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Compulsory Licensing and Hardware

Aaron Schwartz proposes an ingenious implementation for compulsory licensing on media players. He proposes that devices should share usage statistics with a central authority which would then redistribute the wealth, so to speak. Here are my thoughts.

This ingenious solution presumes that all the parties involved will want to cooperate on standards and information. And that information can be freely exchanged between consumers and businesses and content owners and musicians.

First, I doubt musicians or labels will be happy will this arrangement. It will assure listeners that they are “paying for music” when in fact all you are doing is distributing the proceeds from an arbitary tax. Artists don’t want listeners to think that this share/tax is the only payment that listeners should have to make. Suppose the tax is $30 added to the cost of a mp3 player. You have to understand that right now incumbents want consumers to pay that much just for two or three CD’s by a single artist. There’s no way that they’ll be content with that.

Second, it awards amounts on the basis of plays and not likes. Everyone may have downloaded and listened to Britney Spears, but maybe very few like it. I would much prefer a system that allows users to award shares to their favorite artists (although if they like the music, they may play the song more often). Also, there would probably be ways to game the system. Ex: a person could pawn his/her mp3 as by Eminem on a p2p network, when in fact, it belongs to someone else.

Third, it assumes that artists will register with a centralized service. If you look at musiclink, you will see that a large number of musicians just never get around to doing those things.

Fourth, hardware manufacturers may resist imposing a big tax on their hardware, especially if content companies are trying to make this tax as big as possible.

Fifth, technological assumptions. It assumes that all media playing devices are equipped with the means to measure anonymously frequency of play. Regardless of which scenario is tried, there will be complainers saying that it is not fair. This is a case where a technology solution makes sense, but only if a deity could impose it over the world in one fell swoop. In reality, there are inherent barriers to solutions like this working. Example: if a mp3 player included a compulsory tax, what about car radios? What about music played at restaurants or stadiums? (Because there’s 40,000 at the football game, does that make 40,000 listeners of that song)?

Still, it’s an ingenious solution, and it is a method by which compulsory licensing can be implemented without rewarding the incumbents. As for me, I still think microtipping is the most viable solution.

{ 2 comments… add one }
  • Stephen Downes 9/17/2003, 10:33 am

    But the main objection is… if I want to listen to a song by Brittany Spears 40 time… it’s nobody’s business but my own, and I would thank the central agency to not snoop on my listening habits.

  • Robert Nagle 9/18/2003, 4:05 am

    Excellent point though I have to say that it bothers me less nowadays than it used to. What bothers me more is that the statistics are unreliable, and that people will bicker about percentages. Aggregate statistics don’t bother me if they are not tied to identifying data such as credit card numbers, addresses, or social security numbers. Providing a dummy email or username doesn’t seem to infringe on my rights. Also, access can also help the service by allowing users to view correlations in taste. Perhaps the matter will be moot once everyone is on freenet, and identity no longer seems like a big deal.

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