Andrew Orlowski is quite often worth reading, quite often siding well on the side of individual liberty. He writes mostly for The Register, an irreverent British technology magazine, although he lives in San Francisco. His latest piece is “How the music biz can live forever, get even richer, and be loved“, and was the Keynote address at “In The City,” which is apparently “the UK’s international music convention.”
In this piece, Orlowski explains to the music industry, at great length, how they can do all these things by attaching themselves firmly to my wallet via the government teat. He proposes a tax, preferably on broadband but possibly on the phone bill, which will equal 20% of the record companies’ 2000 revenues, and be divided among them in some manner. This is apparently a “fair” way to make up the revenues lost via Napster and other ways people get music without paying the record companies for it.
Well, Andrew, guess what: I never stole any songs. My parents certainly never stole any songs. We listen to the radio. We buy CD’s and DVD’s. The fact that other people might be bypassing the record companies in no way obligates me to pay for their losses. If they can’t make money under their present business plans, they need to find another, and theft via proxy is not a business plan. Business consists of peaceful interaction perceived as beneficial by all participants.
Ah, but Andrew anticipates my response. He has it all thought out in the list of possible objections on page 8:
– PUBLIC: I never listen to music. Why should I pay for it? – A: I don’t have a car or children, but I pay for your schools and roads. Knowing roads and schools are there is an incentive to join you. It’s a public good, so you might want to start enjoying music now.
– PUBLIC: I don’t download music. Why should I pay for it? I’m not having this on my phone bill! – A: See above.
I’ll take it a sentence at a time.
I don’t have a car or children, but I pay for your schools and roads.
This is, apparently, the “two wrongs do make a right” argument. Instead, perhaps Andrew should question why those who use roads and schools have a right to force him to pay for them. And if they do, then why not those who use racetracks, strip joints, baseball stadiums, bars, golf courses…
Knowing roads and schools are there is an incentive to join you.
Lots of amenities that attract people to a town or society are privately funded, such as restaurants, shopping malls, grocery stores, and cinemas.
It’s a public good, so you might want to start enjoying music now.
Nude fat male street dancing is a public good, albeit enjoyed by few. However, if the Nude Fat Male Street Dancing Association (NFMSDA) gets its way, it will be funded by the NEA, so you might want to start enjoying it.
I actually shudder to think how bad this tax-funded music will eventually be. Will it be as good as we’ve come to expect of NEA projects? Music is, indeed, a public good–in fact, digital music is perhaps the ultimate non-rivalrous good, since anyone who has a computer and wants a copy can get one without driving up the costs for anyone else. However, music and television over the airwaves are also public goods, yet they survive (in America) without being funded through theft. That is because they are bundled with a private good: advertising. They also are in some cases (satellite, cable) encrypted or scrambled in order to discourage freeloaders. However, in the digital realm such efforts are stopgaps at best, as scheme after scheme has demonstrated, and as Orlowski documents in his article.
The root problem is, Orlowski has identified the theft from the record companies and artists (bad) but proposed a solution consisting of an equal and opposite institutionalized theft from broadband or telephone users (worse.) Two wrongs do not make a right, and Orlowski’s solution is no more moral than looting a little bit out of all your neighbors’ houses to replace your electronics after you get robbed–even if you’re sure that one of your neighbors did it. The record companies and artists need to find a way to protect their own rights without violation yours or mine–because if they don’t respect mine, why on earth should they expect me to respect theirs?