Can the Isle of Man offer a solution?

Can the Isle of Man offer a solution?
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First Published: Mon, Jan 26 2009. 10 17 PM IST
Updated: Mon, Jan 26 2009. 10 17 PM IST
Paris: The Isle of Man says it wants to help the wounded music industry stay alive.
The island—a rainy outpost in the Irish Sea—is promoting an offbeat remedy for digital piracy, which the music labels blame for billions of dollars in lost sales. Instead of fighting file-sharing, the local government wants to embrace it—and it is trying to enlist a sceptical music industry’s help.
Under a plan announced this month, the 80,000 people who live on the Isle of Man would be able to download unlimited amounts of music—perhaps even from notorious peer-to-peer pirate websites. To make this possible, broadband subscribers would pay a nominal fee of as little as £1, or Rs67.60, a month to their Internet service providers.
Ron Berry, director of inward investment for the Isle of Man, said the music industry needed radical approaches because of the “utter failure” of its current strategies. Global music sales have fallen nearly 25% since 2000.
Despite nearly a decade of campaigning against piracy, the industry’s international trade group estimates 95% of tracks distributed online are pirated, generating no revenue for the recording firms.
“A lot of people in the business are concerned with how much money they are losing, but not with how much money they could make,” Berry said.
Under his proposal, the money collected by the Internet providers would be sent to a special agency that would distribute the proceeds to the copyright owners, including the record labels and music publishers. They would receive payments based on how often their music was downloaded or streamed over the Internet, as they now do in many countries when it is performed live or broadcast on the radio.
The Isle of Man did not invent this idea. The concept of a so-called blanket licence to distribute music digitally has been discussed since the days when Napster, before its rebirth as a legal service, thumbed its nose at the music industry.
There are precedents for such systems in Europe, where many countries have mandatory licence fees for television owners to finance public broadcasting. Several European countries also impose taxes on blank compact discs as well as audio-visual and computer equipment; the money typically goes to support cultural industries.
In 2006, a French proposal similar to the one being discussed on the Isle of Man made it to parliament, but it was rejected after fierce lobbying from copyright owners. The government later threw its weight behind a new approach: requiring Internet service providers to disconnect persistent pirates.
That plan is still wending its way through the legislature, but it has drawn interest elsewhere, including in Britain. (While the Isle of Man shares a head of state with the UK—the queen—it has its own parliament and makes its own laws.) There, policymakers are dangling the threat of a system such as France’s plan to disconnect pirates, to try to get Internet providers and the music companies to agree on ways to stimulate the development of legitimate digital music sales and to curb piracy.
The island has taken an interest in digital music and other high technology businesses as it seeks to diversify its economy beyond financial services. In 2001, it was the first place in the world to start third-generation cellphone services, known as 3G. Broadband is available in every home, and at least 70% of households are connected.
Berry said he had begun talks with music companies to try and gain support for his plan. “Our size, demographics and history of innovation means that the island could be an ideal test bed.” ©2009/The New York Times
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First Published: Mon, Jan 26 2009. 10 17 PM IST