The other day I saw another article discussing the harms of Internet Piracy and how much it hurts the artists and studios. First off, let me say that everyone deserves to be fairly compensated for the media and content they helped to produce, or own the rights to. There is no disputing that. And exactly how much damage piracy does is a topic for another discussion. What this discussion is about is a way for the movie and music industries to capitalize on the thing they are trying to stop.
Let’s get one thing straight. No matter how many lawsuits are filed, no matter how many bills make their way in front of Congress, or how many new different kinds of technology are put in place to monitor or block traffic, file sharing isn’t going to stop. There are 3 Certain Things in life: death, taxes and Internet Evolution. If you try to stop something from happening on the internet, it just finds another way to take place.
So why fight it? Why not capitalize on it? Find a way to monetize file sharing. Find a way to take advantage of the massive distribution infrastructure that users of things like Bittorrent technology have already established for you? Wouldn’t that make more sense – even financially – than trying to sue the very people who are trying to get your content? As music fans, we like to keep massive libraries of music. Even stuff that you can’t find in print anymore. And we are willing to store it on our hard drives, and distribute it with our internet connections, and pay the power bills to keep them up and running. It costs the entertainment industry nothing for the largest inter connected data center in the world.
The idea I’m going to highlight isn’t a new one. The Electronic Frontier Foundation proposed the idea back in 2003. The idea is called Voluntary Collective Licensing. Essentially what happens is as content consumers, we pay a collection agency a monthly fee for the right to download as much as we want. The EFF proposed the concept for digital content in 2003, but it’s a system that’s been around much much longer. And this system came about to solve the exact same issue the music industry has today
When radio came about in the ’20s and ’30s, the only music they were supposed to broadcast was live performances. Radio stations could play them freely. But they started to get in trouble when they played studio recordings. The copyright holders weren’t getting paid for their songs going over the airwaves. The record labels tried to sue radio out of existence. Sound familiar? They considered the radio stations pirates and tried to put them out of business. Instead ASCAP (and later BMI and a few other collection societies) worked out a deal that radio stations have to pay royalties each time they play a song. The collection society then turns around and pays the money to their copyright holders and performers accordingly. Good thing they didn’t put radio out of business because up until the 80s when MTV hit, it was THE way to hear new music as it was released. This page has a really great explanation of royalties and how money in the record industry works
The digital version doesn’t have to function much different. We, as consumers, would pay the collection society, either directly or indirectly, a small monthly fee to download whatever we wanted. We could do it via their website, it could be added to our internet provider bill, if you are a student in college it could be added to your tuition, there are lots of way to collect the money.
Distributing the money becomes slightly trickier, but not too hard. The industry has to give up the idea of 100% accounting. The only way you could get that would be to monitor what is being downloaded, and that opens up a whole bunch of privacy issues. Instead, the money could be distributed based on relative popularity of the current music scene. Or, people could volunteer to be a Neilson-like family and be monitored for what they are downloading. This could then be used to represent the rest of us. Or, as the EFF points out, if you are using a service like last.fm now and scrobbling your music, you are already doing this.
At this point, you may be asking yourself a few questions. Primarily, why would anyone pay up if it’s voluntary? Well, Apple, Amazon and the other various online services have already proven people will pay to download music at the right price point. You buy albums on iTunes for around $9.99. Wouldn’t you pay $15 a month to download as much as you want? And people already pay similar monthly fees to use streaming services like Pandora or Spotify to stream what they want, and they don’t even own the music in the end
You may also be asking yourself why the record labels and artists would agree to this. They seem unwilling to change, and have tons of money to go after whoever they want. Well, this plan actually benefits THEM more than it does us, the consumer. Here’s how.
Primarily, they get paid. In 2006, the EFF estimated there were 60 million file traders in the US alone. That number has increased significantly for sure since then. If some of those 60 million kicked in a $15/mo royalty fee the copyright holders and performers could net upwards of $3 BILLION dollars. Right now when someone downloads an album using file trading sites and services, they get (dun dun dun!) NOTHING.
Second, it’s almost pure profit for them. There are no hosting services to pay to store the digital content, no broadband costs to pay, no electric bills to pay, no CDs to manufacture and ship. We as the file traders are more than happy to fit the bill in this way. They just have to agree to do things a little differently than they are used to and it’s like free money.
Of cource, there are some old habits the entertainment industry will have to get past in order to make this work and be profitable for them. First and foremost, it ALL has to be available! All of it. Stop with the crazy licensing deals. If you don’t make the music available via the blanket license guess what? People are still going to get your music the same way the do now – illegal download. If people want something, they will find a way to get it. So why not actually get paid via an already in place model (like they do with radio) instead of dragging your fans to court and trying to make money through litigation.
Second, the price has to be right. If the industry sets the price too high, people are just going to give them the finger and continue to do it for free illegally. If the price is right (somewhere between $10 – $20 I would say) people will do it.
Also, we as consumers have to be able to play the digital content on as many PCs, laptops, phones, tablets, and stereos as we want. We are paying for the content, it’s ours. No restrictions. We also have to be able to do it on whatever ISP we are with and use whatever software we want.
I’m sure there are lots of other ideas we could come up with to allow us to get our content, and make sure those who own the rights to it get paid. This is just one of those ideas that struck me as making sense. Hopefully, it would make sense to the industry, too.