Choruss' Music Tax Plan: Bait-And-Switch
from the ah-the-fine-print dept
Back in December, when we revealed how Warner Music, through consultant Jim Griffin and his new organization “Choruss,” were quietly pushing a music tax on universities, Warner and Griffin snapped back angrily, telling us it wasn’t fair to criticize the plan, because it was still being “discussed.” Yet, as we then asked: where is that discussion and why isn’t it taking place with the actual stakeholders? To date, the answer has been a near deafening silence. Despite having reached out to both Griffin and Warner Music directly, neither has shown any interest to actually engage in any form of conversation.
Now we’re beginning to learn why.
While we discussed, in detail, why any such music tax is problematic, the details coming out make it clear that this is much worse than originally imagined. In fact, it’s so bad that it can be described accurately as a bait-and-switch program designed to make people (1) pay lots of money (2) believing they’re now free to file share and then find out that (3) file sharing systems will still be sued out of existence and (4) the users themselves, despite paying, will still be liable for massive lawsuits. It’s basically a plan to give the record labels tons of money, handed over by universities (so users have no chance to opt-out) without actually changing anything.
After months of silence on what he was working on behind closed doors and in backrooms, Griffin recently gave a prepared speech supposedly revealing some “details” on the plan — but as IP attorney Bennett Lincoff points out, what Griffin and Choruss are proposing is to pull the wool over universities and the public’s eyes. The plan, as we originally pointed out, isn’t a license: it’s merely a covenant not to sue — and that leads to all sorts of problems.
First, considering that the RIAA has been cutting back on lawsuits, that’s not particularly meaningful. It’ll still pushing for 3 strikes policies that will cut users off from the internet, even if they’ve paid up through Choruss. Furthermore, as was made clear in the speech, the RIAA won’t stop trying to shut down file sharing systems. So, people who think this is a good idea because it will let them use The Pirate Bay or Limewire may discover after getting locked into this program that the lawsuits continue and those services keep getting shut down. Next, since it’s just a covenant for the labels not to sue, rather than a license, it doesn’t cover all of the other rightsholders, such as songwriters and the music publishers — meaning that those who file share will still be wide open to lawsuits from those parties.
This is quite a scheme that the record labels and Griffin may pull off:
- Convince universities to buy into the program with no input from students. Universities will buy into it because they think they’re “helping” deal with the “problem” of file sharing… and to avoid Congress forcing them into such agreements
- Universities pass the cost on to students (of course), so students are forced to pay for this
- Record labels get a big chunk of money for no good reason
- New expensive bureaucracy (Choruss) gets set up to siphon more middleman cash away from musicians
- Record labels don’t do anything different, since they already have started moving away from suing individuals (sorta)
- The public thinks that file sharing is now legal
- Record labels continue to sue and shut down favorite file sharing networks, leaving only crappy, limited and expensive “approved” systems
- Individuals who paid up start getting sued by other rightsholders not covered by this agreement and not getting any money from it
And most of the press will eat it up as a revolutionary agreement whereby the record labels “legalize” file sharing.
Now can you understand why Griffin and Warner Music aren’t open to any real conversation and will slam anyone who actually offers to take part in a conversation? A real conversation might bring out these issues, and that’s the last thing the record labels want. They want everyone to believe they’re working to make file sharing legal, when all they’re doing is constructing a massive wealth transfer from people to the labels providing almost no benefit to consumers at all.