Will you pay to self-distribute your music on the internet?
I recently said this about the music industry's response to file sharing:
It's not about loss of current sales; if anything, file-sharing is free advertising. Remember how the major software producers moaned about piracy in the `80s? Remember the "drop a dime" campaigns and the high-profile raids? Remember the flurry of "look `n feel" litigation? And how about the (still ongoing) push to build "war chests" of software patents? It's the same thing all over again with file sharing, but the strategies are different. The first mumurs of opposition predated P2P sharing, although the latter has given the music industry a boogeyman. The argument is that P2P is inherently decentralized and therefore not able to be controlled by a central authority. Never mind that so is the entire WWW... But give the music industry (and other content providers) a foot in the door, and they'll exploit DRM as much as they can. Will they ever be able to lock the little guy out of distributing his own content "for free"? It's technologically unlikely, even infeasible. But it wasn't so long ago that it was illegal to plug a device into the telephone network unless it was manufactured by the the telephone company. We already have the DMCA which makes it a criminal offense to attempt to circumvent (or even to understand the workings of) DRM schemes. All it would take is one or two more pieces of legislation to limit our rights to produce and distribute our own digital content.
Well, I was wrong. I thought that we'd be unlikely to see anyone take the first technological step toward locking the little guy out of distributing his own content without paying someone a fee.
It turns out that a UK company, Playlouder MSP, has just announced a service which confines file sharing of licensed music to its subscribers. They already have deals with several music publishers - including Sony BMG - to distribute licensed content.
The really clever bit is that Playlouder does not require use of a special client, e.g. like Rhapsody. You can use any P2P client you like. The trick is that the network will have a filter which reads packets to search for a license "fingerprint", and only allows licensed content to be routed to subscribers of Playlouder's service. Artists get paid based upon how many copies of their songs are shared by Playlouder's subscribers. Presumably Playlouder will be offering financial incentives to network service providers to install these filters; they say that "if all broadband net service providers followed this model, the music industry would have a revenue source of more than £300 million a year in the UK, and $13.5 billion globally".
The Playlouder service is interesting (and to me at least, quite disconcerting) because it allows the network infrastructure to allow or deny delivery of data based upon content. This is not (and can not be, if it is to be successful) an opt-in service; if it catches on, your network traffic will be subject to the Playlouder filter. At face value, that's fine; artists will be paid for their work and illegal sharing of copyrighted content will be curtailed. However, widespread adoption of this technology will create a de-facto infrastructure which can then be used to perform other kinds of filtering; it's a tiny technological step to go from "only allow subscribers to share licensed music files" to "only allow subscribers to publish their own music files", for example.