Addicted to novelty since 2001

The Five Dollar Music Tax Ought to Be Voluntary

Everybody seems to be up in arms over the music industry’s new proposal for a new American tax to save their industry. The always-raging Michael Arrington leads the charge:

Good musicians will always find a way to make money. Others may have to follow their passion as a hobby and (shudder) get a day job to pay the bills. But if a music tax is put in place, that innovation will die, and with guaranteed revenues and profits, the need to innovate, market and compete will also die. A music tax is a sure fire way to destroy an industry that is just beginning to really blossom.

The tax would allegedly be $5/month, charged by all participating ISPs. I imagine that it would become buried in your monthly internet bill, much like the private copying levy is embedded into the price of Canadian iPods, hard drives and recordable media. While technically you might be able to seek out an ISP that isn’t participating in the program, the industry would goad, bribe, sweet talk or sue dissenting ISPs into a more agreeable stance.

As Arrington points out in a subsequent post, the plan is basically a “covenant not to sue anyone who pays the fee”.

The idea of a $5 a month tax isn’t new. In fact, the Electronic Frontier Foundation proposed a very similar approach three years ago. The only difference is that their levy would be voluntary:

The concept is simple: the music industry forms a collecting society, which then offers file-sharing music fans the opportunity to “get legit” in exchange for a reasonable regular payment, say $5 per month. So long as they pay, the fans are free to keep doing what they are going to do anyway—share the music they love using whatever software they like on whatever computer platform they prefer—without fear of lawsuits. The money collected gets divided among rights-holders based on the popularity of their music.

I still think artists ought to be paid for their work (heck, I made a website about it). Would I pay $5 per month to get complete access to all music ever recorded, avoid prosecution and forget about the phrase ‘traffic shaping’? In a heartbeat. I already pay eMusic $15 a month to download 50 songs from a comparatively small archive of 3 million. Such a tax like this would be a discount.

Just as the Canadian levy is applied to a lot of consumers who have never illegally downloaded a song, a de facto mandatory tax will punish the many for the actions of the few. The music industry ought to make this tax voluntary, and take what they can get.

9 Responses to “The Five Dollar Music Tax Ought to Be Voluntary”

  1. Derek K. Miller

    Speaking as someone who has made his living as musician from time to time, I have to say this tax is a remarkably stupid idea. But a voluntary monthly fee for access to vast music libraries? Brilliant.

    If only the music oligopolies had run with that idea back in 1999-2000 when they had the opportunity with Napster.

  2. Davin

    I just want to point out that there are many things wrong with the suggestion of a music tax, or an option buy-in to a massive music library. With both scenarios you are decimating your ability to track what has actually sold – and so distribution of collected money becomes impossible. The idea is critically flawed.

  3. darren

    Davin: I think you’re making some assumptions about the future distribution of music. For example, imagine if iTunes became the de facto distributor of all the world’s music, free after paying a fee. They could easily track how the music was distributed.

  4. Chris

    I use the interenet a lot but almost never listen to music. I really don’t understand why anyone would think there’s a correlation between the two.

  5. Duane Storey

    I think iTunes is great, but a lot of people still want physical copies of CDs, or DRM free versions. Also, iTunes is appealing to musicians because they get a larger piece of the pie. I imagine Apple will get more greedy as they continue their world domination, at which point who’s to say that they will be unlike the currently recording companies, who take upwards of 90% and leave the artists with 10%.

    Calling it a tax is just a money grab, no different than the digital levies on CDs (which were supposed to go to the artists, but guess what, they’ve never seen a dime) or the RIAA suing individuals (once again, they’ve never given any of that money to any of the artists). So unless that tax is guaranteed to go to the artists, it seems like a horrible idea.

  6. david gratton


    Jim Griffin’s plan is to sample the “internet” just as Socan or sound exchange does. So Davin is actually correct in that small indy artists will be under represented in any dispersal of funds.

    The other major issue with this plan is:
    1. ISP tax for music, without consideration for other types of digital content or products is flawed. Where is Poetry in this equation? How much for a Margaret Atwood piece? How about software being stolen over P2P networks? Why not sample the net for that and make payments to the software companies?

    2. Jim’s plan is to recoup lost CD sales, yet his plan taxes the wrong people to subsidize people like me who would be happy to pay 60 bucks a year.
    I wrote on this here:

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