Reflections on the fate of the music business as we know it.
A panel I attended recently at the Recording Academy addressed digital music, particularly the problems songwriters (and record labels, artists, etc.) have getting paid for their music, particularly in the face of file-sharers obtaining copies for free.
A vocal majority on the panel, and in the audience seemed to take the position that the only solution is to require Internet Service Providers to charge their users a monthly digital media consumption fee of some sort. This, it seems, part of the idea behind CHORUSS, a pilot program at a few universities, which requires students to opt-in by paying a monthly fee, that the University will then pass along to content owners.
For me, this solution is plagued with problems. First, in all likelihood, if implemented on a broad scale, it will be an automatic charge we all pay. Those who never file-share or download media content will be subsidizing the users who DO download, especially those who take more than their fair share. Second, this looks to the wrong party for payment. Isn’t asking ISPs to pay music royalties when songs pass through their networks similar to asking UPS to pay book authors’ royalties when they deliver books bought via Amazon.com?
Now, of course no solution to this problem is perfect, but it’s my sincere hope that the content community and the tech communities can find a better solution. Unfortunately, other solutions discussed involved asking ISPs to log every bit of data passing through every user’s IP address… which raises tremendous privacy concerns.
One interesting view was that espoused by a manager/consultant on the panel who seemed to suggest that we just need to accept that file-sharing is here, and that many (but not all) consumers are getting (music) for free… so we’d better find something else to sell them. (Sounds like a ‘loss-leader’ approach). ‘Give away the recordings of your songs… develop a fan base, then sell ‘em concert tickets and T-shirts’… seemed to be his notion.
Clearly, there’s no good solution, but the prevailing view of the panel is that something must be done. If artists such as songwriters can no longer receive fair compensation for their efforts.. they’ll find something else to do… and society will be the worse for it.