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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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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.

"If a man really wants to make a million dollars, the best way would be to start his own religion." -- Scientology founder L. Ron. Hubbard
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