File sharing is legal. Download as much as you like for $8.50 a month. Well, it might have been...
As the RIAA, BPI and other record industry bodies worldwide crack down hard on teenagers downloading music in their bedrooms, an initiative that could have solved the problem at a stroke is shelved.
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File sharing of copyright music is illegal. So if you are the RIAA, what do you do about it? Easy - you attack music lovers, teenagers, children, parents who don't understand what's going on. Go for the individual, hit them hard, put their head on a stake as as warning to everyone else.
Yes of course there is a problem - music makers are not being properly paid for their work. But is this really the solution?
One by one, states around the world are enacting or reinforcing legislation to explicitly prohibit sharing of copyright material. France for instance proposed that people downloading illegally would have faced $360,000 in fines and up to three years in jail.
But the law makers rebelled and proposed an alternative...
Instead of prosecuting file sharers, people would be able to share as much as they liked for a monthly fee equivalent to around $8.50.
Imagine that... share all the music you like for $8.50 a month. The $8.50 would have been distributed among copyright owners whose works were being shared.
Now consider what the knock-on effect is... digital rights management is no longer necessary. The copy-protected CD's that have caused so much upset recently are simply not needed. Anyone can buy a CD and copy it as much as they like, to their media center, iPod, compilation CD's - all morally legitimate uses even in today's legal climate.
You might ask how the royalties would have been shared. Well this is done elsewhere already. It isn't rocket science. If your hairdresser plays music in their salon, they pay a licence fee for the right to do that (in many legislatures). That money is collected and distributed to copyright owners in proportion to other plays, such as TV and radio, that are more easily tracked.
The system is simple and works well. Similar counting systems could easily have been devised to track file sharing, and copyright owners paid in proportion to how often their tracks are passed across the network.
It would have been so simple, so workable, and so wonderful for the music-loving public and copyright owners alike.
If France had adopted this system, it would have swept the world.
But no, it has been thrown out. Industry groups pressured the French government to retain the existing business model, with all its flaws given the reality of the Internet-enabled world.
But the seed has been sown. No matter how many youngsters the RIAA and other industry bodies prosecute, illegal file sharing isn't going away.
When the solution to illegal file sharing is so simple and elegant, it is clear that the only way the status quo can be maintained is for the big players to lobby governments and force their anti-progress mentality upon the public.
So what's it to be then? More prosecutions? Continued file sharing with no payment to copyright owners? Or a system where music lovers get what they want, and copyright owners get their fair share?
By David Mellor, previously published in Record-Producer.com or in print, republished by Audio Masterclass September 1, 2008