Presumptive-guilt-based Broadband Tax Floated

At this year’s SXSW Music and Media Conference in Austin, an idea was floated that was supposed to “monetize anarchy” found in the music industry vis-à-vis illegal copying. The idea: a five dollar monthly surcharge on broadband internet service as a royalty for downloading music illegally. This is also known as a “utility model.”

But it isn’t really; it’s a private-industry tax on behalf of a failing industry. It’s like a shopping mall that combats shoplifting in one single store by forcing everybody who enters the mall to pay an entrance fee, just in case they might want to steal from that one store. This is insulting to consumers and a presumption of guilt — and it violates any notion of due process.

This “licensing proposal” is analogous to the 50 cent tax put on cassette tapes in ’80s, and is just as wrong. It’s a one-sided license which says everyone who uses broadband also distributes music and steals it, too.

According to

The idea of a subscription licensing fee is hardly new. The Electronic Frontier Foundation made a very public presentation of a similar plan in 2004. What may be new is the recording industry’s willingness to listen. With the major labels’ lawsuit-driven strategy failing to either resuscitate the nearly dead CD industry [sic]. The legal download market hasn’t been able to make up for lost CD sales due to a consumer preference for singles rather than complete albums.

I smell buggy-whip maker here in this argument. I see no more reason to save a “CD industry” than I do an “8-track industry.” The music industry should see itself as selling music, not records, tapes, or CDs. Not only does this proposal presume we’re all criminals, the supposed compensation process to the artists would be no more workable than that of the rapacious RIAA. The RIAA and the member recording companies can’t even make that hand-off properly.

Digital forms are intrinsically easy to copy and move. In hindsight, records, tapes, and to some extent CDs had the “copyright advantage” of not being very transferable in the way digital files are. It took considerable effort to make and distribute copies. Indeed, it is the distribution of copies that violates copyright, according to recent a court case, not the copying itself.

Remember when teachers realized hall passes could be easily forged? They went low-tech and used obnoxious wooden knick-knacks with their names engraved on them (given to them by well-meaning relatives with absolutely no sense of taste) as proof a kid had permission to roam the halls. I’d rather see music attached to a 21st-century block of wood than to turn due process on its head just to save an industry that can’t seem to make a dime without essentially punishing its customers.

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