The notion that all Internet users should somehow pay the old copyright monopoly structures a monthly fee, to compensate them for file sharing, has popped up again. It does from time to time. It’s a terrible idea, and for several good reasons. It fails to meet basic quality standards for lawmaking. But the most elusive and strongest reason is that it’s a last-ditch attempt to maintain the old power structures where a small pseudonobility were the only ones allowed to create culture.
There are several of these proposals out there. All come from some special interest that basically suggest that all Internet users should pay them on the order of €10 or $10 a month. Most recently, it was Canadian songwriters.
This is a typical political solution, and I say that with the strongest possible contemptuous emphasis on the word political. It is a proposed taxation of the public that fails to answer the most basic question for its justification: Who is going to be compensated for what, why and how? There must be crystal clear answers to these four questions. But there aren’t. Instead, this is a political action of the type “let’s throw some taxpayer money their way in some sort of subsidy to keep them quiet for a while”.
Let’s look at the four questions.
Who is going to be compensated?
Who is going to be compensated? Songwriters, filmwriters, performers, studios, authors, TV script writers — all have asked for €10 or $10 a month. Each. This boils down to a more fundamental question; who is a legitimate creator? Are only the people in the pre-internet era legitimate creators? What about the other 98% of creators that have been enabled by new technology that were previously kept back? This is an obvious attempt to keep a structural privilege through taxation of the public, in a time when the structural advantage of this special interest has disappeared, which is a development to the benefit of all other creators and the public at large.
Assuming that you are indeed picking a special interest, you need to specify at the individual level who is going to be compensated. All previous such schemes, like cassette levies, have been based on pre-internet distribution volumes. Even then, it was a taxation of indie bands for the benefit of the super rich chart-toppers.
Also: it goes without saying, that if you pick a special interest and award them the public’s money like this, everybody and their brother will want in on the scheme. Bloggers, porn stars, hobby photographers, everybody. Those other 98% of creators will suddenly feel structurally disadvantaged, and quite rightly so.
That last paragraph is usually a killer in any debate for an internet levy, by the way. If we are to distribute taxpayer money according to what is being shared on the net, it is only prudent to point out that hardcore pornography accounts for about one-third. It it really reasonable for taxpayer money to subsidize the production of pornography to the tune of millions and millions of euros? Specific precalculated numbers help in the debate. (While I wouldn’t mind at all, this is politics, where different rules apply.)
If the debate opponent says no — and they’ll probably be terrified at the idea — they’ve sunk themselves in a quagmire. Because who is going to determine which culture is worthy of a slice of the pie? Are we going to have governmental boards that determine “approved culture”? While conservative politicians generally would consider that idea to be perfectly reasonable, the debate audience will feel chills going down their spines at the idea.
What should they be compensated for?
That somebody should be compensated implies that they have lost something that they can be compensated for in the first place, and that this loss is beyond dispute. It would be outright arrogant to claim that the effects of file sharing on creators are negative, when all independent evidence points in the opposite direction. The real losers in the game are the parasitic middlemen, the labels and publishers. They are indeed losing out. But creators as a collective make more money now — more than twice the money.
So do commercial companies that fail to add value to an entertainment product really deserve taxpayer subsidies to make up for their literal worthlessness? Which brings me to the next point:
Why should they be compensated?
Assuming that somebody has indeed lost money, why is it the taxpayers’ fault? Why is it in the public interest to serve this special interest? The copyright industry consistently fails to answer this question, and just pretends it should enjoy special privileges.
This also goes back to the fact that a small self-serving group that had previously controlled all culture is now feeling the loss of their exclusive privileges, and is seeking to maintain them at the loss of everybody else. While I can understand the unease that comes with losing such privileges, frankly, neither the world nor the taxpayers owe that particular pseudonobility a thing. In particular, not now that others have moved in to take their stead that are playing nice with the public.
We should also consider the mechanics of purely economic incentives. History teaches us that giving money to somebody for doing nothing at all is a really terrible incentive to do anything else than nothing at all. Such a taxation is not a means of creating new culture.
But it goes beyond that. The copyright industry is currently engaged in a war against civil liberties and the passage of time. Giving this industry a guaranteed income will fill these war coffers directly, and only some remaining breadcrumbs will move on to their politically intended recipients. We’ve seen it before and there’s no indication it should be different this time.
How should they be compensated?
This is an area which completely fails to be addressed. How do you measure how much a particular individual would be compensated? Individual. The key word is individual.
Are you going to measure what is being shared on the networks? That would cause massive dummy sharing immediately, just to boost numbers. Also, it’s eavesdropping to a level that violates privacy concerns.
Are you going to force everybody to use a particular government-mandated sharing technology? This is usually the proposed solution, which falls into the Are you kidding me? category.
Or are you going to use pre-internet distribution volumes, and make all new struggling indie bands pay the richest middlemen all over again?
These proposals fail on every basic question required for quality legislation. Legislation needs to be necessary, effective and proportionate. Proposals about internet levies can’t even answer the first question of why they are needed and what their intentions are.
Of course, all of this does not even start to take into consideration whether it would be at all reasonable to tax an extra €120 or so per month on every internet connection (assuming a dozen or so groups want their €10 each), which in my mind is about as reasonable as jumping about on one leg singing We shall overcome in the middle of the Sahara with the intent of ending world hunger that way.
It is not about money.
It is not about taxation.
It is about a dethroned elite — bordering on nobility — which has lost its privileges, an elite which has been replaced by indie artists of all genres and new distribution methods, and where this elite is seeking to restore its former status of special by an ability to tax the public.
There is no public interest in considering such proposals anything but arrogant, delusional, and obscene.