Warner Music Proposes File-Sharing Tax for College Tuition

Royalty fees included in fees would mean students could legally share music, but would also penalize those who don’t share music or live in on-campus housing.

Warner Music Group’s digital music strategist, Jim Griffin, is proposing a “‘voluntary blanket licensing’ for online access to music” scheme whereby students are taxed for the privilege of legalized file-sharing with the proceeds collected by a nonprofit, Choruss, and divvied up among copyright holders.

The presentation is making the rounds of college campuses nationwide by nonprofit technology advocate Educause, with Columbia, Stanford, University of Chicago, University of Washington, MIT, University of Colorado, University of Michigan, Cornell, Penn State, University of California at Berkeley and University of Virginia all reportedly having expressed some interest. It’s not surprising considering the recent passage of the Higher Education Act (HEA), which included provisions forcing colleges and universities to combat illegal file-sharing on campus, may eventually cost these institutions some $500,000 USD annually.

What’s particularly unsettling about the proposal is that it forces all students, whether they live off campus or not, or even whether they share music or not, to pay an extra fee with their college tuition. For as the plan notes, it’s either “All students or none.” How is this fair?

It also says that “Content owners refrain from all DMCA notices and lawsuits,” but that it is “Not really licensing” and that it merely will have a self-regulated “Covenant not to sue.”

The real problem is, however, that all labels, both indie and major, would have to sign up in order for the ‘download-what-you-want’ scheme to be fair. Even then, many copyright owners may see the plan as a dangerous ‘green light’ to piracy, opening the floodgates to naïve excuses of “I thought I could download films too” and so on.

With the record industry facing increasing confrontation by universities weary of its strong-arm tactics, it may just be that it’s scrambling to come up with a solution and fast.

The only other question I have, which a reader here was quick to point out, is what happens when all of the other copyright holder groups want in on the action? It’ll soon be say $10p/mo for the music industry, and then another $10 a piece for the movie, TV, software, and others. Where will it end and is it really plausible amidst already rapidly escalating tuition increases and a deteriorating economy?

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