cracking down on illegal music downloading in colleges

The fine fine people at Artists House Music Tweeted this article and it immediately caught my attention.  I wanted to reply to them but 140 characters is not enough for what I want to say.  Then I thought, I have a blog!  Yay!  I’ll just write something there.


So I’ll just reprint what the article says, since it’s pretty short and some people (like me) don’t like to click on a bunch of links sometimes.  It reads:

A few legislative notes:

Yesterday (the very day the CMA Awards were hosted in Nashville) Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen signed into law SB 3794, a bill that requires all public and private universities and colleges in the state to take proper steps to assure that their networks are not being used to illegally trade copyrighted material. It also requires each school to develop and enforce a policy for computer usage, network usage and ethics. The House IP subcommittee was abolished and will be bumped up to a full Judiciary committee.

My immediate thought upon reading this was: they’re gonna screw it up and get a bunch of college students pissed off at them.

Why?  Because politicians can be lazy.  They don’t want to explain what the policy is for computer usage, network usage, and “ethics” (what a gloriously general term that can be!), they just want you to make one.  Now.  So that they look good to the RIAA and MPAA, and can get re-elected by elderly people who hate rap music.

So they’ll throw this amorphous policy into the hands of a judiciary committee who will not take into account the fact that college students like to listen to music.  Rather, they’ll take into account that college students like to steal, which is simply not true.  Well, somewhat.  Anarchists like to steal.  I know a couple of college-aged anarchists, and they love stealing from “the man”.  But they’re a relatively small community of people, unless you go to Reed College, in which case they’re the entire student population.

In other words, instead of viewing this potentially devastating bill in a positive light, they are going to use it as an excuse to infringe on personal liberties.  Now, before you say, “Stealing is not a personal liberty,” let me say that I’m not talking about stealing.  Stealing is the tip of the iceberg.  The real issue here is the definition of terms — “computer usage”, “network usage” and “ethics” (especially ethics) – and how they choose to define them.  This will ultimately grant them the right to broaden their horizons, so to speak.  In essence, this bill could potentially further damage the music industry, instead of helping it.

So, as a bit of an open letter to the policy makers in Tennessee, allow me to explain to you exactly how you should use this bill, in a positive way, rather than a negative way.

It’s actually quite simple.  Throw away attempts to define “computer usage”, “network usage” and “ethics”, because you will spend more time quibbling over those definitions than you will getting things done.  Instead, do one simple thing: have the college subscribe to a licensed music distribution site, like eMusic or Rhapsody.  I’m sure they could get some kind of massive education discount for subscribing.  Then, put that subscription cost onto the student tuition.  “Oh god no!” I hear you scream, but hear me out.  eMusic subscriptions start at $11.99 for 30 downloads, and $24.99 for 100 downloads.  One hundred downloads is a lot of songs, but it seems to be around what the average music listener might download, and it’s even pretty good for a heavy music listener/hipster.  So let’s assume a college opts for this.  Now let’s say it’s a college like Boise State, which has around 20,000 students.  Let’s also assume that since it’s a mass subscription, eMusic is awesome and knocks the price down to $19.99/month.  That’s $240 dollars per year.  $240 per year x 20,000 students is an egregiously large number — 4.8 million dollars.  That definitely sounds like a lot, but if each student is only charged $240 a year, then it’s not so bad.

Some schools might not like this, like Boise State, where tuition is only about $5,000 per year.  But other schools, private ones and ones with higher tuition costs might benefit from this added cost.  Imagine, colleges across the country spending upwards of 2 to 4 million dollars subscribing to your music service (I’m talking to you, eMusic).  The profit there would be incredible.  I’m sure eMusic could even lower their monthly price to $10 or $11/month and still make a tidy profit.

This now solves two problems, not just one: it solves the problem of illegal downloading on college networks by establishing a certified, licensed music service which becomes the premiere way students get their music.  Perhaps they’re only limited to 100 songs a month —  I don’t think students will object to that.  Secondly, however, there is a bonus solution to record labels: a new, widely used place to promote their bands!  And not only that, a site that is 100% guaranteed to be used by all college students on the campus.

Even better, this promotes healthy capitalism because it allows the colleges to choose which music site they wish to subscribe to, which in turn forces the music sites to get off their ass and make their subscription programs better, which lowers prices and increases demand.  It’s economics in action!

Of course, there are still some kinks to work out: obviously not all of the 20,000 students at BSU want to download songs online.  There ought to be a way to waive their subscription fee, then, in much the same way one would waive health insurance.  Plus the server requirements would be off the charts, but that’s easily handled these days.

My idea right now is grand but I think it honestly could be done.  These policy makers have the ability to push music distribution truly to the new millenium.  They just have to view the situation in a positive, forward moving light, rather than thinking of all music downloaders as “pirates.”

So to Tennessee and to you, Governor Phil Bredesen, I say this: there is a fair argument that online piracy is hurting the music industry.  But the damage is beyond repair.  We are facing a new and extremely ingenious way for millions of people to listen to new, amazing music, cheaply and quickly, and that way is digital distribution.  Rather than try to fix a sinking ship, why not join the rest of us who are leading the way and build a newer, sleeker, stronger ship?  Only then will the music industry rebound, like a phoenix rising out of its own ashes.

By Josh

I'm the guy who owns this site, ya dummy.

3 replies on “cracking down on illegal music downloading in colleges”

Seriously, that is an incredible idea, Josh. I’m honestly surprised this hasn’t been considered/proposed on a large scale (at least that I know of), but then again it is one of those ideas that is so simple that no one thinks of it.

I could especially see this as being an “option” on the tuition bill. Unlimited music downloading for (price). The download services win, the artists win, the universities win, the students win. That’s a win, win, win, win.

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