An Internet Levy is a Terrible Idea

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?

In summary

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.

Rick Falkvinge

Rick is the founder of the first Pirate Party and a low-altitude motorcycle pilot. He lives on Alexanderplatz in Berlin, Germany, roasts his own coffee, and as of right now (2019-2020) is taking a little break.


  1. Falkvinge (@Falkvinge) (@Falkvinge) (@Falkvinge) (@Falkvinge)

    on #infopolicy: An Internet Levy is a Terrible Idea

  2. Falkvinge (@Falkvinge) (@Falkvinge) (@Falkvinge)

    Proposals of internet levies are really about taxing the public to restore a status of "special" to a former elite:

  3. Doktor FrankenTan (@FrankenTan)

    RT @Falkvinge: Proposals of internet levies are really about taxing the public to restore a status of "special" to a former elite:

  4. Pirate Party AU (@piratepartyau)

    On why an Internet levy to prop up old institutions is a bad idea || #openinternet #copyright #informationpolitics

  5. Dr Hitchcock (@starlifterradio)

    RT @piratepartyau: On why an Internet levy to prop up old institutions is a bad idea || #openinternet #copyright #informationpolitics

  6. Brendan Molloy (@piecritic)

    RT @piratepartyau: On why an Internet levy to prop up old institutions is a bad idea || #openinternet #copyright #informationpolitics

  7. Andrew Bishop (@Random_Wookie)

    RT @Falkvinge: Proposals of internet levies are really about taxing the public to restore a status of "special" to a former elite:

  8. Piratpartiet Live! (@piratbloggar) (@piratbloggar)

    Falkvinge on Infopolicy: An Internet Levy is a Terrible Idea:
    The notion that all Internet users should s…

  9. Sunil Abraham (@sunil_abraham)

    RT @piratepartyau: On why an Internet levy to prop up old institutions is a bad idea || #openinternet #copyright #informationpolitics

  10. Mark Gerbils (@gerbilsooo)

    RT @piratepartyau: On why an Internet levy to prop up old institutions is a bad idea || #openinternet #copyright #informationpolitics

  11. Mike Linksvayer (@mlinksva)

    No kidding #levy #tax #cultureflatrate #whateveryouwanttocallit

  12. of_darkness

    Hmm 100spänn till dem och 100 till dem osv osv till slut blir det ett par tusen per månad iaf… och det ovanpå alla andra räkningar..

    Men visst om vi säger att varje artist och kulturskapare ska ha en garantilön på runt millen i per månad så..:P

  13. Peter Hanspers (@peterhanspers)

    RT @Falkvinge: Proposals of internet levies are really about taxing the public to restore a status of "special" to a former elite:

  14. Fredrik Hällund (@fredrikhallund)

    An Internet Levy is a Terrible Idea

  15. hampton.hampton (@hampton_678)

    An Internet Levy is a Terrible Idea – Falkvinge on Infopolicy: The notion that all Internet users should somehow…

  16. dartigen

    Ugh. Why am I the only one who bothers to apply logic to copyright issues?
    Ok, question 1: Why do people pirate?
    A) They can’t afford it.
    B) They can’t get it where they are.
    C) It’s no longer available (in the case of certain movies and albums).
    D) They’re not sure if they like it yet and want to try it out (mainly software).
    E) They don’t want to wait for it to be available easily to them (mainly movies).
    To solve A), bring down prices, or encourage sites and services like Netflix, Starz On Demand, iTunes, etc.
    To solve B)…ok, B is a difficult one, but online stores usually solve it (although I’m still annoyed about the lack of foreign-language music on iTunes).
    To solve C), any rare albums, movies, etc. should be carefully archived. Remember how NASA lost the footage of the moon landing? Would’ve been a disaster if some clever people hadn’t kept their recordings. Encouraging the recording of live shows by concert organisers can also help save rare recordings.
    To solve D), encourage software manufacturers to make more trials and demos of software and games. Provide more previews of albums and movies.
    To solve E), encourage movie studios to release DVDs on a more consistent time scale (I hated it when I planned to see Star Wars Episode 3; I had to cut myself off from the Internet for a week because people in the US and Europe had already seen it and were spoiling the plot) and closer to cinematic release times – because let’s be honest, could you remember anything about Avatar or Transformers six to eight months after it was released? Did you even remember that you saw it? Probably not. Releasing DVDs close to cinematic releases encourages people to buy the DVDs, and more DVD sales = more profit.

