Learning from history: Radio,  Copyright and File Swapping.

There’s an interesting article titled Whatever Will Be Will Be Free on the Internet over at the New York Times (free registration required) that talks about what the future may hold for intellectual property rights and music as the battle between file swappers and the RIAA continues to rage.  One proposal for dealing with music swapping on the net draws upon lessons learned from the rise in popularity of Radio:

William Fisher, a Harvard law professor, offers a solution for the recording industry’s Internet challenge, and one that borrows from the past. When radio became popular in the 1920’s and 1930’s and began broadcasting copyrighted songs, the record companies, singers and bands protested. The answer was to have the radio stations pay the copyright holders and set up a measuring system so the largest payments went for the most popular songs.

In a book to be published next year, Mr. Fisher recommends placing a 15 percent tax on Internet access and a 15 percent tax on devices used for storing and copying music and movies like CD-burners, MP3 players and blank CDs.

The funds raised, he estimates, would be about $2.5 billion in 2004, roughly the projected amount the recording industry and Hollywood would lose to online piracy. The music business and Hollywood would get refunds based on what works were the most popular downloads.

Personally, this doesn’t seem like a wholly bad idea in my mind. I don’t know if a 15% tax is really the right number, but I’d certainly be willing to have a minor tax added to my broadband service and to the purchases of CDRs (which are cheap as hell as it is) and MP3 devices if it would mean I had the right to download whatever the hell I wanted in the way of music from off the Net. What do you guys think?

10 thoughts on “Learning from history: Radio,  Copyright and File Swapping.

  1. That makes a lot more sense than hunting down college students and slapping them with lawsuits, in my opinion.

    I’d be willing to pony up a tax, sure. I’d want free reign on downloads as a result – meaning none of this “the free stuff is bands you’ve never heard of” kinda thing. And I’d expect to find as much variety as now. So yeah, if some strategically placed taxes would achieve that, I’m all for it.

  2. I don’t agree with the broadband tax.  I don’t download music and have never had an interest to do so.  I like buying cds in the same way I like buying books as opposed to downloading them.  Tax something else but not my broadband.  It’s already expensive.

  3. I live in Canada, and I never heard of any extra tax on my CDRs. Extra tax in Canada…we need that like a kick in the nuts with a frozen boot. Although, I would not be opposed to paying it on CDRs, mp3 players, CD burners, whatever the case may be. It sounds fair to me, and it would probably once and for all settle this war that is going on.
    The only downfall of this may be that knowing the government, in order to get this tax in place, they would want a cut of it, thus driving the tax higher. We’ll see though.
    Either way, I think this is a great idea. Although if it ever makes it to legislation, I’m running to the local retailer and stacking CDRs a mile high in my basement just to avoid paying the extra tax for quite some time. Sorry…but with all the taxes I pay already, and I’m hardly 18 years old, I will not be able to pay my ISP, and buy CDRs. raspberry

  4. There is already a tax like this in Germany.  Actually, it’s not a tax, but a set fee on all devices and media capable of producing or storing copies of anything.  The procedes from these fees go to the copyright holders (or more precisely, the organisation that represents them, similar to the RIAA, but called GEMA).  These fees where instituted to compensate the copyright holders for any copies of their material that might be made for private use.  Despite this, they just passed new laws making even the private copying of copy-protected material illegal.  It’s even illegal to TRY to circumvent any copy-protection (similar to the DMCA in the States).  They’ve also made it illegal to offer or download copyrighted material on P2P networks (which was a grey area before) – not that this will stop anybody, but a few might land in jail just as examples.  Even more drastic measures have been announced.  In short, guys (and gals): don’t go for it!  Once they have the taxes through, they’ll gladly take your money, and screw you anyway.  The did it in Germany, and they’ll do it in the States if they can.

  5. I don’t think this one will fly. Not everyone downloads music, far from it, so it would be making everyone subsidise those that do. If they want to follow the radio model, they need to tax the websites (radio stations), not the internet (air waves). Maybe they could use advertising to provide th revenue, that is how the radio stations run.

  6. The concept, pay a few bucks a month and get free downloads is nice. If it could ever be implemented, would be wonderful.

    And when Napster was operating but under fire, there were polls..would you pay $5 a month for legal download privileges on Napster? Sure, said most people.

    What did we actually get? $20 a month, every month, which includes all the internet radio station listening you want (woot), and fixed number of downloads out of their collection, a small percentage of which can be burned to CD. (The others stop playing when you cancel.)

    Or $10 a month for download rights, and $0.99 cents per song, again from a fixed library.

    And as long as we’re opening the coffers, you KNOW that RIAA isn’t losting 2.5B per year. It’s $14B a year, with losses expected to double every year between now and 2015.

    And of course, with the huge amount of additional bandwidth this would take (over illegal downloading) you could expect the price of your internet service to undergo some periodic reviews.

    Honestly, given the consumer-mindedness of our congress, and their tech knowledge, I think the deal the Germans apparently got would be the BEST we could hope for. I’d be thrilled if we escaped with only a new $6-10 tax and a revalidating that downloading files is illegal.

  7. I tend to view it as a flawed idea.  In the radio station model, the stations payed for only what they played.  Basically a fee for use of intellectual property.  Almost like a movie theater paying to sceen movies.  In the proposed model which supposedly is “borrowing” from this concept, all users of certain digital storage medium and broadband essentially pay an equal amount with no regard to how much they do or do not download music.

    Even further, this method has no basis in the free market, and is essentially government redistibution of wealth from private citizens to some media corporations.  I’m sure that will go smoothly!  It would mean for work for lawyers and Congressional Oversight Committees, I suppose.  So they’d be happy.

  8. There is a royalty added to Audio CD-Rs, just like there is on blank cassettes to cover this.  But I somehow think that it would still be illegal if I burn my Napster downloads onto it.  You could have the tax, but RIAA still would not let you download for free.  It’s about the money – how can they get more money out of you.  Why make only $18 on a one time cd purchase, if you can get a buck or two a month for customer being able to continue listening to the music they already have.  They would LOVE to for you to “rent” aka – license – their music.  They’ll end up following the software industry in this.  Don’t be surprised if one day it’s illegal to sell your used cds b/c you’re violating your music license agreement.

  9. I do not agree with this tax. Like a few have pointed out already, only a few individuals download illegaly from the Internet. This number is far less than half of all Internet subscribers. Secondly, the music and movie industrys are rolling in money. WTF – $20 a CD and $30 a DVD, that is a bunch of crap.

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