Pondering: a payment system for musicians

Insight on SBS last night had an interesting (if slightly shallow) look into the issue of music file sharing (or piracy if you will.)

They took the usual mixture of musicians, young downloaders (all teens), ISP nerds, media academics and the odd music industry bod and had a really good chat about the issues. As you might expect, the teens saw nothing wrong with what they were doing in general and had a number of self justifications for their actions - including the fact that they didn't want to pay for another Hummer for Kanye West (though they had the decency to feel embarrassed/apologise to the artists present that they had downloaded.

The artists were more ambivalent, not liking missing out on direct money for cds but appreciating the value of expanding their fan base and getting more people to live shows. The record labels were unsurprisingly outraged and produced figures which seemed entirely made up (though they were only questioned once on this by a media academic and former muso) which suggested that a billion songs are "stolen" every year, which translates to about $200M in lost revenue in Australia alone.

After a point it seems that the boots were out for the ISPs, who were seen as profitting the most from this traffic. Jenny Mackie, the host - who I normally hold in high regard - seemed a little out of her techo depth here, putting across the view (which was accepted by pretty well the whole audience) that every bit and byte of ISP traffic converts directly to extra payment by the user. The reality of course being the people go on set plans with x amount of data (unless they are suckers willing to pay extra punishment fees for exceeding these amounts - generally what you get with cheap plans) which means that transferring music costs no more than anything else. The feeling was that the ISPs should somehow be paying the music industry (and I wonder how much of that would hit the artists) for the actions of their users.

The issue of how much record labels screw artists over was another one that no-one raised - my understanding is that the proportion of money from CD sales that ends up in the hands of artists is scandalously low, and only after the labels "expenses" have all been accounted for.

The issue of songwriter income came up which was a pretty valid point that I hadn't factored in previously.

Anyways, I was thinking about this all this morning and was wondering if there might be room for a paypal kind of service that enabled fans to make direct micro-payments to "support" their favourite artists. (i.e get a little guilt reduction by paying for downloaded songs) (Not sure how song-writers fit in there but perhaps this information could also be provided or if you chose to "support" a song, the donation could be split between the two)

I can see more issues arising with something like this - listed artists bearing the ire of their labels and fans wanting anonymity in case they were labelled as pirates (rather than just fans wanting to give their favourite bands a little extra cash)

Just a thought. (Interesting that you can watch the whole show online for free too - not uncommon I know but I like the contrast)