Collective Licensing Debate Creates Some Seriously Strange Bedfellows

by on November 20, 2008 · 0 comments

Is there any other issue under the tech policy sun today that creates stranger intellectual bedfellows than collective licensing of online music? After all, as I noted here before, on the pro-collective licensing side we find mortal enemies EFF and RIAA (at least Warner) in league. And on the anti-collective licensing side, we have Mike Masnick and Andrew Orlowski. If you locked those two guys in a room and tossed out any other copyright topic, they’d probably end up killing each other with their bare hands. But somehow they agree on this one (albeit for somewhat different reasons).

Anyway, I continue to have mixed, but generally skeptical, feelings about online collective licensing. There are countless thorny fairness issues on both the artist and consumer side of things. What’s the pay-in rate? How is it set? Who all pays in? Who gets paid out, how much, and by what formula? And God only knows how you deal with those parties (whether they be ISPs, consumers, or even artists) who don’t want to be a part of the scheme.

For these reasons, I’ve always felt a voluntary collective licensing scheme for the Internet is challenging, if not impossible. It would have to be compulsory to be a truly blanket license that covered all music, all users, and all platforms. I’m not too fond of that approach, but I think that’s where we are likely heading in the copyright wars. After all, that’s how it has been resolved in many other contexts historically. But that doesn’t give me any comfort since those other systems have been a mess in practice. This 2004 Cato study by Robert Merges provides some details and makes the case against apply the compulsory licensing approach to the online music marketplace.

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