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There’s a great interview with Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails up at CNET, in which he talks about his experience with the Saul Williams album he recently released as a “pay what you want” download (which I wrote about here). He says if he did it again — and he’s thinking of doing so for the next NIN album — he would offer a physical product as well as the download, and he talks about how music is essentially free now.

I say it’s a great interview, and it is — but Trent also says something that I think is pretty dumb: he says that he’s in favour of an Internet tax, in which everyone would pay their service provider $5 extra and that money would then be distributed to artists to compensate them for downloading. He’s not the only one who thinks this would be a good way to solve the problem, either; the Songwriters Association of Canada recently came out in favour of the exact same thing: i.e, a tax on ISPs.

This idea is appealing primarily because it seems so simple. In reality, however, it would be horrendously complicated to administer, on top of being wrong. Why is it wrong? Because imposing a tax on a broad range of people for the behaviour of a small percentage isn’t just unfair, it’s bad policy and in most cases doesn’t work (and please don’t compare this to the taxes I pay to provide medical care to smokers or whatever; that’s life and death, and this isn’t).

Why should everyone who uses the Internet — even those who just use it to get their email once a week, or to send a web link to their bridge club, or better yet to legally download songs from iTunes — have to pay a fee to compensate artists for the fact that less than 10 per cent of Internet users commit copyright infringement on a semi-regular basis? It makes no sense at all, despite how appealing it seems at first glance.

I sympathize with Trent, and with other artists who are struggling to find a way to adapt as traditional business models fall apart around them, but coming up with new taxes is the wrong solution. As Mike Arrington points out at TechCrunch, it is a both a dumb and dangerous idea for the industry.

About the author

Mathew 2431 posts

I'm a Toronto-based senior writer with Fortune magazine, and my favorite things to write about are social technology, media and the evolution of online behavior

34 Responses to “Hey Trent — a music tax is a dumb idea”
  1. […] (Source) (RSS) These icons link to social bookmarking sites where readers can share and discover new web […]

  2. Trent Reznor and Nine Inch Nails is the only genius and significance left in the music, the whole world is constantly intrigued and watching what he is doing and is going to do next. The STRUGGLING corporations are faceless, no-substance giants very much like processed cardboard cheese who resort to taking away the freedom to choose and other basic rights to control the masses, very scary to the general population. Trent Reznor and NIN is liberating us from all this. We all look forward to what he is going to do next and his upcoming projects for they are the only real thing left. Trent is Light in a world full of nothing-cs

  3. Totally agree – and how would that money be split between content producers in the music, movie, television, magazine and newspaper markets. It would be admin hell!

  4. The “tax” you address need not be a blanket fee. It could easily be opt-in for music fans who want to get their music from anywhere (BitTorrent, iTunes or their friends).

    The EFF has advocated this for some time: http://www.eff.org/wp/better-way-forward-voluntary-collective-licensing-music-file-sharing

  5. A tax is a great idea! Just remember we’re licensing ALL music under copyright whether it’s downloaded or not and not matter how much it’s downloaded. We’re talking millions of songs. How much do you think Trent would get then, 1 cent per album?

  6. […] interesting discussion on the subject goes on at Matthew Ingram’s post “Hey Trent – a music tax is a dumb idea“. I wouldn’t go that far, to say it’s a dump idea, but surely there are many-many […]

  7. I wouldn’t call it a dumb idea. Reznor also talks about the physical product.
    I don’t know about you, but I would gladly pay a 5$ tax to get original cds, instead of just the digital versions.
    I agree though, that not everyone should pay this fee – online people who download.
    In such a napster, count me in!

  8. And why should I pay a tax on blank CDs to compensate artists in case I copy music – which I do not. And I believe that the tax now works out to about 100% since the price of blank CDs has dropped.

  9. […] Ingram notes that similar efforts are being made in Canada. Last month the Songwriters Association of Canada […]

  10. I think Reznor is still sulking that his radical download plan to garner (more) fame and riches with Saul’s less than wonderful album didn’t go quite to plan. (Although he admits that there actually wasn’t much of one.)

    Maybe next time he’ll consider a lower quality version, free to download; a high-quality and/or lossless version for $5 and a special cd (or even better, vinyl) release, signed in the artist’s blood for $15?
    And then treat it like a software release and bribe loads of bloggers to write about it.

