Friday, March 28, 2008

Warners attempt to force ISP tax

The increasing push for a television licence fee style taxation on broadband accounts in US has just got itself a paid evangelist: Warners have hired Jim Griffin to think ideas about how it could work, how the money would be collected, and how Warners Music Group can keep getting its beaks wet from this one.

Of course, it's a terrible idea - it would take an almost unimaginable bureaucracy to organise the payments required. Yes, with a few thousand radio stations, you can track which songs are being played and who made them. But with billions of tracks swooshing about the net, and with seeders and downloaders living in different territories, and some tracks being provided for free and some not: how would anyone make sense out of it?

It's also ridiculous for the record labels to be seen as an important part of this process. We know that they wish to - for good reason - but if the idea is to stimulate and reward artists, then why build in a role for record labels based on their expertise at a different sort of media? Sure, they should be rewarded for the share of stuff they own, but not given any more importance in the negotiations than anyone else.

Most importantly, do the labels realise what a Faustian pact they're offering? The moment such a deal is in place, their catalogue instantly becomes worthless. People who don't download now will have no qualms about slurping anything and everything and - while the labels might think they're proposing some centrally mandated subscription service - people will see it as an open door to download and retain and do with as they please. No more locks of any sort. Is that what they really want?

It should never happen, anyway. Why should people who use their broadband for other purposes - not everyone downloads peer-to-peer music - have to pay a tax to prop up private corporations who failed to reorganise their businesses in time? If record companies get a five bucks tax, will film companies? TV broadcasters? Producers of books that have been scanned online? Porn companies?

Porn companies. This will be the sticky point: if anyone signs into law a mandate obliging ISPs to collect cash to recompense record labels for their material leaking about the net, they would also have to do the same thing for porn companies who make legal-but-sexual product. There's no justification for not doing so. And which politician really wants to become known as the man who created a flat-rate porn tax to be levied on every man, woman, child, vicar and virgin who has a broadband connection?