For the music business, the failure of net neutrality presents several big problems. Musicians are at the vanguard of digital distribution of music files, video files, and other space-gobbling content. Traffic throttling will almost certainly result in placing severe limitations on the amount and kind of content musicians can put out there — and it’s pretty likely that musicians will then be forced into partnering with businesses that have fewer limits and greater access, no doubt for a fee, to get their gear online. Another issue is that, as covered recently in this column, we are seeing a whole new universe of music-related business models, and we need to see some predictability in terms of licensing methods and how artists and copyright owners get paid. One of the most compelling proposals is that P2P music sharing should be rendered commercially viable and copyright-legal by the imposition of a blanket license that would be paid at the gate (i,e., through the ISPs). Institutionalized throttling would take this plan out at the knees.This observation comes from Canada, where current attempts by some to pass legislation similar to the U.S. Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA) has suddenly gotten noticed as a path to something music lovers have seen before:
Another problem is that record labels, distributors and retail chains who are already in desperate jeopardy can’t compete with ISPs and cellular providers who, having launched their own music stores, have all the incentive in the world to steer music consumers to their own services rather than open the pipe for folks to shop elsewhere.
— Net Neutrality, By Allison Outhit, Need to Know, June 2008
McKie is referring to proposed changes modelled on the American Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which call for a much heavier-handed approach to interpreting what kind of content uses are protected by copyright. At the same time a Canadian DMCA would accord “safe harbour” status to service providers to shelter them from a potential onslaught of copyright litigation provided they act quickly to block infringing and illegal actions on their networks. A Canadian DMCA could impact net neutrality by putting police power in the hands of the networks, while providing ISPs with strong incentives to prefer privately-negotiated content distribution deals over the chaos of user-generated traffic. The bottom line is that musicians have come to rely on the net as their number one go-to distribution and marketing tool. The net got that way by being neutral to all comers. Whether you were a platinum seller on Universal, or a couple of unknown basement-dwellers, your video had an equal chance of going viral. Without net neutrality, all the good pipe will get eaten up by whoever has the power to make the deal. Which sounds a lot like the payola days all over again.Yep, that’s what we’ll get if we don’t have net neutrality: payola for the duopoly.