A number of people have linked to the San Francisco Chronicle, which has published an op-ed touting government tax funded compulsory music licenses (High Stakes in the Music Business - Free Music Needn't be Stolen Music).
First, of course, is the argument that music is non-rivalrous.
On the one hand, artists, creators and distributors deserve to be paid for their work, and it's in our interest to pay them if we want anything to listen to. On the other hand, the kids understand a central fact about digital media: listening to a song, even having MP3 files on their hard drives, doesn't leave any less of it for other people to enjoy.
So, why only music? Why not all digital goods, such as film, video, and software? How come nobody talks about compulsory licenses for these other forms of media? If the important consideration is that they are non-rivalrous, why not?
The argument then moves on to an analogy with government sponsored parks and museums:
Turning to the arts, we find the British have recently reduced museum admission prices to zero. There's been no mass closing of museums, curators are not enslaved, the maintenance people still get paid for their work and paintings are bought from artists and collectors just as before, because the government pays everyone's "admission price."
But, gee, we've never had any major political tussels over the content of museums have we? Yeah, no one would ever be upset at a government-funded display of Serrano
's works, or Mapplethorpe
, or even of a museum display about the first use of an atomic weapon in war
Interestingly, this potential problem in the design of such a system is never mentioned. Could it be that, like the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, politics would never, ever be a consideration in how the money is doled out and we certainly wouldn't have to worry about some version of the FCC fining or somehow censoring offensive works, right?
I wonder if the public hearings that seem to be proposed here would be at all politicized:
What makes music tricky is knowing how much to pay for which song, but it's not impossible. After all, how do we decide if we should have another park or a bigger museum? Essentially, we see how many people are using them now, ask some questions in public hearings and editorial pages, and predict: If we build more, will they come?
Monitoring is tricky, damned tricky, especially when you're talking about billions of dollars at stake. Preventing the system from being gamed and politicized (everyone download Pat Robertson's latest warble to put some $$$ in his pocket!) may not actually be possible. I certainly haven't been convinced that the government can do it without trampling on the First Amendment.
I realize this is a short op-ed, but, geez.