Last fall, I discussed the future of digital media, especially music, and argued for a system in which digital media is free to users, but artists and producers are paid for it with public funds distributed by observing use. The basic idea, articulated in Terry Fisher’s and Lawrence Lessig’s recent books is that a royalty fund is put aside from taxes (about $10 billion a year, or $100 per family, would do it for the US music market). Playing music files is observed (but not who plays what) by the copyright office through a piece of software running on any device that can see the internet. The Copyright Office then divvies up the fund each year in proportion to plays.
Two developments have brought this development much closer. The first is the demonstration by 411-song that a recording can be identified by software with only fifteen seconds of listening to it over a cell phone, so robust reporting of use is a realistic prospect. The second is the passage by [admittedly, a rump sitting of 58 members of] the French Chamber of Deputies of an amendment to a bill that was supposed to increase filesharing penalties, using digital rights management technology for enforcement. To the astonishment of the Minister of Culture, who offered the bill, M. Alain Suguenot’s amendment goes in exactly the opposite direction, making free file sharing of music and movies legal. The bill includes a tax on internet access to be divided as royalties in an unspecified fashion, so the French are approaching an admirable revolution in intellectual property rights, even if this episode is a piece of political theater for the moment.
“La publication d’une œuvre ou d’une interprétation fixée sur phonogramme, vidéogramme ou tout autre support emporte cession du droit de mise à la disposition du public sur des services de communication en ligne, pour les seuls actes effectués par des particuliers à des fins non commerciales, à une société régie par le titre II du livre III et agréée à cet effet par le ministre chargé de la culture.”
is to transfer non-commercial virtual (en ligne) reproduction rights to a new national quasi-governmental organization as a condition of publication.
The “arm-wrestling”, as Figaro describes the debate, has pitted the country’s largest consumer organization against a variety of publishers and some artists’ groups. Further debate has been put off until after the holidays; this story bears watching.