There's been all sorts of talk in the press lately about the future of the music business, stemming from the big MIDEM conference in France. The big talk seems to be about how labels are "reconsidering" or "rethinking" their use of DRM, but apart from some very limited experiments, it really doesn't look like much is happening, and certainly not to the degree that some stories would lead readers to believe. Another story today talks up the idea of a "global license fee", which ISPs would pay to record labels -- for some unclear reason. The IHT says that by paying the fee, consumers "could get the right to copy the music we own digitally and move it among our various music players", but that's something fair use already allows, and it doesn't spell out any other benefits for consumers, or anybody other than the labels for the fee, and points to Microsoft's deal to give Universal a cut from Zune sales as one model. As we pointed out when that deal was announced, there's no indication of exactly why Microsoft should pay up, and what it (or indeed its customers) get in return. Sense a pattern here? Faced with falling sales, it sounds like the record labels are trying to develop a new revenue stream by getting paid for no good reason. Of course, to them, fair use doesn't exist, so they act like allowing consumers to have it is something worth paying for -- much how similar copyright levies in Europe must be paid to cover copying that's already legal. If the labels want to institute a global license fee, and in exchange, allow file-sharing, perhaps that's worth talking about. But instituting the license fee and not giving anything in return just sounds like a new wrinkle on the "get people to pay for the same stuff over and over" business model big content loves.
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