Who wants a music tax?
This blanket is no comfort
In Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow, set in WW2 London, a character called Slothrop begins to realize that everywhere he has sex, a V2 rocket subsequently lands on the same spot, obliterating the area. If you dig a little, you may notice something spookily similar with the idea of a Music Tax in the media.
Back in March, talk of a Music Tax suddenly exploded at the SxSW music conference in Austin. WiReD's blog ran a story by Frank Rose, entitled Music Industry Proposes a Piracy Surcharge on ISPs.
"[The] idea is to collect a fee from internet service providers - something like $5 per user per month - and put it into a pool that would be used to compensate songwriters, performers, publishers and music labels." Apparently this was the brainwave of Jim Griffin, a collective licensing advocate hired by Warners to think the unthinkable. Here's an interview with him from 2004, where he dismisses the idea that collective license should be compulsory, should penalise non-participants, or be imposed by the government. "Government has an after the fact role, as it does with Antitrust legislation. The arguments should be voluntary," he said then, and sources indicated he hadn't changed his mind.
A pool, yes, but not a tax.
Coincidentally, the International Music Managers' Forum happened to be meeting in Austin, and its former head (and now Emeritus President) Peter Jenner was quoted in the article.
Last week, another screaming came across the sky, and another Tax Bomb fell to earth, this time in London.
"Should the music industry tax you to use the Web?" asked CNET. "Leave it to our friends across the pond to come up with a creative, tax-heavy way of punishing music downloaders," wrote Brian Heater at PC Magazine, who continued - "Culture Secretary Andy Burnham is proposing yearly fees of £20 to £30, which would be imposed by ISPs."
Both drew on an article in the Independent. While the rest of the British media gorged on the Memorandum of Understanding between major ISPs and the music business, and the Business Department's proposals on file sharing, the Indie alone had an unusual bit of news everyone else had missed.
"Music industry to tax downloaders (£30 'licence fee' set to revolutionise illegal file-sharing)", the paper's Nigel Morris reported.
"Peter Jenner, a veteran music industry figure who now manages the singer Billy Bragg, who has championed the plan for an annual charge, said last night that the idea was attracting growing support," claimed Morris. "He said the cash raised by including the top-up in the fees paid to ISPs could match the current £1.2bn turnover of the British record industry. Mr Jenner said: 'If you get enough people paying a small enough amount of money you can turn around the wheels of the music industry.' "
So was Jenner our man? It looked like every time Peter talked to the media, a story about a Music Tax exploded a few days later. But it only seemed fair to ask the lad himself.
Jenner denied planting the story - the Indie had called him, he told us, not the other way around.
And so where did the reporter get the idea that the Music Tax would be £30 a year?
"That came from my calculations that if everybody paid £2 a month, then you get the size of the record business today."
Right. So it's a tax, then?
"It's a tax in the same sense that when you get on a bus, you pay a fare. If you don't, then tough shit, you get thrown off the bus."