Internet music tax, a bad idea

Warner Music's plan amounts to one of the oldest Mafia businesses in existence: a protection racket

In the IT world it is amazing how often you'll be presented with an idea that sounds good, seems reasonable and appears to fix a problem but in reality is a bad idea. I say this because a proposal that sounds good is being developed to address the "problem" of online music piracy, and not only is the idea bad for consumers, it also could be particularly problematic for enterprise networks.

If you believe the spin from the Recording Industry Association of America, online music piracy (aka illegal file sharing) is the fifth Horseman of the Apocalypse, and central to the association's argument is that piracy costs the RIAA's 1,600 member labels several gazillion dollars per second and has reduced industry revenues by around 30% over the last decade to about US$10 billion annually.

So, if you consider the fact that industry revenue is down and CD sales are in the toilet, and combine that with estimates like the one from BigChampagne that says one billion illegal files are transferred every month, then it is obvious SOMETHING MUST BE DONE.

That something could turn out to be a plan being promoted by Warner Music Group. Here's the deal: Because ISPs and other large network operators are the vehicles for illegal file sharing, the service providers should charge each user a $5-per-month tax. This money would go into a pot to be distributed to artists and copyright holders, and users would be free to do as they pleased regarding music downloads.

That way it sounds reasonable, doesn't it? The plan eradicates the problem of piracy, gets rid of litigation issues, and compensates the artists and music labels that are, at least in theory, financially harmed by the current situation.

Will the tax fill the financial deficit? Warner Music is claiming that the tax will generate around $20 billion per year. Exactly how the math works isn't clear, but if it does that's double the current revenue of the entire US music industry!

ISPs and other large networks -- including enterprise networks -- that don't levy the tax on their users will not be indemnified should user abuses result in copyright infringement lawsuits. This means service providers and networks with less in their coffers than the RIAA has to spend on legal fun will be highly "incentivised" to sign up.

Which ISPs and networks will be targeted first? That's obvious: colleges and universities, entities that have a huge motivation not to get embroiled in lawsuits. Then will come smaller ISPs and enterprise networks. After that it will only take one big ISP, a Comcast or an AT&T, to roll over and the rest will follow and the strategy will have worked.

How might this affect you? Well, if you run a large corporate network and your upstream ISP decides to sign up, it might hit you with a great charge based on some estimate of your user population. If your ISP doesn't sign up you could find yourself under significant internal pressure to indemnify your organization by paying the tax. Either way, whose budget will the cost come out of? IT's? Legal?

What really outrages me is that the Warner plan amounts to one of the oldest Mafia businesses in existence: a protection racket.

Now, if the plan was to let individual users buy an annual license that allowed them to download any online music without charge, I'd buy one tomorrow, as would all of my friends. Hell, I bet we'd all pay 10 times that to buy into the ability to access more music than we ever dreamed of.

I wonder if Warner has the maturity and sophistication to rethink its plan and turn what is really a bad, unethical idea into what could possibly be a good one?

Join the PC World newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Mark Gibbs

Network World
Show Comments

Essentials

Microsoft L5V-00027 Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard Desktop

Learn more >

Lexar® JumpDrive® S57 USB 3.0 flash drive

Learn more >

Mobile

Lexar® JumpDrive® S45 USB 3.0 flash drive 

Learn more >

Exec

Lexar® JumpDrive® C20c USB Type-C flash drive 

Learn more >

Audio-Technica ATH-ANC70 Noise Cancelling Headphones

Learn more >

Lexar® Professional 1800x microSDHC™/microSDXC™ UHS-II cards 

Learn more >

HD Pan/Tilt Wi-Fi Camera with Night Vision NC450

Learn more >

Budget

Back To Business Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Azadeh Williams

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

A smarter way to print for busy small business owners, combining speedy printing with scanning and copying, making it easier to produce high quality documents and images at a touch of a button.

Andrew Grant

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

I've had a multifunction printer in the office going on 10 years now. It was a neat bit of kit back in the day -- print, copy, scan, fax -- when printing over WiFi felt a bit like magic. It’s seen better days though and an upgrade’s well overdue. This HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 looks like it ticks all the same boxes: print, copy, scan, and fax. (Really? Does anyone fax anything any more? I guess it's good to know the facility’s there, just in case.) Printing over WiFi is more-or- less standard these days.

Ed Dawson

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

As a freelance writer who is always on the go, I like my technology to be both efficient and effective so I can do my job well. The HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 Inkjet Printer ticks all the boxes in terms of form factor, performance and user interface.

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Aysha Strobbe

Windows 10 / HP Spectre x360

Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!

Mark Escubio

Windows 10 / Lenovo Yoga 910

For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?