Friday, August 31, 2007

The RIAA and the EFF "If"

The recent white paper report released by the Electronic Frontier Foundation confirmed the obvious -- suing dead people, 12-year olds and others doesn't stop illegal downloading. Nor do extortion letters sent to colleges and universities. Illegal Internet downloading continues to thrive.

The EFF proposes a modest solution: make virtually all music downloading legal, and assess a fee to downloaders. The money would be collected and administered by an agency similar to ASCAP, BMI, or SESAC. These agencies collectively represent songwriters and gather performance fees from radio stations, nightclubs, stores and other venues playing music. They then tabulate the frequency of everything played by their clients and divvy up the money collected proportionally.

The EFF has a good idea -- but it doesn't go far enough. I propose that instead of trying to persuade individuals to pay up just make this fee part of the cost of going online. Imagine that one dollar paid by every subscriber to every ISP went to a Download Administration Agency (this would be a non-profit organization, not a government agency). The mandate of the DAA would be to monitor as best it could the transfers and downloads of all copyrighted material, and disburse the money collected to the copyright holders whose intellectual property was being used.

This would cover not only music but images, articles, videos -- any kind of creative content.

The goal would be to ensure that everyone would be paid for the use of their material. I grant that wouldn't happen all the time in practice, but if it could be made to work for most content creators, think of the paradigm shift.

Instead of trying to lock down their content to the point of being virtually unusable, artists would be encouraging folks to enjoy their works -- and share them with others. After all, the more the file is shared, the larger the royalty.

Instead of trying to turn back the clock to the 1980's and alienating their customers in the process, the RIAA could simply enjoy the fruits of its members' labors. The more music downloaded the larger the label's paycheck.

Artists and painters could generate income from simply making their works available on the Internet. Every blog that snags an image for a post means a slightly bigger royalty payment.

The Internet could finally realize its potential to be a free-flowing forum of ideas and creativity.

Someone who loves a band and shares their music with all their friends is currently considered a thief and a pirate by the RIAA. With the DAA, that same person would be actively supporting their favorite band by sharing their music, thereby raising their circulation numbers and thus be seen as a desirable asset by the band's label. Which scenario do you prefer?

OK, there are some technical problems to work out, but with ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC the models are already in place. If the RIAA would face reality and adopt the EFF's proposal, we'd all be heading in the right direction.

(And note to the RIAA -- it's where the money is)

- Ralph

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