The Return of the Tape Tax

Indie labels want copyright shift

The UK’s independent music labels want a change in the law so internet service providers (ISPs) become liable for illegal file-sharing by their users.

The Association of Independent Music (Aim) has outlined the plans in a discussion paper on copyright reform.

Aim is concerned the internet has made it easier for people to share music and breach record firms’ copyright.

The organisation wants a fresh approach to copyright law that would cover the role of ISPs in music sharing.

So for starters what AIM want is someone with enough assets to make it worth suing them, but that’s not all…

Aim wants to move away from bringing legal action against individuals who upload music to internet file-sharing services, and encourage the emergence of legal sharing services.

Ways of charging ISPs for acting as an "intermediary" between and music buyers is another area highlighted in the paper, which was published on Wednesday.

This could take the form of a collective licence – similar to the current radio licence in the UK – which would allow ISPs to host file-sharing for a fee that would go to record companies and musicians.

Ultimately, Aim wants the music industry to create a commercial relationship with any company deriving value from either the sharing or storage of music.

Chair Alison Wenham said the plans were the "most innovative potential answer" to issues in the music industry which current copyright law cannot deal with properly.

Yes, the old tape tax returns in a bright new shiny form, under which ISPs would be charged for carrying filesharing traffic, which naturally would be passed on to the customer in higher charges – most likely irrespective of whether a particular customer actually uses a filesharing system or not.

As ever, what the music industry fails to consider in putting forward its ‘innovative ideas’ is that net users are invariably that bit more innovative than they are when it comes to circumventing ideas like this.

At the moment, because of the technical aspects of how most filesharing systems work, it might just be possible to introduce restrictions on the traffic they generate at the ISP’s end and/or charge users a premium rate for an account with filesharing enabled… but for not for very long.

At each stage in the development of filesharing technologies, from Napster to Bit Torrent, the same pattern has emerged in which each legal or technical obstacle put up the industry is rapidly overcome – in fact, the pattern has been that by the time the industry has any success at all in curbing the use of one system, one or more replacement systems are already in place and most of the users, and the traffic they generate, has long since moved on.

Any attempt to single out filesharing systems and their users and levy the kind of additional charges AIM envisages is doomed to failure right from the outset, simply because as soon as they try it you can guarantee a new filesharing system will be rapidly developed to bypass the levy – in this case all one has to do is use a combination of data encryption to prevent ISP’s from analysing and identifying traffic by type, coupled with technical changes in filesharing software to merge the traffic theose systems generate in with standard net traffic, such as web pages, conventional file transfers or even legal music/film downloards, and any chance of applying the levy only to users of filesharing systems disappears out of the window immediately.

The alternative is to charge ISPs, and therefore everyone, a standard filesharing ‘tax’, the problem being that this will almost inevitably result in even more people downloading music illegally on the basis that they’ll figure that they’re already paying for it once, in higher ISP charges, so they’ll be damned if they’re going to pay for it again…

…and a another attempted tape tax bites the dust…

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