The Times Online is reporting that Warner Music – one of the “big four” record labels – is in talks with British ISPs to offer unlimited access to all songs in its library:
Well, if this goes through, the price will be a small fee charged on top of your normal monthly broadband – from the sounds of the similar negotiations taking place in the US recently, this could be around $5 (£2.50) extra per month. Still sound good?
And the top-up charge isn’t the half of it. But before we get onto that, I suppose the big question is: how likely is this to actually happen, and what will it mean for music fans – and artists for that matter?
To answer the first part of that question: pretty likely, especially if indications from the article are anything to go by. British ISPs are reportedly keen on the idea, and one Danish telco has already signed up:
“Separately, three of the major labels – Sony BMG, Warner, and EMI – announced today that they had concluded a deal with a Danish telecommunications company which will open their digital catalogues to broadband and mobile customers as part of their monthly contract.”
Other blogs reported last week that the same plan has been proposed to US ISPs. Techcrunch was uniformly negative; calling this the new extortion scheme of the music industry – or, to put it even more bluntly – “pay us not to sue you“:
“Why will ISPs agree to this? Mainly to avoid liability. The core of the plan is a covenant not to sue anyone who pays the fee. Griffin touched on this in the article, saying ISPs will want to “discharge their risk” around file sharing that occurs over their networks.
The rollout plan will hit colleges and universities first, who will simply add the fee to tuition bills so they won’t have to worry about getting dragged into lawsuits. Then Griffin will approach consumer ISPs. If an ISP joins, their users will not have the option of not paying, even if they don’t download music from the Internet. So, basically, the tax is only voluntary if you define avoiding it as not going to college, or using the Internet.”
So, not only do we have to pay to not be sued, but if you read further in the Times article above the full details of the scheme become clear – and then three of the most widely reviled letters in music journalism pop up almost out of nowhere: DRM. Great: just as we thought we were winning the war against Digital Rights Management, it’s back in the frame.
Well of course, when music execs said DRM was a bad idea, they really meant that it wasn’t making them any money on the current, broken “per track” model of music buying. Now that a next big idea for selling music comes along, it’s right back at the forefront of their thinking.
It’s self-evident that crippling downloads with DRM is a monumentally bad move for consumers – mainly because you don’t own what you’re paying for (albeit via the ISP). But this scheme is also bad news for artists: it surely gives the label even more power than the old system, because they’re getting a flat fee not linked to any artist “sales”. Do you seriously think more of this top-up cash will get back to artists than before? Right…
By the way, I assure you this is not some elaborate April Fool’s joke – though I kind of wish it was.