    These are early days for this new method of delivering paid-for music — Reznor and other musicians need to recognise that we’re all on a learning curve.

  11. “Promises to Keep” by William Fisher (Harvard Law) proposed/evaluated a similar model in 2004.

    any comments on that model?

  12. Trent for Congress!

    Seriously, though. This is my experience with the Radiohead and Trent Reznor album downloads: I am a fan of both, and paid for each album — $5 for the Trent Reznor/Saul Williams set, and over $9 for Radiohead’s In Rainbows. Both sucked. And that may partially explain why Trent is feeling frustrated now. Maybe if this was the best thing since Downward Spiral, word of mouth would have made more people willing to shell out cash for the download. But there wasn’t much of a buzz, and that’s why not as many fans downloaded or paid for it, IMHO.

  13. […] Ingram note que des efforts semblables ont été faits au Canada. L’association des compositeurs […]

  14. […] Read the rest of this post Print Sphere Comment Tagged: Matthew Ingram, Trent Reznor, Nine Inch Nails | permalink […]

  15. I think Reznor starts from a false premise, or is at least somewhat confused — very strange for him.

    It’s an album by an unknown artist. Really, who is Saul Williams? I’ve never heard of him before this story hit the news. So how many of those downloads were people grabbing the album to try it out, then coming back later and paying for it?

    Also, the album hasn’t been getting very good reviews, which likely only exacerbates the lack of paying customers. Given the chance, I’d download the album for free, then either pay something if I liked it or delete the files if I didn’t like it.

  16. […] blogosfera geek norte-americano tenham soado o alarme. Isto não é de estranhar vindo dos lados de Matthew Ingram e Michael Arrington do TechCrunch, dado que existe uma certa ideologia neo-liberal extrema que tem […]

  17. ISP tax is an idea for music only. In which case only the people that want to download music through a service provider should be taxed. It should be an option that is offered to the consumer. This would help alleviate several problems; illegal downloading, eliminating the search for a viable music source, and payment options. Rather than entering your credit card information online, you will have the choice to add it to your current Internet Service Provider bill.

  18. I think Trent used the word tax incorrectly and now you are imis-interpetering his idea. I don’t think he meant that people should buy it online and then also get “taxed”. I think that he meant you just never buy it in a traditional sense. If you download it then you pay for it eventually through your ISP.

    With all of that said. I think its still a dumb idea. Its just not that simple. If it was then ISP’s would already be blocking all of the illegal downloads in the first place.

  19. […] Greg Sandoval over at CNET has a piece up about Radiohead and Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails, and their experiments with “pay what you want” record releases. Greg is the guy who wrote the recent story in which Trent said he wasn’t that impressed by the response to his album (Reznor also mentioned the idea of an Internet tax to compensate artists for downloading, which I said was a dumb idea). […]

  20. trent should go and play music rather than sitting around trying to make money and his music might improve so he will create a larger audience!?

  21. go back to city states, skip the middle men and deal direct…public to artist! i'd love to be selling my own cd's to my own fans at a huge gig and let the file sharing be a free way to promote shows, ep and labum launches ect. As a musician this model would suit me just fine, and with the internet being these days more popular than tv's, it is going to become increasingly easier to market your own music. This is what i would like to see, an increase in the music industry of creativity, especially big sellers, and a focus on the actual creation of the work of art and that includes cover, whether or not its vinyl or cd, merch, things like that. There needs to be a higher bar set in terms of musicianship, well especially in Australia…any large band out of there in a while has been very average…

  22. trent should go and play music rather than sitting around trying to make money and his music might improve so he will create a larger audience!?

  23. go back to city states, skip the middle men and deal direct…public to artist! i'd love to be selling my own cd's to my own fans at a huge gig and let the file sharing be a free way to promote shows, ep and labum launches ect. As a musician this model would suit me just fine, and with the internet being these days more popular than tv's, it is going to become increasingly easier to market your own music. This is what i would like to see, an increase in the music industry of creativity, especially big sellers, and a focus on the actual creation of the work of art and that includes cover, whether or not its vinyl or cd, merch, things like that. There needs to be a higher bar set in terms of musicianship, well especially in Australia…any large band out of there in a while has been very average…

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