Interesting questions.

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The recent news that the RIAA wants ISP’s to start paying a tax for their customers file sharing raises a number of interesting questions. To me, this has always been the “tipping point” of sorts for the whole file-sharing question. It was inevitable that the RIAA and MPAA would go after ISP’s. There’s no cost-effective way to go after each and every file sharer in the country, so you go to their common points of contact. That would be ISP’s, especially broadband ISP’s. Without an internet connection, you’ve got no file sharing, do you? The question, to me, was never whether they would or not, but how they would come after the ISP’s. Would it be with legal action, or would it be with the threat of legal action hanging over other demands?

Here’s the thing, on the face of it a tax seems ridiculous, and it is. But, if you’re an ISP and your options are paying a tax for file sharing, and passing along that cost to your customers, or having to constantly monitor your customers for potential copyright violations in order not to face legal action against yourself from the RIAA, or blocking all file sharing to the same effect, which seems the most reasonable? Don’t be surprised if ISP’s are faced with that choice very soon. This was just the first shot in this war.

Also, you have to look at the fact that broadband demand is being driven by 3 types of people. Geeks who want a home network and connection sharing and fast downloads of software, etc., online gamers, and file sharers. Cut off this third group and broadband demand starts to dwindle, doesn’t it? (Look at the advertisements for broadband, they are talking about downloading media, and to most that means doing it illegally, doesn’t it?) So, obviously, ISP’s don’t want to lose file sharing, since it brings in broadband customers.

On the other hand, the cost of broadband also keeps people away, so increasing the cost is going to make the demand dwindle some too, isn’t it?

But you can’t just cut it off, because there are many non-infringing uses for file sharing as well. If you cut off all file sharing, do you also have to cut off parents sending home movies of their kids to the grandparents? How are you going to be able to tell non-infringing uses from infringing uses without getting really, really nosy on your customers? And if ISP’s don’t allow for that sort of activity, how much does the sales of new “media center” PC’s suffer?

See, if you’re an ISP this gets very hairy, very quickly, because you have to do something to keep bringing in broadband customers, while keeping the RIAA and MPAA off your back and out of your network. How do you do that? Would it not be tempting to “buy off” the RIAA instead of trying to deal with all of these questions? Heck we haven’t even covered situations like mine, where the ISP, RoadRunner, is owned by a media company!

The point is this, something’s got to give. Is it going to be the current content market that changes, or is it going to be access to file-sharing, or is it going to be “fair use rights” of the customers who purchase media content legally? The only way the last two avoid forced changes is by the first one either accepting changes or being forced to change by being forced out of business. I don’t see them accepting changes..

Later: How will this ruling affect the situation? More messy stuff.

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