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Why songwriters couldn't join the Choruss

Legal P2P failed because it was too vague - and risky

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Jim Griffin's bold plan to take P2P file sharing out of the black economy, and into the one that deals with green folding stuff, flopped because it couldn't explain to songwriters how they'd get paid.

That's president of the Songwriters Guild of America Rick Carnes's view of Choruss' demise and he says it's why the songwriters didn't back the plan. Similar blanket licence proposals have been made by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and others; but for Carnes these are little more than a rhetorical fig-leaf.

"The EFF doesn’t have a plan, they barely have a theory," he says on the MusicTechPolicy blog.

Could a similar plan to take P2P legal work? Well, in 2007, the Canadian songwriters proposed a similar blanket licence - creating a "right to remuneration for music file sharing" - one backed by a tax. In their scheme, both end-users and songwriters who don't like the terms could opt out.

It's hard to find any other organisation that backs such a proposal, because few volunteers would be found - and the small amount they pay would not compensate for the possible destruction of other online businesses, such as Amazon, iTunes and Spotify. Nor would overseas artists take kindly to a unilateral step.

Nevertheless, it's won tentative support from US songwriters.

"The SGA will continue to support the initiative as long as there is an opt-out included. Without the opt-out we cannot support them without more discussion about the details of the system. One of the things we tell songwriters is never sign a contract without understanding all the details. We adopt that same attitude in supporting legislation," says Carnes.

Paul Sanders whose company came within a whisker of launching the first legal P2P service with Virgin last year, says Choruss fell down on the issue of liabilities. A legal P2P offering can't hope to get every licensee in the world signed up - every owner of master recordings, every publisher and every song writer.

So there will be an exposure to infringement litigation. That's fair enough if you're a network owner - an ISP - or a service provider; you can reasonably claim good intentions. Instead, Choruss revived the old client/server model of Napster, this time with a revived AudioGalaxy.

"Once they went to the client model they became potentially liable, in my opinion. You can deal with what you can't see in a free flowing network much more easily when your software does not actually hold an infringing copy in managed storage," he told us.

You can read the Carnes interview at MusicTechPolicy

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