Debunking The Idea Of A Music Tax For The Creation Of New Music
from the just-slightly-better,-but-not-much dept
Music is important. It is ubiquitous today with good reason: we just can’t get enough of it, and its life-enhancing effect is ever-changing and ongoing.
If it had been possible for the past ten years to download nails, most of us would long ago have acquired all the nails we could possibly need, nail factories would have closed down, their workers and bosses found new jobs for themselves, and it would be a dead issue. But music-making is such an important act that millions do it even though they receive nothing for it. They always have done, even back in the heyday of the recorded music industry, when students bankrupted themselves to get it (I know I did) and bands scrambled to play gigs for next to nothing (guilty, again). So in the scheme of things music is at least as worthy of state subsidy than, say, the automobile industry. Music isn’t any less precious than it used to be, it’s just that its commodity status has eroded: unlike car workers the customary method of getting (some) artists paid is failing.
I am in favour of a flat fee on each internet connection, collected by ISPs, to encourage musicians to keep producing new work.
Now, I’ve gone into great detail on why a music tax is a terrible idea in the past — but that was addressing ideas like Jim Griffin’s Choruss plan (which, by the way, we’re still waiting to find out who the tens of thousands of students who are supposedly already using it are, but we’ll leave that aside for now). This idea, from Chris Ovenden, is slightly different. It is not a “download license” or a “download tax” as it’s really a fund to pay for the creation of new music:
I would use such a fund to commission new works directly from up-and-coming and established artists. I certainly wouldn’t try to monitor all downloads or anything hyper-impossible like that. If the problem of trying to monetize or prevent private copying goes away, so does the threat of monitoring all communications which is being suggested as a “solution” to the “problem” of filesharing… Keep the amount each person has to pay low, and spread the collected funds widely and evenly among as many working artists as is feasible. The more successful acts will most likely have other income streams and won’t need a massive top-up; smaller artists will be grateful to have their next recording project funded. And everyone will benefit from an influx of lots of new work (released under CC license or similar).
This is, obviously a bit different than the usual suggestions for a music tax, but that doesn’t make it much better. First as is noted in the comments on his post, if you open the door (even slightly) for this to happen in music, then you have to do it in pretty much every other content industry as well: movies will want their own tax, as will software, photography, newspapers, quilt making, painting, blogging and so forth. Where do you draw the line?
Second, this will still leave people who file share open to lawsuits. While he claims that the “threat” goes away, there’s no way that the record labels say that they’ll allow all past infringement in hopes of getting a few dimes sent its way from some bureaucracy.
Which, of course, brings up the third problem: you still have a bureaucracy, and how does it determine who to distribute the funds to? How is it possibly fair for someone — rather than the fans themselves — to determine who gets the money.
And that brings up the biggest point of all: this isn’t needed. At all. There are plenty of ways for artists to set up a smart business model that allows fans to support them directly and to fund their future works. Why make it more inefficient by adding unnecessary and market-distorting middlemen? The only situation where this makes some sense is if there weren’t ways for artists to go direct to fans with their own models. But there are — and it’s getting easier every day. So, instead of a “tax” give fans a “reason to buy” and it becomes a better situation for everyone involved.