Warner Music pushing music tax?

Jim Griffin, Warner Music GroupThe tech and finance sites are abuzz with news/discussion about Warner Music Group’s having hired industry consultant Jim Griffin to promote his plan to force internet service providers to charge a fee to all internet users for music rights. The idea is to assess a $5 monthly fee on all internet access accounts which would go into a fund for distribution to license holders. Those paying the fee would have access to a database of all digital music online, at no additional charge.

Some call it a music tax, others a piracy surcharge, and battle lines are being clearly drawn. In an interview with Conde Nast’s Portfolio.com, Griffin shares the label’s perspective.

“Today, it has become purely voluntary to pay for music,” Griffin told Portfolio.com in an exclusive sit-down this week. “If I tell you to go listen to this band, you could pay, or you might not. It’s pretty much up to you. So the music business has become a big tip jar.”

Nothing provokes sheer terror in the recording industry more than the rise of peer-to-peer file-sharing networks. For years, digital-music seers have argued the rise of such networks has made copyright law obsolete and free music distribution universal.

Bronfman has asked Griffin, formerly Geffen Music’s digital chief, to develop a model that would create a pool of money from user fees to be distributed to artists and copyright holders. Warner has given Griffin a three-year contract to form a new organization to spearhead the plan.

On the other side, TechCrunch’s Michael Arrington calls it The Music Industry’s New Extortion Scheme:

Asking the government to prop up a dying industry is always (always) a bad idea. In this case, it is a monumentally stupid, dangerous, and bad idea.

If this happens, it will put an end to the endless creative/destructive energy that is reshaping the music industry today. Good musicians will always find a way to make money. Others may have to follow their passion as a hobby and (shudder) get a day job to pay the bills. But if a music tax is put in place, that innovation will die, and with guaranteed revenues and profits, the need to innovate, market and compete will also die. A music tax is a sure fire way to destroy an industry that is just beginning to really blossom.

Yes, blossom. As terrifying as these days must be for music industry players, it’s clear that a golden age of creativity and innovation is ahead of us, all led by the Internet as a nearly perfect distribution mechanism for their product. Music labels must die. Hopefully, before they do any more damage.

Before bluegrass/folk/acoustic songwriters and artists get excited about this proposal, keep in mind the way that blanket royalty fees have been distributed in the past. A club that featured bluegrass music exclusively would pay fees to the publishers’ unions, none of which ever made its way to bluegrass writers or performers.

Read more on Portfolio.com, TechCrunch or Wired.com.

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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.