Music Tax Details From Source: "Pay Us Not To Sue You"

We learned yesterday that Warner Music, the third largest music label, is gunning for a $5/month music tax on U.S. residents.

Some of the details were in the article: they’ve hired industry veteran Jim Griffin to create a new entity around the project, presumably to get other labels involved. Griffin threw out the idea of a $5/month tax (which would be added to people’s ISP bill), generating $20 billion/year in revenues. The tax won’t be mandatory, he implies. And he also said that it isn’t really a “tax”: “we have no such interest in government running this or having any part of it.” Griffin also talked about advertising subsidies for partners who don’t want to pay the fee.

Users who are paying the tax will be able to download music from the Internet legally, through all the normal channels (BitTorrent, other P2P networks, etc.).

Nothing he said is strictly untrue. But a source with knowledge of the project clarified a number of points for. Those details, combined with the vague outline provided by Griffin, show a scheme that is very similar to classic criminal protection rackets. We threw out that term to describe the scheme in our post yesterday as well – today, with these additional details, it seems to fit like a glove.

Here’s What They’re Really Planning: Pay Us Not To Sue You

The tax will not, in fact, be mandatory. But that is misleading – it won’t be mandatory for ISPs who provide Internet access to actual users. But if ISPs join the scheme, it will apply to all of their customers and be added to their bill as a surcharge.

Why will ISP’s agree to this? Mainly to avoid liability. The core of the plan is a covenant not to sue anyone who pays the fee. Griffin touched on this in the article, saying ISPs will want to “discharge their risk” around file sharing that occurs over their networks.

The rollout plan will hit colleges and universities first, who will simply add the fee to tuition bills so they won’t have to worry about getting dragged into lawsuits. Then Griffin will approach consumer ISPs. If an ISP joins, their users will not have the option of not paying, even if they don’t download music from the Internet. So, basically, the tax is only voluntary if you define avoiding it as not going to college, or using the Internet.

The advertising-supported option is likely a red herring to satisfy critics, and would be dumped before the project launches. It just isn’t feasibly to try to aim advertising at users who are downloading music from BitTorrent and putting it on their iPod. There’s no touch point to force advertising down their throat.

So the plan essentially comes down to telling ISPs that they can avoid any copyright infringement liability if they pay the fee on behalf of customers. And while the government wouldn’t be directly involved, the willingness of law enforcement agencies and the judicial system to enforce civil and criminal copyright infringement laws is the stick by which Griffin will convince ISPs to jump on board. It’s government endorsed extortion, nothing more and nothing less.

The effects on innovation in music would be disastrous if such a scheme were ever to become reality. It’s clearly good for the music labels, who are facing their imminent extinction. For everyone else, though, this is the worst possible thing that could happen.