Taxing music at the ISP level: Good idea or bad?

Techdirt thinks that it's a bad idea to require U.S. universities to pay a blanket license for their students' music downloads from file-sharing services. Here's why I disagree.

Warner Music Group has a proposition for U.S. universities, according to Techdirt: buy a blanket license to music downloads through file-sharing services, or be sued.

Techdirt thinks that this is a bad idea, and I disagree.

Techdirt's criticisms are clear:

It's basically a music tax--allowing the record industry to be lazy. Someone else gets to go out and collect all this money, and hand it over to the industry to distribute (or, actually, not distribute). It effectively sets the business model of the recording industry in stone, and harms better, more innovative business models by inserting the recording industry (and not the musicians) into a role where they don't belong.

But the benefits to such a blanket tax are also clear, as I wrote back in 2003. Consumers want a convenient way to pay for content. A tax levied by the ISP is a highly efficient way to ensure that the music industry gets paid, and that consumers don't get slowed down in their enjoyment of music.

Techdirt has some valid points, but it fails to identify the "better, more innovative business models" that would take the music industry forward, either in this article or in the others to which it refers.

Personally, I pay for my music, movies, and other media. But not everyone does, perhaps because they don't want to use iTunes or a similar service, for whatever reason. A minimal tax added to students' university fees would easily cover this, with little cost to these consumers and great benefit.

No, not every student would end up using the service, but that's the nature of a tax: sometimes you pay for others' benefits, not yours. In fact, that's usually the way it works.

Tech Culture
About the author

    Matt Asay is chief operating officer at Canonical, the company behind the Ubuntu Linux operating system. Prior to Canonical, Matt was general manager of the Americas division and vice president of business development at Alfresco, an open-source applications company. Matt brings a decade of in-the-trenches open-source business and legal experience to The Open Road, with an emphasis on emerging open-source business strategies and opportunities. He is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not an employee of CNET. You can follow Matt on Twitter @mjasay.


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