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Plan would have students pay flat fee for unlimited access to P2P

A number of U.S. universities expressed interest in plans for a “music tax,” where students would pay a flat fee as part of their tuition in return for the promise of no lawsuits from the RIAA.

The plan, spearheaded by Warner Music’s Jim Griffin, would essentially free up copyright enforcement resources in place at the RIAA and universities in favor of a “blanket license” of sorts – even though the actual language of the plan simply grants a promise not to sue.

Money collected will be dispersed to artists through a means that has yet to be determined.

Griffin, a long-time cheerleader of “music surcharge” proposals, says the plan is still in its early stages. Despite that, however, he tells TechDirt that he is “actively engaged with universities and other parties to seek a constructive resolution to a complex issue,” and that his plan is “exactly the type of solution that several universities and their associations have been asking for.”

The anonymous tipster reports that interested schools include Columbia, Stanford, University of Chicago, University of Washington, MIT, University of Colorado, University of Michigan, Cornell, Penn State, University of California at Berkeley and the University of Virginia. Further supporting his claims is a PowerPoint presentation pitched to universities and signed by Mark Luker of EDUCAUSE .

The presentation, which Griffin says “belongs to someone outside [Warner Music] and represents that individual's interpretation of… meetings held several months ago,” says the plan is designed to:

  • Allow students access and the use of any music they want.
  • Avoid DMCA issues and lawsuits.
  • Avoid technological regulations that might hinder university networks.
  • Provide “fair” returns for copyright holders.

TechDirt notes that the idea is an adaptation of a larger surcharge suggested for all U.S. ISPs, where they would simply “add an additional fee to everyone's internet access, have that money go into a pool that the recording industry would be responsible for paying out.”

“This is a bad idea for a variety of reasons,” writes TechDirt’s Mike Massnick. “It's basically a music tax – allowing the record industry to be lazy. Someone else gets to go out and collect all this money and hand it over to the industry to distribute … It effectively sets the business model of the recording industry in stone, and harms better, more innovative business models by inserting the recording industry (and not the musicians) into a role where they don't belong.”

“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,” replies Griffin. “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.”

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What will this do?
By Bateluer on 12/8/2008 8:46:48 AM , Rating: 2
Aside from adding to the already skyrocketing cost of tuition, further angering potential customers, and generating further negative publicity? Drive more people to piracy? Definitely.

RE: What will this do?
By mmntech on 12/8/2008 9:03:01 AM , Rating: 5
Extortion, outwresting, or exaction is a criminal offense, which occurs, when a person unlawfully obtains either money, property or services from a person, entity, or institution, through coercion. Refraining from doing harm is sometimes euphemistically called protection. Extortion is commonly practiced by organized crime groups. The actual obtainment of money or property is not required to commit the offense. Making a threat of violence or a lawsuit which refers to a requirement of a payment of money or property to halt future violence or lawsuit is sufficient to commit the offense. Exaction refers not only to extortion or the unlawful demanding and obtaining of something through force,[1] additionally, exact in its formal definition means the infliction of something such as pain and suffering or to make somebody endure something unpleasant.

I think Wikipedia sums up what the RIAA is doing here pretty well. Making students pay for a service they don't want. Nice. Just shows how in touch they are with their target demographics.

RE: What will this do?
By omnicronx on 12/8/08, Rating: -1
RE: What will this do?
By metaltoiletry on 12/8/2008 10:07:31 AM , Rating: 2
I also find it funny you say they don't know their target demographic, as they obviously know exactly what their target demographic is, teens and young adults who download more music illegally than anyone else.

No, their target demographic is my pet cat and your pet dog.

RE: What will this do?
By erikejw on 12/9/2008 9:03:17 AM , Rating: 2
If there will be a "music tax" it will not take long until we have a movie tax, software tax, book tax and anything else that is available online. I have probably forgot many areas and those will be free to sue at will.
Communism will make it's first appearance in the US.

RE: What will this do?
By ussfletcher on 12/8/2008 3:06:41 PM , Rating: 3
I myself am a college student. I don't care enough about music to download it. Therefore, why should I pay an extra fee to my already astronomical tuition? I already pay taxes for newspapers and radio, that I don't read or listen to, why should this be any different, right?

RE: What will this do?
By foolsgambit11 on 12/8/2008 7:30:19 PM , Rating: 4
I, on the other hand, might try to go back to college - how much music could I download in 1 quarter, do you think? I'd estimate, with this fee, it wouldn't be more than $2500 (full time), maybe as low as $500 for part-time. 500 albums is definitely a possibility in 3 months. That's an average cost of $1 to $5 per album.

Oh, and I could learn a thing or two at the same time.

