I just caught the end of a "town hall" sort of program on telly, on which the topic of discussion was illegal downloading of music in Australia. The main focus of the discussion was whether Australian ISPs ought be involved in the prevention and discouragement of illegally downloading, and if them doing so would count as punitive enforcement or not. Much like in America, the music industry here wants ISPs to sort of "play nanny," giving up information about their customers and enforce a sort of "three strikes" program after which a customer will be permanently disconnected.
The thing that I found most interesting is that, currently, the ISPs seem to be holding back the attacks of the music industry in ways that simply didn't happen in the US. They are currently saying "no way," that it isn't their job to be policing the Internet or held liable for what is done via it anymore than the post should be for materials sent through it. In The US, this sort of step was pretty much skipped over via legislation; it was simply made law that content owners can force ISPs to do their bidding for them, and thusly they've all had to do so. I have no doubt that it will eventually be the same here in Australia, but I'm really encouraged by the rational arguments against doing so that have been made so vocally.
The thing that discourages me, however, is that the debate seems to have been sold to many Australian musicians as if the Internet is some sort of music dispersal medium like radio or television. They seem to think that, like as with the radio, the ISPs are selling customers the ability listen to music, and thus ought pay royalties for the ability to do so. It's discouraging to me because it does make a sick sort of sense; they ARE after all charging their customers, and they ARE (sort of) providing them a mechanism through which to listen to music. If providing Internet access is eventually designated as the same sort of service as radio and television, all sorts of scary doors will eventually be opened, so I'm hoping that this line of thinking is put out to pasture.
The one thing that all parties involved in the debate keep bringing up, however, actually strikes me as the sort of system I'd like to see. Everyone -- save for the music industry, natch -- is advocating a low-cost flat fee for music usage, kind of like the television license fees to which people outside America are already accustomed. The figure that keeps being brought up is $10AU a month, after which you are free to listen to as much music as you'd like, however you'd like to do so. Enforcement of this plan would obviously be problematic; it's not as if the illegal file-sharing networks are going to put in place some sort of authentication system to ensure that only licensed individuals can access them. People will clearly still be able to access music without paying the fee. Why then, would anyone bother to pay the fee?
What I would like to see, however, is for some enterprising ISPs to bundle this "all-access" music license into the cost of their service. If the fee is $10 a month, they could subsidize it down to something like $5 or $6 extra a month -- or even cheaper as an introductory perk. This could also be bundled with higher data caps (oh yes, if you're not currently operating under a data cap, you soon will be) to create another sort of revenue stream for the ISPs. After all, if they're now going to be legally downloading tons of music, they're going to need to buy extra monthly bandwidth as well.
According to the program I saw, studies done in Australia show that just $10AU a month would be enough to fully remunerate all entitled parties with compensation. I suspect this figure would need to be re-factored for use in the US, but I suspect most people would be willing to pay at least double or triple that for unfettered access. Some people already pay this much on top of their Internet access fees to facilitate the ILLICIT transfer of music and video, and NONE of that money gets to any entitled individuals. Surely a workable scheme can be devised.
The problem I see with charging a flat rate and then paying out royalties is... how do they decide who gets how much of the royalties? What if I started my own crappy band and had songs online, would I be eligible for royalties? Or are the royalties strictly for record labels to collect, because we know recording artists make VERY LITTLE compared to what the labels make off sales of any kind.
Also, we had services here that allowed unlimited listening for a monthly service fee, and they all tanked. No one wants to rely on a specific service to provide their music because then it depends on what contracts and deals that service has with labels and artists, and it depends on that technology still being relevant even a month down the line.
And internet as radio station is troublesome - there are already "radio station" licensed websites that pay these fees [pandora, right?]. Just because people connect to the internet does not mean they are listening to music through it. It sounds just as stupid as Canada trying to add fees onto anyone purchasing blank CDs because they assume they are going to burn music onto them. As if there aren't a million other perfectly good reasons to buy blank CDs without having to pay a fee to greedy record labels.
The point seems moot, however, as it was recently brought to my attention that is stupid to try to tell geeks they won't be able to do something. Surely they will find a crack or a workaround and get the job done regardless.
The author lives in Vancouver, Washington, USA with his girlfriend and a menagerie of cats, rats, fish, birds, guinea pigs and robots.
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