Just a Handout? British Musicians Demand a Private Copying Levy…

Musicians and songwriters deserve to get paid, but do they lose respect by asking for handouts? Just this week, a consortium of British musicians and songwriters started pressing for a levy on consumer electronics manufacturers based on private copying, despite obvious practical issues.

The question is whether this makes any sense in the current climate, or if there are other ways to improve musician compensation.  Part of the problem is that private copying, or multi-format time-shifting, was something that definitely existed five years ago, but is becoming antiquated today. Back in a simpler time, say 2007, things more or less looked like this.

In other words, a lot of distinct copies were being made, often of music that was stolen.  Even more insulting, these copies were benefiting the hardware manufacturers, not the creators of the music itself.  And the irony of it all? Without the music, these devices would be far less interesting (or even viable).

Fast-forward to a fresh 2013, and the terrain is largely shifting away from discrete copies.

This is a world we know well.  Hard-stored files are phasing into cloud-enabled collections, with companies like Apple paying rights owners handsomely for the privilege of perfect duplication.  On-demand and non-interactive formats (including internet and satellite radio) and now ubiquitous, with temporary, cached copies (or pieces) the norm.

Which is why UK legislators opted not to redirect taxes from private copying, ruling that duplicates are now mostly a way of digital life.  “While we understand the need for this exception to bring the law into line with consumer behavior, we feel strongly that the lack of fair compensation will significantly disadvantage creators and performers in relation to the vast majority of their EU counterparts,” wrote John Smith, General Secretary of the UK-based Musicians’ Union (the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers, and Authors (BASCA) is also part of the consortium).

Complicating matters is that the winners in the current space are actually paying for content.  But the amounts are frequently low, and oftentimes never make it back to the artist.  Meanwhile, the state of musician compensation continues to deteriorate, with the number of unemployed or underemployed fairly high.  “It is a sobering thought that, despite an outstanding international reputation for British musicians, most MU members earn less than £20,000 ($32,000) a year from their profession,” Smith continued.  “According to PRS for Music, 90 percent of UK composers earn less than £5,000 ($8,000) from songwriting royalties.”

The question is whether enacting an outdated tax is the solution to this issue, or whether it makes more sense to force better compensation from a system that actually exists.

Written while listening to De La Soul and JaBig. 

24 Responses

  1. Realist

    Private Copy Levies technically make piracy legal. Now do you want them?
    Oh yeah, and the money is paid out to the highest earners first and foremost (lining the pockets of McCartney & Bono before any underpaid musicians). Still want them?!

  2. hippydog

    I have to ditto what “realist” said..
    Canada implemented EXACTLY what is talked about in this article..
    At first it made sense, (and seemed to be a fair solution) but pretty quickly technology made it antiquated and somewhat silly..
    EG: charging a levy for “audio recording CDRs” but not for “data CDRs”.. WTF? by the time they corrected that stupidity people had already moved on to SD cards and built in memory, etc etc.. (I have more examples but I wont bore you)

    basically.. the law makers CAN NOT keep up with the changes.. and it ends up creating more problems then it solves..
    in the digital age we CAN NOT monetize the physical medium.. The sooner the music industry realizes that the CD is dying (and any variants of it), the sooner we can hopefully find a real solution..

  3. Ambient haze studios

    simple solution, add $4 a month to every internet bill, send it straight to their respective countries artist royalties agency. too easy.

    • Visitor

      $4 is not enough.. Just add $40/mo to every Internet bill, start a collection society for ALL content (not just music) and totally legalize filesharing.

      • Ambient haze studios

        there’s 240 000 000 internet users in the states alone, at $4 a month, $11520000000/year, plenty once you add all other counties

    • Casey

      Simple solution to you, perhaps. But a terrible idea. The internet is simply a communications network made up of millions of routers, switches, servers, miles of copper, miles of glass, etc. Taxing people to use the internet and giving it to copyright holders, because someone may use it for piracy would be like taxing people to drive on roads and giving the money to victims of property theft, because someone may use them to get away after they rob a house. It doesn’t make any sense.