    This is not a difficult concept to understand, or shouldn’t be if you finished primary school.
    The problem here is just like you said – all the middlemen are pissed off that some little indie companies are doing better than them through filesharing. Big labels hate indie bands, big movie companies hate independant films.
    You know why? Because they know that they’re not needed anymore.
    10, 20 years ago, you needed a recording studio to record an album. You needed their specialised equipment, because it wasn’t available to the average Joe. Now you only need a sound card, a PC with a CD burner, and a copy of Audacity or Adobe Audition, and you can record a whole album in the comfort of your home. If you really want to shell out, about $10,000 will build you a soundproofed shed to use as a studio. A spindle of 100 blank CDs is only about $50, maybe less, and you can buy a burner drive for $20 – and there’s a zillion free programs to burn the music to disc at perfect quality.
    Even 10 years ago, you needed a film company to record a film – you needed their effects people, their makeup artists, their access to actors, and their equipment. Now you can pick up a HD camcorder with a hard drive for anything between $200 and $1000, with a tripod. There are free makeup artistry courses everywhere, and freelance makeup artists all over the place. Actors? Go find people off the street. And that’s assuming you’re doing live action – granted, animation is still in the realm of big producers like Disney and Dreamworks, but machinima has become a whole new realm that anyone can get into.
    On top of that, most specialised equipment used in film – like dollies and Steadicam harnesses – is becoming more and more available to the average person, either through film schools or through stores, or even improvisation.
    Making music and movies is no longer the realm of big studios with special equipment that’s not available to your average Joe. Music and movies can be made by anyone these days, with relative ease and little expense.

    (I’m not paying an Internet levy anyway. I pay enough for my pitiful data allowance already, I’m not paying more. But I wish the pro-copyright crowd would start seeing the big picture for once – that it’s not a matter of us vs. them, it’s starting to became partly a matter of supply and demand, and partly a matter of marketing. They’ve lost touch with their consumers, so their consumers are going elsewhere. That’s what happens when you try to cling to the old ways.)

    1. Arthur

      Valid points all of it!

    2. Stefan

      F) Because it’s a better service
      G) Because digital goods have no market value

      Why should you pay for something when there’s no reason to do so?

      1. Rick Falkvinge

        I need to agree with Stefan here — while Dartigen makes good points based on sound capitalistic market principles, Stefan takes the same reasoning one step further.

      2. NingúnOtro

        Why do people Pirate?

        I do not agree with Rick that Dartigens points are based on sound capitalistic market principles. Capitalistic market principles do apply but fail to be uphold, certainly.

        Capitalistic market principles are enforced out of interest, by those who benefit from them. Still, they are easier to apply on the material goods of the traditional industry, even if fighting counterfeiting is not easier than any other fight involving legalese, than on the increasing digital volatility of virtual assets that escape their prison of material supports (text, sound, image).

        Stefan does NOT take the arguments one step further… he cherrypicks those that suit him best without regards to any other.

        F) Because it’s a service that suits him better, more convenient and probably cheaper. I do not know what he earns a living with, but it would suit me better to pay them 1/10th of what he charges now, and that he be waiting just outside my door instead of me having to look for him on the other side of town. Whether he can survive under these conditions is none of my business, I just want them to be because it suits me fine.

        G) That’s the easy way to put ones conscience to sleep. What value do they have anyway? Why would he appreciate and want to have goods that have no value?

        Why should I pay? … is a question one should not try to answer before solving this other one: Why should I be paid?

        This said, we are not living in a situation where one can think calmly and honestly about these issues. Force is used instead of arguments to pay anyone less salary than he deserves, and unavoidable commodities are always forcefully priced more than one can afford. I can understand that people being beaten by both sides of this equation resort to not paying at all for anything else if they can avoid being forced to.

        One could even develop a Diogenes syndrome for such kind of items, trying to accumulate a fortune of things one has not paid for even if they are too many to be enjoyed anyway. What else but a psychologic placebo can it be to accumulate more books, music and video than lifetime you have to enjoy the content?

        And while you enjoy placebo… other people that do not care about cultural contents care about really important things.

