One of the many proposals in the Digital Britain report that was released yesterday under the aegis of Lord Carter, UK Minister for Communications, Technology and Broadcasting, is for setting up a government Rights Agency to track suspected online copyright infringers and report their activities to copyright owners. The government would impose a £20 (US $29) per subscriber annual levy for this on the ISPs.
As an idea for addressing the actual economics of online copyright infringement, this is one of the most retrograde I have ever come across.
Currently a number of private sector companies offer services similar to those that the proposed UK Rights Agency would provide — examples being MediaSentry (SafeNet) and MediaDefender. Media companies pay them (millions of dollars per year) for these services. The proposed Rights Agency would essentially shift the burden of paying for those services to ISPs, which would then shift them to consumers. That’s a tax of £1.67 ($2.40) per month on ISP subscribers for their fellow users’ alleged misbehavior.
Contrast this idea with its converse, the blanket licensing fee (a/k/a flat tax) being proposed by various quarters, including Warner Music Group, and being considered by the UK’s diminutive neighbor in the Irish Sea, the Isle of Man. The Manx proposed scheme would charge users even less — as little as £1 ($1.45) per month — for the right to share content online without limitations. Admittedly, the numbers being tossed around for blanket licensing schemes elsewhere are higher, but you get the idea.
The Rights Agency is an idea for government regulation of digital copyright that actually makes even less sense than blanket licensing. If governments are going to insist on redirecting money for use of online content, it should at least be done so the money is used to encourage content use, not punish people for it.