Monday 21 February 2011

Pros and cons: piracy and the Culture Flat Rate

Piracy is not, to me at least, a very appealing subject. It is, however, by a long way, the most important copyright issue of our time.

Two recent reports remind us of the scale of the problem. ‘An Estimate of Infringing Use of the Internet’ (previously noted on this blog) estimates that 23.76% of internet traffic is copyright-infringing material. Since the report lumps porn in with non-infringing material, it is not unlikely that 1/3 of the internet is dedicated to copyright infringement.

Meanwhile the IFPI’s Digital Music Report 2011 notes such statistics as

— 76% of music obtained online in the UK in 2010 was unlicensed
— Nearly one in four active internet users in Europe visit unlicensed sites monthly
— This is in spite of wide availability of legal music sites (400+ services licensing more than 13 million tracks)
— 2004–2010: recorded music revenues declined by 31%
— New artists and smaller businesses have been hardest hit, e.g. 2003–2010: debut album sales in the global top 50 fell 77%

We have yet to see whether the Digital Economy Act will make a dent in these figures. But what if the current trend continues? An alternative is the ‘Culture Flat Rate’: non-commercial copying on the internet is legalized, paid for by a levy on internet access.

Of course, this solution presents some problems, but are any of them as big as the statistics above? In Germany, the Culture Flat Rate is advocated by the Green Party and last month the Association of the German Music Industry lined up ten arguments against it. However, Leonhard Dobusch has taken the trouble to rebut each one.

Given that this solution would require major changes to EU and perhaps international law and, governments being governments, this would take a long time to implement (in contrast to the speed at which the internet moves) perhaps it is worth giving this option serious consideration sooner rather than later, just in case…

Further reading: ‘The World is Going Flat(-Rate)’ and ‘New Momentum for Culture Flat-Rate in NL and DE’ by Volker Grassmuck


John R walker said...

Replacing copyright with transaction taxes has big costs for society.
Taxes redistribute; the more you earn, the more tax you pay( at least in theory). Copyright is the opposite; the more copies, you sell, the more you get .
Excellence in the arts is very rare - general average level activity is very much the median.
A redistributive substitute (for copyright) must end in the triumph of general activity over excellence.

These redistributive tax substitutes for the individual right of copyright, inevitably involve empowering some sort of ' Arts Academy of peers' as the determiner of who actually gets the money. All academies favor the median and meritorious , they all end in what Delacroix called the " conscientious service of the art of boredom".

The substitution of tax levies ,for copyright, is an anti innovation and anti excellence policy. It would have significant costs for the society that adopts such a policy- the best would leave, they would go to places where talent (and hard work) are rewarded appropriately.

John R walker said...

Hugo, flattening is not an alternative answer to the current problem, it is simply taking the current problem to the maximum size ( And honestly, do they really think that the whole globe will just snap to attention?).

It is expressive of too much secondary level thought and not nearly enough imagination.

Flatland is not that far a step from 'pointland'.

Steven Jay Gould once wrote a piece about his worries about the consequences of the then (1995)rapid flattening , narrowing and specialisation of education.

In his concluding observation, he stated that:
“I am worried that people with an inadequate knowledge of the history and literature of their culture will ultimately become entirely self-referential, like science fiction’s most telling symbol, the happy fool who lives in the one dimensional world of pointland, and thinks he knows everything because he forms his entire universe.”

Gould's essay, 'Sweetness and light' is also one of the best essays on the theme of Swifts 'Battle of the Books' that I have read.

Anonymous said...

@ John - the Culture Flat Rate levy would be distributed between creators in proportion to how often their work was downloaded.

John R walker said...

Hugo, if you can truly individually determine "how often their work was downloaded." Then you have the basis for individual copyright. Or do you mean determined by "sampling'?

How would it be paid to people, who live out side the EU and/or are unaware/unknown of it? Ie what would be done with the large amount of undeliverable payments, would they be returned to the people who paid the levey?

And in this system would the right-holder be able to waive payment?

Anonymous said...

@ John - I am not an expert on the Culture Flat Rate, so can't give authoritative answers to your questions. Moreover, this is at present an idea that has been widely discussed for many years but not yet implemented, so I expect there are a number of possible answers. However, some thoughts...

Grassmuck says: 'it is possible to establish the number of exchanges and the works involved at least roughly as P2P market researchers like BigChampagne have shown'.

I don't know the answer to your second or third questions (which does not mean to say that there isn't one!).

I imagine the right holder could waive a payment.