      3. Matt

        Digital goods have no value? Wow, I guess Apple hasn’t sold billions of digital goods through iTunes. I guess Zynga hasn’t sold billions of digital goods on Facebook. I guess the entire games industry of China and Korea doesn’t exist.

        Open your eyes.

  17. Qeruiem (@Qeruiem)

    RT @Falkvinge: Proposals of internet levies are really about taxing the public to restore a status of "special" to a former elite:

  18. Mark Stewart-Pearson (@marksp54)

    RT @piratepartyau: On why an Internet levy to prop up old institutions is a bad idea || #openinternet #copyright #informationpolitics

  19. Antti Nilakari (@andynzor)

    RT @Falkvinge: Proposals of internet levies are really about taxing the public to restore a status of "special" to a former elite:

  20. Shaun Dyer (@ShaunPPUK)

    RT @Finlay4Glasgow: Well duh. Shame the UK gov gave us one with #deact RT @Falkvinge on #infopolicy: An Internet Levy is a Terrible Idea

  21. Luís Carvalho (@FatGiant) (@FatGiant) (@FatGiant)

    An Internet Levy is a Terrible Idea

  22. Christopher Käck (@kejsarmakten)

    RT @Falkvinge: Proposals of internet levies are really about taxing the public to restore a status of "special" to a former elite:

  23. Javier Machicado (@JAMachicado)

    RT@Falkvinge Proposals of internet levies are really about taxing the public to restore a status of a former elite:

  24. RT @falkvinge An Internet Levy is a Terrible Idea #copyright #infopolicy #levy

  25. alindl

    Fundera ut ett sätt att särskilja riktiga kommentarer från twitterskräpet som 90% av tiden bara är en repost av en länk till sidan jag redan befinner mig på.

    Kommentarfältet är helt jävla hopplöst att läsa i sitt nuvarande tillstånd.

    1. Rick Falkvinge

      Yup, that’s enroute.

  26. Scary Devil Monastery

    For me the major stumbling block of an internet filesharing levy is simply the one where there is no hard border between what is reasonable lunacy and what is completely unreasonable lunacy. Let’s face it, every day we are forced to do things which on the whole of it makes no sense, is unfair, or can be described as divorced from reality.

    But as every sysadmin knows, even the best kept systems tend to run on quick fixes and custom hacks. Same goes for society. We can be as perfectionist as we want, but in the end we will always retain the conflict between “rights holders” and consumers.

    A levy which is at least capable of putting a token recompense in the hands of the artists (and not in the hands of go-betweens) is vastly preferable (even if inaccurate) to the current system, simply because it may completely undercut organizations such as ifpi, MPAA and RIAA in both a moral and legal sense.

    Add to that the very reasonable criticism Rick describes above and we may still end up with this as the preferred lesser of two evils. With the extra caveat that there’s nothing from stopping such an unreasonable solution from spiralling out of control completely (also as described by Rick).

    We may still end up with something like this as a permanent “interim” solution in Sweden.

  27. carnops

    Another point has to be set :

    Why should I have to pay for something I don’t use?

    I personnally, decided to boycott “superstar” bands and singers when I joined PP, because I disapprove the way their “employers” are working.

    I only download CC-licensed music because I am free (as in Freedom) to do it and to share with friends. Maybe they’ll come in my region and I’ll be pleased to pay the fee.

    Here in Belgium, it’s forbidden to force someone to buy something against their will. That’s how I see levy : forced buying.

  28. […] ignore the legislative quality that fails to answer the basic who is going to be compensated for what? […]

  29. […] juste d’obliger les gens qui ne téléchargent rien à payer quand même, ou pour savoir pourquoi des entreprises devraient être dédommagées pour cause de progrès technologique, ou encore pour savoir comment prendre en compte les multiples connexions (mobiles) à internet que […]

  30. Sharing Licence Library «

    […] Falkvinge, Rick (SE 2011): An internet levy is a terrible idea, Falkvinge & Co. on Infopolicy, 9.3.2011 (online). […]

  31. Civ

    I’ve been exploring for a little for any high-quality articles or weblog posts in this kind of house .
    Exploring in Yahoo I eventually stumbled upon this site.
    Reading this info So i am happy to express that I have a very good uncanny feeling
    I found out exactly what I needed. I such a lot definitely will make sure
    to don?t disregard this website and provides it a glance regularly.

Comments are closed.