Prem Chandavarkar on Fri, 11 Mar 2005 05:37:10 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> Pay 5 cents for a song

Looks like alternatives are emerging - this one proposed by someone who
knows the music industry well.  Likely to be resisted by the powers-that-be
who seek to protect earnings of the managers rather than artists.  The
question is what kind of technology networks can be designed that would
produce the kind of support directly to the artists that was earlier
provided by the recording industry.

McGill academic has a plan to end file swapping and save the music industry

Wednesday, March 9, 2005

An academic at McGill University has a simple plan to stop the plague of
unauthorized music downloads on the Internet. But it entails changing the
entire music industry as we know it, and Apple Computers, which may have the
power to make the change, is listening.

Peering out from under his de rigueur cap, music-industry veteran Sandy
Pearlman, a former producer of the Clash and now a visiting scholar at
McGill, spoke with a kind of nervous glee while describing his idea at the
Canadian Music Week conference in Toronto last week.

Pearlman proposes putting all recorded music on a robust search engine --
Google would be an ideal choice, but even iTunes might work -- and charging
an insignificant fee of, say, five cents a song. In addition, a 1 per cent
sales tax would be placed on Internet services and new computers -- two
industries that many argue have profited enormously from rampant
file-sharing, but haven't had to compensate artists.

The assumption is that if songs cost only 5 cents, people would download
exponentially more music. Daniel Levitin, a McGill professor also associated
with the project, said that a simple computer program, such as those already
in use on Internet retail sites, could track people's purchases and help
them to dig through what would become a massive repository of music on the

The extra windfall for musicians and those who own the publishing rights to
the songs could be in the hundreds of millions of dollars, or more, Pearlman
said his study predicts.

It may all sound like a pie-in-the-sky idea, academically elegant but
impractical. Or is it?

The head of the British recording industry, who also spoke at the
conference, made much the same point: music companies need to get used to
the idea of selling more music to more people more often, but for less
money. It was a notion repeated often during the conference.

Users of file-sharing services made roughly 25 billion unauthorized
downloads last year, dwarfing the legitimate music industry, and it's only
getting worse. Some upstart technology companies are trying to figure out
ways to profit from file-sharing, but the potential market is limited.

Pearlman added that nothing concrete is in the works with Apple beyond
talks, and he has not yet spoken with Google. Still, Apple is listening, and
this is the company that has already changed the industry by creating, many
believe, the best working model for on-line downloading services.

Pearlman argued that his plan isn't a revolt against the industry. It's
merely a pricing decision. Apple should simply be charging 5 cents instead
of 99 cents a song, he said. This would bring in millions upon millions of
more customers. And he believes that the best place to test this would be in
Canada, which has laws he regards as being more supportive of artists and
accommodating to an initiative such as this.

Yet, Pearlman went further. He said that since this plan puts the onus on a
massive Internet presence to distribute all the music in the world, why not
have such computer companies as Apple and such major Internet companies as
Yahoo simply buy up the world's four major record labels? Pearlman was
careful to add, though, that he doesn't see his plan killing off demand for

The recording industry is against Pearlman's plan. Richard Pfohl, general
council for the Canadian Recording Industry Association, refuted Pearlman on
numerous points at the conference forum, arguing that the plan would violate
every international intellectual property law that Canada has signed in the
last 100 years. It would also obliterate musicians' choices on how their
music could be sold by conscripting them into a 5-cents-a-song system. And
it would destroy record companies' incentive to invest in new acts, Pfohl

Pearlman said that Pfohl misunderstood the idea. Then again, another
record-industry type, casually speaking to Pearlman after the talk, had
perhaps the most succinct counter suggestion. Why not charge 10 cents,
instead of 5, and double the revenue?

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