ArtsWatch: Digital Music Half-Off Sale

European Commission approves French plan to match kids' spending on digital music
October 18, 2010 -- 10:42 am PDT
By Philip Merrill /

The Recording Academy actively represents the music community on such issues as intellectual property rights, music piracy, archiving and preservation, and censorship concerns. In pursuing its commitment to addressing these and other issues, The Recording Academy undertakes a variety of national initiatives. ArtsWatch is a key part of an agenda aimed at raising public awareness of and support for the rights of artists. To become more involved, visit Advocacy Action @ and sign up for Advocacy Action E-lerts.

On Oct. 12 the European Commission approved France's plan for a digital music subsidy. The music card — or Carte musique — is intended to encourage those between the ages of 12 and 25 to develop the habit of obtaining online music legally. Qualified consumers will be able to purchase a $70 card for $35. The card's limitations helped it gain regulatory approval (mainly, the plan's limited duration and scope), and France's government estimates 1 million will be sold each year. Digital music providers are expected to further sweeten the incentive with lower prices, longer subscription periods and contributions to advertising costs. The benefit for each provider is limited to a total subsidy of 5 million euros, a cap that could be discouraging for some of the big music services but will be all the better for smaller providers who participate. The idea of $70 million in government spending on digital music over two years has appeal, especially since this effort is happening soon after France's HADOPI agency began sending out warnings to online infringers on Oct. 1. Hopefully the Carte musique will have an impact.

The same Ireland High Court judge who upheld a deal between recording industry organization IRMA and Internet service provider Eircom in April ruled against IRMA's efforts to obtain identifying user information from another ISP on Oct. 11. IRMA Director General Dick Doyle said, "The judge made it very clear that an injunction would be morally justified but that the Irish legislature had failed in its obligation to confer on the courts the right to grant such injunctions unlike other EU states. We will now look to the Irish government to fully vindicate the constitutional rights of copyright holders and we reserve the right to seek compensation for the past and continuing losses from the state." Irish Times reports Eircom is reconsidering its previous deal in light of this latest ruling.

Cnet News reported on a letter sent last month from Google to the IFPI and RIAA, responding to the latter group's inquiry about search options by offering to make an advanced Site Search product available at its regular low fee, enabling the recording industry organizations to search for pirated content more efficiently. The letter, written by Google representative James Pond, read, "I understand we charge a standard rate of $5 per thousand queries, which is charged to recover our costs in providing this service." Google later pointed out that, once notified, it removes unauthorized content entirely at its own cost. Some observers reacted negatively because Google makes money from unlicensed content online both when consumers view ads while searching for it and also when pirate sites pay to advertise, so to make additional money from content owners searching for illegal uses of their intellectual property struck some as Google gaining yet another source of revenue from illegal infringement.

On Oct. 14 the Federal Communications Commission took steps to protect mobile phone users from unpleasant surprises when they receive their bills and separately to encourage cable companies to provide better technical support to third-party competitors manufacturing retail set-top boxes. Past efforts to support set-top boxes that are not leased to the consumer by the cable companies have been largely unsuccessful. Commissioner Robert McDowell said, "Precisely because Congress told us to, we are taking another stab at a remedy today. Perhaps this time Sisyphus will get his boulder to actually stay on top of the hill." Separately, during an Oct. 13 speech FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski explained the agency's consumer empowerment agenda and argued that providing consumers with better information about costs of services would result in greater purchases of cutting-edge technology, improving the sector and the broader U.S. economy. "Consumers are entering uncharted waters as the digital revolution gathers steam," said Genachowski. "Making sure consumers have the tools and information they need to navigate this changing landscape has been one of my top priorities since I became FCC Chairman."

President Barack Obama signed the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010 into law on Oct. 8. It empowers the FCC to regulate various improvements on behalf of disabled users, including Internet video closed-captioning.

On Oct. 12 the Rethink Music conference was announced, to be held in Boston April 25–27, 2011. The conference will bring together Berklee College of Music and the organizers of the leading music conference MIDEM, and will feature participation by Harvard Business School and the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University. In addition to offering a $50,000 prize for the best innovative music business model proposal, the organizers welcome proposals to change U.S. copyright law in order to better support digital distribution. Terry Fisher, faculty director for the Berkman Center, said, "We are particularly excited to help organize the conversation around legal and policy changes to promote the interests of music creators, fans and other stakeholders."


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