It's getting on for three years now since former Clash and Billy Bragg manager Peter Jenner first floated the idea that the music industry should receive cash from a levy on the cost of digital connections. He's still banging away at it, although he's smart enough to propose that the telecoms industry might want to hide it away from the customer's eyes:
The Government can insist compensation has to be paid by the DSPs for the non-commercial, unauthorised use of copyright material. How they pay for this nominal amount is up to them. Maybe it gets paid out of customer retention and acquisition budgets, maybe through higher fees tied to higher capacity services, maybe through advertising or sponsorship or any combination thereof.
Interestingly, Jenner is suggesting that this money replace the current 'selling things' business model of the music industry. So what he's describing here as a "nominal amount" is actually the entire income of the British music sector. Which would suggest it's quite a large figure. Surely the pile of money is either nominal, or it's not? And if it is nominal, then why make a fuss about it?
Jenner then reveals exactly how nominal the sum he has in mind would be:
It is worth noting that the payment of £2 per month per customer with a broadband connection would generate £1.2 Billion, if there were 50 million broadband enabled customers in the UK. This sum is as big as the highest gross value of the UK Record Industry at its height, and at full price with no allowance for discounts, returns etc. This revenue would come through allocated to track without any need for warehouses, shipping, returns, salesmen, distribution, retailers etc.
So, it's as much money as the music industry has ever made. That sort of nominal figure.
Jenner's figures are about as meaningful as his argument is rigorous - at the moment, according to the National Office Of Statistics, there are 18 million households that have internet access. That's 65 per cent of all households, so even if the other 35 per cent of households did come online, you'd still only have at most thirty million; if you add in the 2.6 million businesses you'd still be struggling to get anywhere near fifty million. Jenner might be arguing that you pay the levy for every connection, but that would be even more absurd - why should someone who could listen to music all day, every day through a single connection be paying a quarter as much as someone who has broadband at home and in their office, and a work mobile phone and perhaps a personal one, but never downloads a single track?
But leave that to one side, and let's just look again at what Jenner is suggesting with a straight face: the music industry should be handed as much money as it has ever made on a regular basis, paid for by people who may or may not have touched any of their music.
One of this worries about the people he dismisses as "freetards" is that, if everyone took music for free and never returned a penny to the industry, why would the record companies ever bother to invest in new music? That's a fair question (although the answer - why do we need a record company to create new music - might make him a little uncomfortable), but isn't offering music industry businesses a guaranteed income that dwarves anything they could manage for themselves equally a fantastic disincentive to invest? After all, if you've just hyper-monetised the back catalogue, why would you bother pouring speculative funds into creating new stuff?
Jenner's idea is to tie the distribution of the cash to the individual tracks - you get a third of a thruppence or whatever for every play of one of your songs. Aware that this is going to be a bloody nightmare to administer, he suggests the creation of a meta-collection society.
What Jenner doesn't seem to have factored in is that, if there is a body distributing money based on a play-per-track basis, a large swathe of this money will have to go out the country: if I'm listening to a track recorded by a Canadian band, on a Canadian server, what moral reason could there be for not giving them their portion of a farthing that they would earn if they came from Camden? Likewise, anyone whistling a tune on YouTube could lay a stake to having recompense from this central fund. Because why should Jagger and Richards get money for their songs and not some bloke in the street? How much work would be involved in processing a fund that has to take account of every time anything musical comes out of a tiny speaker? And even with his unlikely sounding sum of cash, by the time it's been administered, and spread over millions of people, are such tiny sums of money going to do anyone any good at all? Perhaps this is what Jenner is thinking of when he says it's nominal.
In short, Jenner has proposed (again) an idea that is unfair, and impractical. Let's hope that nobody takes him seriously, and he's still punting this pipedream in 2012.