RE: What will this do?
By Some1ne on 12/8/2008 4:44:25 PM , Rating: 2
I'm no fan of the RIAA, but I think their idea actually makes sense, as it helps to move us away from the notion that P2P users are pirates and criminals, and towards the inevitable acceptance of these technologies as the new, legitimate form of multimedia distribution that they really are. Think about it. Having this sort of "piracy tax" legitimizes P2P filesharing, eliminates the need for costly and invasive DRM packages, and prevents people from being branded as criminals and sued/prosecuted for doing something that at least 90% of the population does. And at the same time, it ensures that the recording artists aren't getting completely ripped off. That seems like a reasonable setup to me. Or at least, it seems far more reasonable than trying to wage a war against P2P technology, and clinging to the original but now defunct definitions of copyright and copyright protections, and branding ordinary citizens as criminals for engaging in a victimless crime that the vast majority of people participate in on at least a semi-regular basis.

Granted, the fees need to be reasonable (for just music, I'd say not more than $5 per user per month, though if music, movies, software, and other forms of media were covered, up to $15 per user per month might be reasonable), and the money needs to be dispersed in a way that sees the artists profit, rather than just their labels. And there need to be provisions for allocating the money based upon the popularity of content (i.e. if thing X is downloaded 100 times, and thing Y is downloaded 1 time, the creator of thing X should get more than the creator of thing Y). And there should be an option that allows individuals who do not intend to do any P2P downloading to opt out of the fees (and in return maybe they are placed on a network that blocks P2P traffic types). But none of those issues seem unsolvable, and while new taxes/fees are always unpleasant, I think this is how we're finally going to get away from the old, deprecated modes of content distribution (nobody should have to pay for music on a per-album or per-song basis anymore) and start embracing new distribution modes such as P2P filesharing as legitimate (people should be able to freely download and distribute as much music as they want, but at the same time artists should continue to see compensation for creating popular works).

Do you really feel that the current status quo, where an entire industry has gone to war against its consumers, where millions (if not billions) of dollars is being wasted annually on developing ever more complex DRM technology that just gets cracked as soon as it's introduced, and where industry lobbyists are working to push through things like ACTA in a futile attempt to combat a legitimate new technology and to preserve defunct distribution modes, is preferable to moving towards a situation where P2P filesharing is finally recognized (and ultimately, embraced) as a legitimate, non-criminal mode of content distribution?

RE: What will this do?
By wvh on 12/8/2008 6:46:35 PM , Rating: 2
But principally, this means the RIAA is taxing people without any proof of them having obtained any music through illegal means. Pretty soon, a part of everyone's taxes will go to private industry and lobbying fractions such as the RIAA and MPAA.

In many European countries, you pay extra tax on empty data CDs/DVDs which goes to the recording industry, because it is assumed that you are a thief when you buy empty CDs/DVDs. It turns music into a government/tax supported non-negotiable service, not just temporarily, but forever.

I don't agree with the music industry or any private business being supported by taxes. This is a one-way street to hell where private corporations can tax the public and individuals loose the right to choose. It is truly shocking how far this has come, with major industries being supported by government in what is supposed to be a free market economy.

And I'm supposedly a socialist European, for crying out loud...

RE: What will this do?
By Some1ne on 12/8/2008 7:51:02 PM , Rating: 2
Your concerns seem more ideological than practical. The fee is less like taxing people for doing something illegal than it is like charging them for a service (the ability to download and redistribute an unlimited quantity of music). If some users choose not to utilize that service, then that's their choice. Though as I said, having an "opt out" option for people who *never* want to take advantage of the service makes sense.

Assuming you agree that the maintaining the current status quo benefits no one, how would you suggest we get past the current impasse then? How do we legitimize P2P content distribution while at the same time ensuring that content producers are still fairly compensated for their work, without something that resembles a tax? I'm all for alternative solutions to the issue, but I'm having a hard time seeing any.

RE: What will this do?
By jhb116 on 12/8/2008 9:20:58 PM , Rating: 2
This is just a lazy quick fix. The problem is that Univeristies have the resources to fight RIAA where as we private citizens do not. Read between the lines - RIAA gets more resources to go after Joe Private Citizen (aka all of us) and they will have more time to come after us since they won't have to expend resources to hit up the Universities.

Talk about the evil empire. If they continue to hord power - I may just have to move.

RE: What will this do?
By bigjaicher on 12/8/2008 6:46:07 PM , Rating: 2
Well, it is extortion of the colleges, not the students. The schools should have the right to make the (new) students pay whatever they want them to pay, and then the students have the right to go/not go to that college, with no trusts between colleges.

The colleges can just say "screw you" to the colleges, and use what I call the sanity defense (calling the plantiff insane/you are sane in comparison). Or they can cave and do this. However, if somebody says that this is infringing on students' constitutional rights, I say "go read a copy of the [*bleeping*] constitution." It's not a constitutional right to receive free internet. Last time I checked, we are technically a capitalistic society although current events state otherwise.

