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Euro Artists Want File-Sharing Tax on ISPs, Google, YouTube


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Groups complain at World Copyright Summit that ISPs unfairly profit from illegal P2P traffic, and that sites like Google and YouTube don't pay "adequate remuneration" to compensate for infringing content. Pledge that it if ISPs don't voluntarily agree to cooperate, will "do whatever it takes to obtain legislative modifications that would clarify this obligation for ISPs."

The World Copyright Summit wrapped up the other day, and European copyright holders floated a variety of proposals to strengthen copyright laws and remuneration that ought to make consumers very nervous.

Among them is forcing ISPs to compensate artists for what they see as unfairly profiting from the network traffic produced by illegal file-sharing.

"The profits that ISPs are taking from the circulation of the works on the Internet turn out to be huge," said Christophe Depreter, chief executive of Belgian authors' society SABAM.

He believes that ISPs are essential to "solving" the problem of illegal file-sharing.

"ISPs are the only ones who benefit from this value [of digital works] by, among other things, making commercially available the repertoire from our members, without associating them to this enrichment," he also said. "ISPs are therefore a key element to the solution. Their active exploitation of our repertoire puts them, without any doubt, in the obligation to obtain licenses from collective management organisations."

Say what? With this logic ISPs would be to compensate copyright holders for the traffic they send to Apple's iTunes or other legal content services. Why do ISPs need to obtain licenses for content their customers may not even have a desire to consume?

When govt's around the globe are trying to increase broadband access among the poor it makes no sense to try and tack on taxes for music licensing, and what would happen if other entertainment industries like movies, books, and software demanded compulsory licensing of their own?

Depreter said that the role of collective management organizations like his is to is to negotiate with ISPs to make this happen, and "if that cannot happen voluntarily, do whatever it takes to obtain legislative modifications that would clarify this obligation for ISPs."

Others like Frank Dostal, member of the supervisory board of GEMA, a German rights performing organization, said he thought content hosting sites and search engines like YouTube and Google ought to give artists a cut of their profits.

"Please, Google, and YouTube, pay us adequate remuneration," he said, complaining that they unfairly profit on the backs of others' content.

Randy Gibb, president of the International Confederation of Societies of Authors and Composers, gave the closing remarks at the summit and expressed "optimism" that ISPs would be enlisted in the fight against illegal file-sharing in light of the European Commission's new Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) strategy.

In it the Commission calls for "cooperation of intermediaries, such as Internet service providers" to fight online infringement; it's exactly what Gibbs is looking for.

"The case does not need to be made anymore: intellectual property rights in their different forms and shapes are key assets of the EU economy," he said.

Where it gets weird though is his call for those who license or use their copyrighted material to "take a longer term view" of profit-making. "Scrabbling for individual short-term corporate commercial advantage will not build a sustainable model that ensures a healthy creative future," he continued.

Now what does this even mean? The problem is rarely entrepreneurs trying to create new business models that use copyrighted material, but rather copyright holders making outrageous demands that ultimately sabotage their plans.

What businessman in his right mind doesn't take a "long term view" when he's investing millions of dollars in financing and man hours to make it possible?

The real problem artists face is the patchwork of licensing laws and restrictions that impede the ability to create viable new business models in the first place, and luckily Michel Barnier, European Commissioner for Internal Market & Services, is working to solve it.

"What we need is a clear enabling network that will bring the necessary legal security to authors' societies, rights owners, and users," he said. "Therefore, I wish to set up a unique European framework that will expedite licensing at the European level and offer a true answer to the increasing consumer demand for mobile cultural goods in the digital era.

SABAM's Stijn Coninx made perhaps the most poignant observation of the summit that I can see, even if it was likely by accident.

"Policy makers and regulators should not categorize creativity as merely products and services that consumers spend money on; creativity makes a difference to people's lives," he said in the summit's opening remarks.

This is why statistics about lost profits from illegal file-sharing are perceived and not actual. Digital goods have a limitless supply.

Coninx said that artists ability to "keep creating must be defended by all possible means," and that you "cannot compare an artist's work with a bottle of red wine."

"You can't eat or drink pictures or words, but they remain in your memory," he continued. "You can't ban music from your mind.

Consumers' ability to enjoy those works should be cherished because they contribute to making their lives worthwhile."

Exactly, and that's why we need to copyright law reform that finally takes this into account. Locking up copyrighted music for the life of the author plus 70 years harms consumers and encourages the kind of illegal behavior groups like SABAM rail against. If an artist lives to be 80 years old that's nearly a century and a half that the public has to pay for the right to "cherish" work that he believes is so important to "making their lives worthwhile."

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