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Who wants a music tax?

This blanket is no comfort

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That sounds like a tax - and compulsory. Is that fair if people don't want music, or want to acquire it by some other means?

"My taxes pay for the war in Iraq, I don't agree with that, but I pay my taxes."

Taxes were originally invented so states could go to war, it's true. Today taxes pay for health provision and infrastructure. But music isn't really the same as going to war, or paying for health is it, Pete?

"I disagree - listening to music has a very therapeutic value. If 90 per cent of people who have a broadband connection pay for access to music, why don't we assume 100 per cent do, and charge everyone a small fee?"

Er, because they don't want to?

Maybe I'd missed something. I decided to ask around to see whether anyone else in the British music business secretly wants a "100 per cent bus fare" on broadband, but is just too shy to say so.

Semantics are important here. In conversations about copyright reform, and new forms of licensing, you'll hear phrases such as "pool of money" or a "charge" to "access music". But neither - and this a crucial point - necessarily involves an annual blanket charge, like the BBC license fee, or Pete's Music Tax.

What Griffin calls an "actuarial model" for music simply involves people agreeing to paying into a pool - like the original Lloyds insurers. No compulsion to take part there, if you don't want to. And eMusic is an "access to music" charge - otherwise known as a subscription - which doesn't involve compulsion either.

So who wants a tax? Here's what I found.

Where did all the support go?

There are various degrees of support for Griffin's collective licensing principle, and for record companies to relax the exclusive right on copying in particular circumstances. This has already happened with the licensing of catalogs to QTrax, the ad-supported service which has a P2P element, and PlayLouder MSP. But I found no enthusiasm and in many places some very strong hostility to the idea of a Music Tax. I couldn't find anyone who didn't prefer voluntary arrangements. In most cases, vehemently so. And the rate at which punters may "access" music should be considerably higher than 50p week - particularly if they were getting something new, such as legal P2P.

Opposition to a Music Tax from the music business is grounded in different objections, I discovered.

The major record companies, represented in the UK by the BPI, neither support a music tax nor see it as feasible. They have historically objected to a tax because it fixes a price for music. So what about their historical antagonists - the publishers and songwriters?

They object for the same reason - as it sets the size of the market. Like the major labels, they prefer to let consumer demand sort it out, rather than backroom arm-wrestling with a quango. (Parts of the music industry here have spent millions on legal fights already with the UK Copyright Tribunal).

In an interview with Digital Music News, BMR's Feargal Sharkey explains why he thinks it's a terrible idea. (BMR represents publishers and songwriters.)

"There's not an awful lot of money, which then has to be divided up. And anytime you want to grow the industry, you have to lobby the government to increase the levies. It's a mind-boggling way to run an industry."

Publishers and composers have a specific reason to object, too. They're anxious that what they perceive as an unfair royalty split today would be set in stone. A piece of recorded music has two copyrights associated with it: The sound recording and the composition. Today, this still reflects the production costs of making, distributing and promoting physical recordings, and so it heavily favours the recording owner at the expense of the composer. At its most generous, the ratio is about 85:15. Many publishers can't see why it can't be 50:50. And with the traditional record label model dissolving, investment may in the future follow the creator (and his publisher), not the label.

I cast around further. How about the indies, then? The independent sector, as AIM's Alison Wenham explains, doesn't want a Music Tax either.

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