Actually, You're Taxing Our Intelligence …
Back in 2000-2001, when the Recording Industry Association of America was still trying to recover from its CD price-fixing scheme with poorly reasoned justifications for CD price inflation (“Listen, if CD prices were governed by the Consumer Price Index, you’d be paying $33.86 for them instead of $12.75!”), a little company called Napster came calling. Napster had pioneered a new Internet distribution model for digital media that was revolutionizing the music industry, and it hoped to partner with RIAA member labels to create a subscription-based service.
At the time, Napster had some 20 million users worldwide and was essentially the de-facto file-sharing standard. Had the RIAA labels agreed to the alliance, they might have turned peer-to-peer distribution into a new and powerful business model, one with low distribution and marketing costs and a fast developing user base. But they didn’t. They chose another route.
Big mistake. Along came Gnutella. And increased broadband penetration and cheaper storage. Along came Kazaa. And then came BitTorrent. And, well, look at the industry now.
Given such history, it’s difficult to look at the recording industry’s plan to have a monthly fee added to consumers’ internet-service bills and not shake your head in wonderment.
Portfolio.com reports that Edgar Bronfman Jr.’s Warner Music Group (TWX) has indeed hired veteran industry consultant Jim Griffin (no relation to Peter, right?) to quarterback a plan under which consumers pay an Internet-access surcharge of $5 a month for the collective right to freely share music. Those fees would be pooled and divvied up among artists and their labels.
“Ideally, music will feel free,” says Griffin. “Even if you pay a flat fee for it, at the moment you use it there are no financial considerations. It’s already been paid for.”
Ah- charge everyone for all music. So it is Monetization Without Representation. OK. But what gives the music industry the right to tax all broadband users because it suspects some of them might illegally share its content? And if the music industry deserves that right, then doesn’t the film industry deserve it as well? And the publishing industry? And any other industry that might benefit from such a tax?
As David Barrett, engineering manager for peer-to-peer networks at Web content-delivery giant Akamai (AKAM), notes Griffin’s plan is problematic. And desperate.
Said Barrett:, “It’s too late to charge people for what they’re already getting for free. This is just taxation of a basic, universal service that already exists, for the benefit a distant power that actively harasses the people being taxed without offering them any meaningful representation.”