened unauthorized downloading of music to stealing from creative artists and said consumers must change their attitudes towards digital music.

"It would be better if music lovers treated music like food, and paid for every helping, rather than only when it suited them...Why can't music lovers just pay for music rather than steal it?" he said.

The rock legend spoke highly of the lecture's namesake, Peel, who played "some records that no one else would ever have played" before his death in 2004, and of the traditional role radio has played in the lives of musicians.

"Radio is not like internet radio, or torrent sites. Radio pays musicians a fee when music is aired. Radio does not take the position that the public has a right to decide after hearing the music played whether to pay for it or not. Radio stations pay, and the public pay directly or indirectly in order to listen and make the judgment.

Monday's lecture was held as part of the Radio Festival and is slated to be an annual event, with a different musical figure chosen each year.