Would You Pay a Fee for Legal Music File Sharing?
CD sales are at record lows. People continue to illegally download songs over the Internet. Record labels file law suit after law suit to make sure they, and the artists the represent, get their fair share of royalties.
The debate over the best way to distribute music on the Web took a new turn last week at South by Southwest Music Festival in Austin. I wasn't there, but I hear from other attendees that a Friday panel discussion sparked some controversy.
The new idea on the table: Internet service providers would tack a small fee ($5 for example) onto monthly bills for broadband connections. The money would then go to the music industry to help compensate labels, performers, song-writers and other artists for music shared online.
It is aimed at the people who illegally download free songs through peer-to-peer file-sharing services, like BitTorrent and Kazaa. Similar ideas have been floating around for a couple of years now, but it seems the music industry may be starting to see it as a viable option. The Electronic Freedom Foundation put forth a similar proposal for "voluntary collective licensing" in 2004. Here's an excerpt from the explanation on the EFF Web site:
"The concept is simple: the music industry forms a collecting society, which then offers file-sharing music fans the opportunity to "get legit" in exchange for a reasonable regular payment, say $5 per month. So long as they pay, the fans are free to keep doing what they are going to do anyway--share the music they love using whatever software they like on whatever computer platform they prefer--without fear of lawsuits. The money collected gets divided among rights-holders based on the popularity of their music.
In exchange, file-sharing music fans will be free to download whatever they like, using whatever software works best for them. The more people share, the more money goes to rights-holders. The more competition in applications, the more rapid the innovation and improvement. The more freedom to fans to publish what they care about, the deeper the catalog."
Some say it is a good compromise for the music industry to make the most out of a tough situation. But there are many criticisms. For one, it could unfairly penalize the people who already pay to get legitimate music files online, or the people who don't download music at all. If people start paying an extra monthly fee to cover music consumption, they could lose the incentive to also pay subscription services to the likes of iTunes, eMusic or Rhapsody.
It's similar to the way radio stations pay to replay music on the air, according to EFF. Radio stations interested in broadcasting music pay a regular fee and, in return, are able to play the music of their choice, with any equipment.
Another question I have is whether this will shift any bandwidth costs to the Internet service providers. The monthly fee would, in theory, go to the music industry, but the ISP could face a serious spike in traffic if people start using file-sharing sites a lot more to get their money's worth.
Also, what would this mean for the digital books, TV shows and movies that are also downloaded online? Would another surcharge have to be added to cover the rights of that content?
I intend to find out more about this debate, now that the South by Southwest attendees are getting over their jet-lag and concert-induced exhaustion. But I'm interested in hearing from readers. Is this a good idea? Would you be willing to pay a few extra bucks to get all the music you want, legally?
March 17, 2008; 12:41 PM ET
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