Saturday, March 15, 2008

Socialized music?

Of the many bizarre things to come from SXWX, your latest* act of rent-seeking: from Wired, "Music Industry Proposes a Piracy Surcharge on ISPs." Jim Griffin of the IFPI (RIAA international, basically) wants a $5/month charge on broadband connections, ostensibly mandatory, although they blabber on about seeking voluntary solutions (as if the price elasticity of demand for any given ISP were so inelastic that no one will notice a 10-20% increase in cost). They say that they will divide the money up based on the frequency of an artist showing up on file sharing websites. This is not at all unprecedented – many western countries have them on most, if not all, recording media, from cassette players to iPods. Among recording media, the US is relatively lax in that it only levies a 3% tax on stand-alone CD burners and those stupid enough to buy the Music CD-Rs. Finland has some of the most onerous levies, with a sliding scale tax up to €21 on DVRs and MP3 players with over 250 GB capacity.

The implications of it, though, are kind of perverse: who could honestly say that you were being unethical if you downloaded your fair share of music? The law, however, leaves no provision for you to download $5 worth of illegal music per month. And at today's rate, that comes to about $6 billion dollars per year, which probably is probably a small chunk of total music sales in America. And if illegal downloading doesn't slow down, they'll be in a better position to either ask for either more money or force ISPs to filter illegal downloads (legally and technologically awkward). Who knows – maybe the surcharge will increase so much that the mainstream music industry will be essentially nationalized?

*not really – there have probably been millions of acts of rent-seeking throughout the world in the few days since this article was published.

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