Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

Warner Music: That “Music Tax for Colleges” Proposal Isn’t Ours (Sort Of). But It Should Be

My bloggy brethren can be a hard-to-please bunch: Some of them, for instance, rightly castigate the music business for trying too hard, for too long, to hang on to the doomed CD business. But then they howl when music companies try to make money by selling music in other formats.

Latest example: A recent post from TechDirt’s Mike Masnick, which focused on talks that a Warner Music Group (WMG) rep has had with various colleges and universities about a “voluntary licensing” plan. The rough outline: The schools pay a per-student fee to Warner and the other music labels and the students get to download/”share” all the music they want.

Much of this is laid out in a presentation that TechDirt acquired, and it seems pretty reasonable to me:

But Warner wants you to know that while the above slides say “Warner Music Group” and list the name and contact info for Jim Griffin–a Warner exec hired to look into these kinds of proposals–it isn’t theirs. Well, not exactly. In their (many) words:

This presentation belongs to someone outside our company and represents that individual’s interpretation of issues discussed at meetings held several months ago. It was not made by me or anyone at Warner Music Group. Of course, we are actively engaged with universities and other parties to seek a constructive resolution to a complex issue–how to assure artists appropriate compensation while enabling the widespread dissemination of their work among fans. Therefore, we are undertaking an effort to develop new voluntary business models that seek something other than–and we believe, better than–a litigation-based approach. This is exactly the type of solution that several universities and their associations have been asking for. We recognize that there are many different potential solutions to this issue, and we are determined to continue to think creatively and cooperatively with other parties in order to find the best ones. At this early stage, many ideas may be discussed and discarded, but efforts to prematurely label or criticize the process only hinder achievement of constructive solutions.”

I’ll try to translate a bit. The slides are actually the work of Mark Luker, a VP at something called Educause, an education and tech nonprofit (that among other things, administers the “.edu” domain). But they are a summary of discussions Luker and Educause have had with Griffin. So while they’re not exactly Warner’s words, they are, roughly, Warner’s ideas–or at least ideas Warner has been batting around.

And while I understand why Warner and the other labels are stepping gingerly around this stuff–they’ve got a terrible image to begin with, and anything associated with a “tax” is a tough sell in any case–but this really shouldn’t be that controversial, at least conceptually: The labels get to move away from both physical distribution as well as charging consumers for each song–both losing propositions in the long run. And consumers get unlimited consumption for a small monthly fee. Isn’t that what everyone wants?

Admittedly, there are lots of devils in those details. But better to start tackling them now–in discussions with anyone who will have them–than shrugging and giving up altogether.


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I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik