The number of times figureheads of the copyright industry have proposed (and often collected) a "you must be a pirate" tax on media are too numerous to count. (Not literally, of course, but it's been several dozen times…) The operative theory is that most people buy blank media and devices only to load it up with infringing content. This stems from the industry's innate fear that any new technological advance (VCRs, high speed internet connections) serve one purpose: to make infringement faster, easier and more widespread.
Jean Michel Jarre, a pioneer in the field of electronic music, has peeked into the future (well, more of the present, really) and has glimpsed an untapped goldmine -- one that would "allow" the common man/woman to pay what's "owed" to content creators.
Here's what Jarre had to say in an interview he gave during the recent Midem conference. He states that creators should work with tech companies (which is a good idea) but then goes on to explain that "work with" means "collect an arbitrary fee from" (which isn't).
[C]reators needed to sit down with phone companies, computer companies selling hardware, as well as the distributors of all kinds of art forms, and create the right business model for creators. He doesn’t, however, think that consumers should have to pay. “Music, photography, media, film – it’s all going to be free on the internet. We have to accept it,” he said.
But that doesn’t mean that creators can’t get paid. “Think about when you listen to a song on the radio,” he explained. “You are not paying for it, it’s not illegal to do it, because the rights have been paid for on top, beforehand, by the radio station, by the network. We have to find exactly the same kind of system with the internet.”
“We should never forget that in the smartphone, the smart part is us creators. If you get rid of music, images, videos, words and literature from the smartphone, you just have a simple phone that would be worth $50. Okay, let’s accept that there’s a lot of innovation in the smartphone, so let’s add $100 for this innovation – the remaining $300-$400 of the price should go to [the creators].”
Paying artists is not a tax or cultural levy, he said, adding that artists were here before electricity and will be here long after the internet. “We need each other, so at the end of the day we have to find the right partnership. We are talking about a business partnership, not a tax, and this shouldn’t affect the consumer.”
Jarre may be a talented musician, but if he thinks this "won't affect consumers" if creators are given $300-400 of the sale price of a smartphone, he's completely (or willfully) ignorant of market realities.
The $300-400 that smartphone makers are used to keeping for themselves (which Jarre handily believes is all profit margin) will have to come from somewhere. And that "somewhere" is the consumers. Instead of $499 MSRP, the phone will leap to $899-999. Once those prices go up, consumers will purchase fewer phones, especially with more service providers in the US looking to eliminate subsidized purchases. Fewer sales means less money flowing back to the creators -- which in time will mean those extracting this amount (based on the faulty assumption that the only thing that makes a smartphone "smart" is infringing content) will be back to ask for a higher
fee -- which will result in even fewer
sales -- and so on, ad infinitum, ad absurdum.
Despite his protestations, this fee (Jarre seems to approach it as a licensing strategy, right before asking for an arbitrary figure that's three-quarters of the retail price) is
a tax/levy. The only way it wouldn't be is if phone makers entered into licensing agreements. But what would they be licensing? A new phone carries very little unlicensed content (if any) before the consumer fills it with their own. Some of this content will already be licensed, having been purchased from any number of legitimate services. Some content, of course, will not be licensed or otherwise paid for. But taking a chunk out of every
sale presumes that all
smartphones are nothing more than handy carrying cases for infringing content. Hence, it's a tax or levy, of the "you must be a pirate/criminal
For all of Jarre's defense of creation and innovation, he automatically gives the creators -- whose content may never be on the phone in an unlicensed form -- the largest portion of each phone sale. He makes a small concession for "innovation" that tops out at $100. "Creators" are apparently worth 3-4 times as much as the innovators who crafted the smartphone Jarre sees as an untapped revenue stream.
This clashes with Jarre's earlier statement where he says artists were here "before electricity" and will outlast the internet itself. If artists are everlasting and smartphones (or the internet) only fleeting, why is the payout so skewed towards the hardier species (so to speak)? Jarre wants to have it both ways: artists "deserve" this because they've been a cultural force since the beginning of time but are simultaneously on the verge of extinction and badly in need of a handout from the Hot Tech Thing Du Jour.
He drives this cognitive dissonance home further with this:
“We are the people creating the future – not manufacturers of computers or cables. We are the extraordinary."
Well, if that's the case, maybe the people "creating the future" should be taking a smaller cut than these short-sighted tech innovators, or better yet, pitching in to keep these manufacturers of pocket-sized cultural vessels afloat until the next wave of innovation hits.
Underneath it all, he's right about the creative force of the world's population. It will continue even without
grabbing 75% of a smartphone's retail price. The world's creators didn't wait until adequate copyright protections were codified by their respective governments before creating and they'll continue to create even if they think the world's tech innovators are somehow coattail-riding their creations to the tune of billions of dollars. They'll do it in the face of piracy and the addition of innumerable "competitors" thanks to the elimination of barriers to entry.
Jarre gazes at this longevity and strength and sees it as a position of leverage against (apparently) parasitic tech companies. When he smashes it all together to make his clumsy point, the strength is now supposedly a weakness, and creators nothing more than a disadvantaged group begging for loose change outside a manufacturer's headquarters. It becomes as incongruous as a Mob enforcer telling his extortion victims that the reason they have to pay is because he a.) can kill them and their families and b.) because he's a disenfranchised member of an ethnic group that has been historically poorly-treated in America.
Jarre does likewise. Artists are unstoppable! Please give us free money.