Hard to Justify a Music File-Sharing Tax

Mar.31.08 | About: Warner Music (WMG)

A Warner Music (NYSE:WMG) guy said something about a mandatory ISP tax as a way of compensating the music industry for file sharing, and naturally people are freaking out. It's an idea that's hard to defend since a) it's a tax, b) not everyone shares files on the internet c) why just compensate a few record labels for the earth shaking gyrations caused by digital distribution?

The idea, if ever implemented -- and I agree with Peter Kafka that it's got a snowball's chance -- would essentially turn the major labels into the equivalent of Airbus... or more realistically Alitalia. A totally, 100 percent dysfunctional operation, hanging on by the barest of government-subsidized threads. Just imagine the current level of mismanagement and multiply it by 10. Actually, it might be the quickest route to killing these labels, since, once subsidized by the government, any sense of their being market-based enterprises would cease, and the companies would dwindle into utter irrelevance. Hate the major labels for some reason? (Maybe cause of how they jerked around Wilco or held back on that Fiona Apple release.) Maybe you should support this idea.

But just to play advocatus diaboli for one second, I wonder if there isn't some analogy to be made to Eugene Volokh's contrarian quasi-libertarian argument in favor of red light cameras. Here's his paper called The Cameras Are Watching -- And It's A Good Thing. The basic gist: by removing the human part of traffic enforcement, opportunities for abuse diminish. Apparently, Volokh got a ticket from one:

While we should be concerned with protecting our liberty and dignity from intrusive government actions, the red light cameras are less intrusive than traditional traffic policing. The law recognizes that even a brief police stop is a “seizure,” a temporary deprivation of liberty. When I was caught on the camera, I avoided that. I avoided coming even briefly within a police officer’s physical power, a power that unfortunately is sometimes abused. I avoided the usual demeaning pressure to be especially submissive to the policeman in the hope that he might let me off the hook. I avoided any possibility of being pulled out and frisked, or my car being searched. I didn’t have to wonder if I had been stopped because of my sex or race or age. And while cameras aren’t perfectly reliable, I suspect that they can be made more reliable than fallibly human officers -- so I may even have avoided a higher risk of being wrongly ticketed. (It helps that the photos mailed with the ticket showed me in the driver’s seat, plus my car’s license plate and the precise place my car supposedly was when the light turned red.)

Now considering the lengths that companies and law enforcement go to to monitor traffic, all in the name of piracy, an ISP tax might do some good. That's just one good though, and probably not nearly enough to justify such a tax.

Addendum: This is killing me, but I swear that awhile a go -- like several years ago -- I read some paper from a "cultureleftist" of sorts in favor or some sort of tax or subsidy such as this. Dear readers: am I delusional or might this have been one of the planks of a certain faction at some point?