Ah, ha! Come, some music! come, the recorders!
For if the king like not the comedy,
Why then, belike, he likes it not, perdy.
Come, some music!
Hamlet the Dane famously called for music more than400 years ago, but he had no idea that it would one day come streaming down the tubes and onto computers in his home countryfor a flat monthly fee. The Danish music business is now proposing a plan to offer unlimited music downloads for around 100 kroner a month (about $19), and although questions remain, it could represent a real step forward.
Hamlet, with all his dithering and delayed revenge,is actually a good model for the music business. Despite knowing for years that bold action was needed to provide users a legal alternative to P2P downloads, the worldwide music industry has been slow to react. Whenit finally did so, the results involved things like DRM, low bitrates, and high prices for merchandise with little distribution cost: all measures guaranteed to keep legal music from rivaling illicit downloads in popularity. And of course, there were the lawsuits. (Unlike Hamlet, though, the music labels have yet to stab an overweight councilor hiding behind the arras.)
But if life imitates art,we're now moving into Act IV of the play, the part where Hamlet returns to Elsinore with some new ideas about how to deal with his problem. Andy Oram over at O'Reilly Radar noted the recent moves in Denmark to create a system where every ISP user might pay a monthly fee in order to access unlimited P2P music legally.
The proposal has drawn positive feedback from an unlikely source—the local "Piratgruppen."
"It's good that they admit that they cannot solve the problem of falling CD sales by suing their own fans," said Sebastian Gjerding from the Piratgruppen. "It looks like they have understood that they should offer something that is competitive compared to other, free music sources. It is an entirely new admission that hasn't spread internationally yet. IFPI Denmark is on the forefront in this matter. But it is annoying that no action has been taken so far to save many teenagers million-krone fines."
Certainly the idea is interesting, and the industry deserves real credit when it makes bold decisions to embrace such new ideas. The proposal isn't without problems, though. Among them: the fee would apparently be mandatory for all ISP users. Those who don't listen to much music or who don't want to pay $19 a month to do so won't be thrilled. Will it only apply to select ISPs (thus allowing those who don't want the deal to choose another provider), or will the IFPI try to make it mandatory at the national level?
Another issue: will the fee cover worldwide music? If it only covers Danish bands, it may also be of limited utility. But making payments to artists all over the world could be a logistical nightmare.
Finally, would the deal cover indie music or only that from major labels? If it only covers major labels, consumer confusion about what is legal to download and what is not will be widespread, and could certainly irritate bands that don't want their music distributed this way.
Similar ideas about compulsory blanket music licenses have been floating around for a while, but appear to be in no imminent danger of being floated in the US.
So questions remain, but the idea is intriguing. Let's hope that the end of this story looks less like the bloody end of Hamlet, however, and more like the conclusion of As You Like It, complete with music and dancing.