January 09, 2003

Reply to "Replace Copyright with Watermarks, Taxes"

Donna Wentworth at Copyfight asks for thoughts on the following music proposal:

Fisher's first choice, he said, would be to recognize that copyright law is increasingly dysfunctional for handling music royalties and to (1) Authorize artists to insert simple watermarks in their creations, (2) Tax, at the multilateral or national level, things such as ISP access and various technologies upon which music is performed, (3) Count the frequency with which each digital product is consumed, (4) Distribute revenue from the taxes in the proportion in which the various products are accessed. Once the system is in place, he said, copyright law can be "lifted."

I think the general outlines are good, and many people (including myself :-)) have said vaguely similar things in the past. However, the devil is in the details. In particular, I've emphasized point #3 for a reason. HOW does he intend to "Count the frequency with which each digital product is consumed"? Super-spyware? Require every player to recognize the watermark? That would of course require non-watermark-responding players to be illegal, right ... (umm ... didn't we just go through this?)

Don't get me wrong, again, the overall idea, of some sort of mandatory license and statistical royalties seems to be the right thing. However, getting the details correct is the tough part. Arguably, this idea worked reasonable well in the "Audio Home Recording Act", with a tax on that digital recording media. And maybe Fisher's riffing off of it.

But if so, it's a riff in a "visionary" manner, where the details are being neglected for the Grand Idea. It's one thing to tax digital tapes, where there's a discrete object, and the tax is small compared to the price. But what is "various technologies upon which music is performed"? The $10 (?) for the motherboard sounds chips? The speakers? He's not planning to tax free-software Linux players as a "technologies", I hope (I'm having a bad DeCSS flashback here, with code as technology!) The bandwidth? It seems like there's just not enough money there.

Maybe he can make it work. But the acid test for any proposal is to work with free (in both speech and beer) software, and come up with some in-the-ballpark numbers.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in copyblight , infothought | on January 09, 2003 03:28 AM (Infothought permalink) | Followups

Seth Finkelstein's Infothought blog (Wikipedia, Google, censorware, and an inside view of net-politics) - Syndicate site (subscribe, RSS)

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