      • Ambient haze studios

        merely a small fee that compensates, open to hear a better idea though

        • Casey

          But you have absolutely no right to be compensated for someone simply subscribing to an ISP connection. As I have said, the internet is just another network. In truth it functions similarly to the road network we have built in this country. So people use the internet to steal music. Who cares. People use roads to steal steal physcial CDs. So people buy music off stores on the internet. People use roads to buy music from stores too. The internet is simply a network. We use it to access resources. Artists are not entitled to make a dime off the internet simply because of what it *could* or *is* used for.

          • Visitor

            if the inernet is the same as roads, and there is road tax, a levy for music/movies is feasable/acceptable

          • Visitor

            But a road tax goes directly to maintaining the roads. If you want to introduce an internet tax to benefit developing broadband infrastructure and the like, that might be a reasonable conversation to have. We don’t collect tolls on highways and give them to people who are victims of hit-and-run accidents..

    • Ambient haze studios

      Also it isnt a tax, its a fee for copyrighted music if you so choose to source it from the internet

      • AnAmusedGeek

        It’s a poor solution because, if you can opt out of it, pirates will.
        If you can’t opt out of it, its a tax …
        In which case, people like me that don’t listen to music will have a real issue with it.
        The bottom line is, you will NEVER make money off pirates.
        They already know they are stealing from you, and don’t care you have a living to make. If you find a bullet proof way to make them pay for your music, they just won’t listen to it. Prosecute them, fine them, whatever…but don’t delude yourself into thinking you’ll make money off them.

        They have already decided they don’t care enough about you or your music to fund new works.

        • Ambient haze studios

          the fees go to the artist, not the government, therefore it is not a tax

          • AnAmusedGeek

            No, I don’t listen to music
            I also find it rather telling that you resort to debating terms, rather then the merits of the arguement. As I said, I feel your plan would be either ineffective, or onerous to people that have no interest in music. You haven’t said anything to change that perception.

          • Ambient haze studios

            I find it rather telling, that you poo poo an idea, as simplistic and basic as it is, without suggesting an alternative idea. if this were in place, maybe it could apply to plans over a certain data size. do you watch pay tv? do you watch every channel? your paying for them regardless. If you choose not to listen to music, thats up to you, but it would be part of the package

          • AnAmusedGeek

            I don’t claim to have a solution – you do. However, your ‘solution’ seems to be ‘force every internet user to pay for it whether they use it or not’. Needless to say, I’m underwhelmed

            Hey – you use Firefox right? Maybe we should add a tax to your internet bill for open source developement. If you choose not to use firefox, thats up to you, but it would be part of the package.

            (and no, I don’t watch pay tv – I don’t buy bundled services)

          • Ambient haze studios

            I did amend it to plans over a certain data limit, then you have the choice, not forced into anything

          • Visitor

            Taxes are revenues collected by a government so yes it is a tax. Not saying taxes are inherently bad, but lets not try and bullshit words here.

          • Ambient haze studios

            in the original article yes, that is a tax, with my idea, and thats all it really is, the government has no involvement in the process, so no it isnt a tax in that situation

    • hippydog

      @ Ambient haze studios “simple solution, add $4 a month to every internet bill”
      The idea has been proposed before.. but it has a few problems..
      1.) how much? $4 would not cover the losses that would happen..
      2.) As per the levy I mentioned above in Canada, once that was implemented the public quickly started to believe they were given a license to copy & steal at will.. and the supreme court backed it up (kinda), making Canada almost a haven for the pirates.. If something like this (across the board levy) happened it would very quickly wipe out ALL paid anything (from Itunes, to CD’s, to things like Spotify)
      3.) who gets the money? This would just reinforce that the only tracking of what is popular (usage) is terrestrial radio.. so the Bon jovis of the world would get paid.. the long tail? the non-top-40? …not so much..
      4.) Labels still have a death grip on CD’s and ‘unit sales’.. They are NOT going to give that up willingly..
      I’m not saying its a “bad” idea.. but the logistics of trying to implement it in our current state of upheavel makes it almost impossible. There is simply not enough people that would back it..

      • Casey

        The biggest problem would be that it would be ruled unconsitutional if the government tried to push it through as a law. Without a doubt. And ISPs would never go along with something like this voluntarily.