RE: What will this do?
By TheSpaniard on 12/8/2008 10:35:12 PM , Rating: 2
but this is a corporation that has no involvment in the internet... other than it is a medium for theft...

does this mean that walmart should be taxing extra the sales of coats because the coats could be used to shoplift something in their store?

RE: What will this do?
By omnicronx on 12/8/08, Rating: -1
RE: What will this do?
By FITCamaro on 12/8/2008 10:13:04 AM , Rating: 2
Actually I kinda agree. This doesn't sound like a terrible idea. Students pay a fee and don't have to worry about being sued. Now I guess the question is, what is the fee?

Now at the same time, if this is something every student has to pay, that's not fair. For those students who don't pirate, they shouldn't have to pay the fee.

I also agree with the other comment though about this possibly being the first step towards a nationwide ISP charge. To where everyone will have a fee on their internet connection that goes to the music industry. Something I am firmly against. I do not download music for the most part. I think I might have downloaded 10 songs in the past 5 years.

RE: What will this do?
By tastyratz on 12/8/2008 10:40:12 AM , Rating: 5
This should not be something limited to universities, this should be OPTIONALLY offered like any sort of Napster plan where you get a universal license with a monthly fee. I would be in support of that - although it would crumble any businesses based on purchased music licenses like napster, rhapsody, itunes, etc - because people will have far less incentive to purchase from them. I am sure they would lobby against.

This should not be defaulted to college tuition, mandatory is RIDICULOUS and labels anyone seeking higher education as a thief. This will encourage the mentality of downloading music because the people who would have reservations will be taught its ok in college - but once they graduate they are held accountable.

It's like training killers in prison to stay alive but only charging them if they kill outside of prison. It sets up a double standard.

I support local music and buy non riaa label cd's because they make me sick. Its unfortunate the artists pay for the RIAA's mistakes.

RE: What will this do?
By omnicronx on 12/8/2008 10:43:40 AM , Rating: 2
If the fee is reasonable, I don't see the problem.

And as for every student paying, perhaps there can be an exemption for those who are willing to pay. Those that don't leave themselves open to suits by the RIAA. This would act as far more of a deterrent, as those caught would have little to no excuse, and it would pretty much be an automatic loss.

RE: What will this do?
By drzoo2 on 12/8/2008 11:22:21 AM , Rating: 3
It's taxation without representation. They are not a governing body and have no right to levy taxes. When they decide to raise the "Tax" how are you going to vote them out of office?


RE: What will this do?
By omnicronx on 12/8/08, Rating: -1
RE: What will this do?
By FITCamaro on 12/8/2008 2:42:57 PM , Rating: 2
Please tell me where a tax is being levied here?

With your attitude, the fees paid for internet service in general are a tax.

RE: What will this do?
By bigjaicher on 12/8/2008 6:49:53 PM , Rating: 2
Actually, students pay a fee to the college which then pays the fees to the RIAA for protection of the college, to my knowledge of the article. It's just that the schools will impose this fee to save themselves, not the students.

RE: What will this do?
By RamarC on 12/8/2008 1:12:32 PM , Rating: 3
With this logic, local governments should tack on a "speed fee" so you don't have to worry about getting tickets.

Either you have not been on the road in 5 years, or you just have no idea how rampant speeding is. Between interstates and expressways, and the deserted backroads (you would not believe how fast people drive when traffic is not an issue), its amazing the vast amount of speeding that goes on in.

How this would drive more people to speed is beyond me.

I am even willing to bet that of the city drivers, 80%+ speed. Speeding is illegal, however you want to put it, and I don't see why the city/county/state should have to constantly deal with speeders that have absolutely no regard for what they are doing, speeding day in and day out, without ever having the intention of slowing down.

RE: What will this do?
By Jimbo1234 on 12/8/2008 2:01:38 PM , Rating: 2
They already do, it's called a gas tax. But the downside is that they still ticket you on top of that.

RE: What will this do?
By Moishe on 12/10/2008 10:02:54 AM , Rating: 2
What they are trying to do is create an environment where music is paid for by default and they get their money no matter what.

I'm not opposed to this in every way, BUT I agree with the comment that it will set into stone the music distribution industry and will stifle other content distribution methods.

If I could pay $20/month and get all music all the time with no restrictions... that'd be great. If it was $50/month...? What about $100/month? The problem is that they equate "fair" with current prices. They will say "You can download "X" albums over a common broadband connection in one month and they will want to charge us X * $15 (their price for an album) or X * $0.99 (their price for a song).

Just like I don't want to pay $90/mth to have 50 garbage cable channels bundled in with the 5-6 channels I actually watch, I don't want to pay $90/mth for a lot of garbage music I will never listen to.

"When an individual makes a copy of a song for himself, I suppose we can say he stole a song." -- Sony BMG attorney Jennifer Pariser
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