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A Better Way Forward

The EFF recently published a white paper entitled A Better Way Forward: Voluntary Collective Licensing of Music File Sharing. It details a proposed system of legalizing music file-sharing which seems to benefit everyone involved: the music industry and therefore the artists make more money and the users don't have to live with the constant threat of legal action and have instant access to as much music as they want.

It works this way: each user pays a monthly fee (the EFF suggests $5), which is collected by a licensing agency (like ASCAP or BMI, which handle music licensing for radio stations) and distributed proportionately to the record companies and artists. This is pure profit for the RIAA: there are no manufacturing or distribution costs like those involved with CDs. Once the music is created and released, the more it's downloaded, the more money they make.

It sounds like a fantastic system. Everyone benefits. Who wouldn't be willing to pay $5 each month for the freedom to download as much music as they want, as high quality as they want, and share it with whomever they want? Or even $10/month? That's less than the cost of a new CD.

Sure, there are problems. If it's voluntary, who says enough people will opt in to make it worthwhile? Well, I think a significant number of people will choose a legal method of obtaining music over an illegal one. The success of Apple's iTunes Music Store attests to that. If ISPs include the monthly fee as part of their monthly subscription fee, most users will just take it in stride. Sure, the cost of Internet access just went up, but now you have unlimited access to as much music as you can possibly consume -- plus, once it's legal, the studios will have a vested interest in making sure all the music you want is widely available. Remember, the more it's downloaded, the more money they get.

Another problem is whether the agencies will be able to accurately track the file downloading to compensate companies and artists correctly. The EFF suggests using a Nielsen-rating-like system, where a randomly selected portion of the population agrees to let the agency watch their downloading habits, and those numbers are extrapolated to cover the population as a whole. This sounds viable, and since it can easily be automated (install this software on your computer and the work is done for you!) nobody will mind being a Nielsen family. There are concerns that the system can be cheated. If, for instance, a member of a band is one of these Nielsen families, he might write a piece of software that will download that band's music ten thousand times a day. Fortunately, if his habits are being tracked, that pattern can be noted and screened out of the system. As with all statistical models, deviations from the norm will have to be carefully monitored and possibly corrected. Sure, it'll take work to get the kinks out, but I think eventually we'd end up with a system that everyone is happy with.

Now if only the right people at the RIAA would take this into consideration...


( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 4th, 2004 08:43 am (UTC)
Nielsens might be a problem: there's a lot more music than tv to keep track of. Generally, this sounds like a fabulous idea.
Mar. 4th, 2004 09:04 am (UTC)
Well, I think if it's all automated, it won't be difficult. At the end of the month, each participating computer sends the agency a list of the thousand songs downloaded that month, and the agency's computer updates its giant database, and voilá, you've got the numbers you need. Unlike Nielsen, the family doesn't have to actively participate in the data-collection. They just download music and the program does all the tabulation for them. I sort of already do this on my own computer with a couple of cronjobs on a weekly basis, so it's certainly possible.
Mar. 4th, 2004 09:08 am (UTC)
True. You would need a lot of participating computers for the numbers to be very meaningful, but yes, that seems a good idea.
Mar. 4th, 2004 09:06 am (UTC)
i see a lot of your points. i would definitely be interested in a program like that, you know , once i got off campus to an internet connection that is faster than a sloth race.

Mar. 4th, 2004 10:44 am (UTC)
Well, another thing their paper points out is that once music file sharing becomes legal and simple, it could encourage more people to buy high-speed internet access, therefore possibly bringing the price down. So maybe it'll be easier for you to afford it!
Mar. 4th, 2004 10:14 am (UTC)
i know i would most definitely join a program like that. ten dollars a month doesn't seem like much at all considering what you get for it.
Mar. 4th, 2004 10:49 am (UTC)
Maybe someone should start a petition. I wonder if that'd be successful at all.
Mar. 4th, 2004 05:09 pm (UTC)
Wait a minute. Each person pays $x.xx per month for unlimited downloads. But then you said, "Remember, the more it's downloaded, the more money they get." That doesn't jive. Every person pays the same amount regardless of how much they download music. The two aren't tied together. Did I miss something?

In general, I oppose these general trust funds that amount to a universal tax, like the one imposed on compact discs that pays money to this same music industry under the assumption that one buys CDR's to steal music. However, I do think there is some value to the idea in general. It's a convenient social solution to a social problem. However, I cannot condone paying this blood money to an industry that is only concerned with its own survival for the sake of what they feel are entitled profits. I say they need to earn it. If they become nothing more than a razor-thin-margin schlepping distribution service like they should be, then this system has some real merit where the artists, once again, are the significant component with patrons vying for their work.

Man, what a blowhard I can be.
Mar. 4th, 2004 07:49 pm (UTC)
If 90% of the music downloaded is, say, Jay and the Americans songs, then Jay and the Americans (and their record company) get 90% of everybody's $5.

As much as I would like to see the record industry as it currently exists disappear and get replaced with something that can achieve just as high production values and as wide distribution, but which gives the artists themselves the lion's share of the profits, I'm certain that won't happen anytime soon. So, given that we're stuck with the industry as it is, this presents a solution that, in my opinion, approaches a decent compromise between industry and consumer. Solving the massive quagmire of problems that is the record industry is an exercise I'll leave for another day.
Mar. 18th, 2004 01:00 pm (UTC)
A percentage system sounds like it would work well in theory. However, as others have already stated, it will only function as a practical solution to the social issue at the core of this whole mess if everyone agrees to it. Kind of like a socialist society; the moment anyone breaks the agreement to pull their weight (the base idea of the society's entire structure), the whole society comes crashing down.

But hey, dude, if you start a petition, let me know and I'll be the first signature on the list. I certainly wouldn't mind tacking on the extra small amount to my ISP fee if it means I get on-demand access to all the music I want.

Though I loathe the RIAA just as much as anyone else and would like to see the organization come crashing down despite its best attempts at gaining a financial foothold by suing everyone in sight, I can see the benefits of this system. No more corrupted or virus-infected files, no more searching everywhere for a particular song... it's all at my fingertips. And like you said, it encourages consumer expansion into the broadband internet access market, which causes the market itself to expand and is better all-around.

Here's to the acceptance of the EFF proposal.

"Knowledge belongs to the world."
( 10 comments — Leave a comment )

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