File sharing is legal. Download as much as you like for $8.50 a month. Well, it might have been...

File sharing is legal. Download as much as you like for $8.50 a month. Well, it might have been...

As the RIAA, BPI and other record industry bodies worldwide crack down hard on teenagers downloading music in their bedrooms, an initiative that could have solved the problem at a stroke is shelved.

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File sharing of copyright music is illegal. So if you are the RIAA, what do you do about it? Easy - you attack music lovers, teenagers, children, parents who don't understand what's going on. Go for the individual, hit them hard, put their head on a stake as as warning to everyone else.

Yes of course there is a problem - music makers are not being properly paid for their work. But is this really the solution?

One by one, states around the world are enacting or reinforcing legislation to explicitly prohibit sharing of copyright material. France for instance proposed that people downloading illegally would have faced $360,000 in fines and up to three years in jail.

But the law makers rebelled and proposed an alternative...

Instead of prosecuting file sharers, people would be able to share as much as they liked for a monthly fee equivalent to around $8.50.

Imagine that... share all the music you like for $8.50 a month. The $8.50 would have been distributed among copyright owners whose works were being shared.

Now consider what the knock-on effect is... digital rights management is no longer necessary. The copy-protected CD's that have caused so much upset recently are simply not needed. Anyone can buy a CD and copy it as much as they like, to their media center, iPod, compilation CD's - all morally legitimate uses even in today's legal climate.

You might ask how the royalties would have been shared. Well this is done elsewhere already. It isn't rocket science. If your hairdresser plays music in their salon, they pay a licence fee for the right to do that (in many legislatures). That money is collected and distributed to copyright owners in proportion to other plays, such as TV and radio, that are more easily tracked.

The system is simple and works well. Similar counting systems could easily have been devised to track file sharing, and copyright owners paid in proportion to how often their tracks are passed across the network.

It would have been so simple, so workable, and so wonderful for the music-loving public and copyright owners alike.

If France had adopted this system, it would have swept the world.

But no, it has been thrown out. Industry groups pressured the French government to retain the existing business model, with all its flaws given the reality of the Internet-enabled world.

But the seed has been sown. No matter how many youngsters the RIAA and other industry bodies prosecute, illegal file sharing isn't going away.

When the solution to illegal file sharing is so simple and elegant, it is clear that the only way the status quo can be maintained is for the big players to lobby governments and force their anti-progress mentality upon the public.

So what's it to be then? More prosecutions? Continued file sharing with no payment to copyright owners? Or a system where music lovers get what they want, and copyright owners get their fair share?

Publication date: Monday March 20, 2006
Author: David Mellor



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Earlier discussion on this topic...

Tod Gilding, South West Rocks, Australia

I agree with Ian the Big music companies have been greedy for many years selling complete albums when possibly only one or two tracks are worth listening to they have been cashing in on the consumer for many years and now they are getting a little of their own back, I have also read that the music industries profits have steadily increased over the past years,I cannot think of any recording stars or the big companies that are doing it tough.
Wednesday March 22, 2006

Wild Ruby, Oxford, UK

I think the flat-fee method gives too much weight to those "easily tracked" methods. What happens to groups that sell CDs only at gigs, for example, because their music is not mainstream enough for radio (say)? The audience would buy fewer hard copies and then distribute those recordings "freely" amongst themselves. Meanwhile their monthly subscription goes only to the entrenched mainstream industry.

Having said that, I also agree with David that legislation against end-user copying won't work.

And I really don't like having to pay a manufacturer extra for the technology which it insists I have before I am "trusted" with its products (for example the DigiKey plug-in protection device, but this could also apply to any kind of content).
Tuesday March 21, 2006

Shaun Thomson, Flinders, Australia

I'm all for the artists getting paid, but isn't this way kind of limited? I mean, the pool of money will only be so big - and as time goes on there will be thousands more artists entitled to payments, so everyones' payment will shrink, unless the pool grows proportionately with the amount of artists.

What I'm trying to say is, is it sustainable from the point of view that everyone will get paid enough to keep the industry ticking over?
Tuesday March 21, 2006

Mark, Melbourne, Australia

This would have to be the most sensible solution to the file-sharing conundrum that I have heard.

And as the article points out, it's a proven system - agencies aleady collect royalties all around the world for songwriters and artists when their music is played in places of business.
Monday March 20, 2006

Noe Salazar, Ceres, United States

I agree with Ian this is probably the down fall of the music Industry. It is becoming more of a passion driven industry. Look at how easy it is to record your own music now a days at a decent quality and that is all that matters. The average listeners doesn't care about the quality of recordings. Recording Studios, along with Cd Stores, Record Labels, and everything that encompasses the music business is getting hurt by the rise in technology and the access the average consumer has to it.
Monday March 20, 2006

Adam, Birmingham, UK

It's all about the ISP's (Internet Service Providers) they are the ones getting the big money out of this and they are the ones between the user and the file sharing! If the ISP's charged a lil more, like $8.50 a month extra which goes to a collection agency like the BPI which is then distributed to the artists then you could make file sharing legal. Every one pays for there access to the internet and at the same time pay for the right to download music ^_^
Monday March 20, 2006

Ian Bell, Northrepps, Norfolk

This is no more than big corporations trying to protect a dwindling market. The days of the big music company are over. The means of making and distributing music are available to everyone and that is the future of the music business.

Monday March 20, 2006