Darren Waters

The iPod tax resurfaces

  • Darren Waters
  • 17 Apr 08, 19:20 GMT

I completely missed this story earlier in the week - so my thanks to the Guardian and others who reported it.

Essentially the British Phonographic Industry - that's the UK record industry - is arguing that there should be a tax on devices that allow you to format shift.

You can read the BPI's letter here.

They are asking for a license to be levied on every device that facilitates format shifting - ie copying.

The letter says:

Enormous value is derived by those technology companies and manufacturers who enable consumers to copy. UK creators and rights owners are legally entitled to share in this value - as they hold the exclusive right to reproduce their music - but are currently excluded from the value chain.

My hunch is that most ordinary readers of this blog will find this suggestion laughable.

But I would love to hear from a musician, an artist, a band who feel this suggestion has merit.

Not a producer, or publisher, or record label - but the creative talent, the song-writer, the session musician etc.

Please - if you are one of those and feel that the ability to copy a track from a CD to an iPod is taking food from your table, then let us know.

After all, the BPI purports to represent you.


  • Comment number 1.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 2.

    I'm a musician, singer and songwriter (albeit the hit I wrote was from 1984) and I believe the BPI's iPod tax is an April Fool that got lost.

    A scary and desperate idea from scared and desperate people.

  • Comment number 3.

    I think this is extremely cheeky of the BPI - just another excuse to take money off the consumer.

    Allowing customers to copy music from a CD to a digial device allows them to do nothing more than LISTEN to the music that they paid for.

    Would they rather we all still walk around with a Sony Discman?

    They need to learn what it's like to be a real person living in the modern world.

    I'm sure artists would rather we, the public, be able to listen to their works on our MP3 players than not want to bother because of yet another tax to pay...

  • Comment number 4.

    btw - the timezone appears to be incorrect on the server accepting these comments, or it hasn't been adjusted for daylight saving :)

  • Comment number 5.

    I'm sorry but i'm not a paid musician but an ordinary member of the public who just happens to own an ipod or two. The BPI's
    suggestion that more money should be siphoned from the consumer for playing what they have already paid for is ludricous!
    I just wander who makes these decisions, when, how and why. Perhaps they have been speaking to Apple, who like to charge a person twice for obtaining a ringtone for thier iphone! The BPI is a dinosaur that needs to go away and be replaced with a new, morden, digital organisation that understands the needs of the 21st century. Phonographic is out, and digital is in!

  • Comment number 6.

    Actually, although you think this is laughable, this sort of thing has happened for years.

    Companies that produce background tapes for shops have to pay a licence to the BPI for the right to copy.

    Same applies to aircraft music, radio stations who wish to copy onto another format.

    It is called the Mechanical Rights and is administered in the UK by the MCPS.

    It is all about protecting the rights of the people who write the music. With the internet, the public and the media have just assumed that it now means that anyone can do as they please and to hell with the writers.

    This tax is probably impractical, but to be honest, there is no control left and really no one gives a damn.

    If anyone makes something at home and then robbers break into their house and steal it, they would shout for the police.

    If a composer writes something, and then a few thousand people grab it without paying for it and the composer complains, every one tells the composer to shut up.

    The writer of this blog knows all this too well, of course, as all his words are protected by copyright laws.

    "Except where expressly stated otherwise, you are not permitted to copy, broadcast, download, store (in any medium), transmit, show or play in public, adapt or change in any way the content of these BBC web pages for any other purpose whatsoever without the prior written permission of the BBC."

  • Comment number 7.

    "Gurubear" - this is NOTHING to do with the subject of copyright theft and EVERYTHING to do with the ethos of the recording industry; fleece the consumer.

    In the States, they are still paying a levy on every blank tape that's sold... because people MIGHT make an illegal copy. How about the Police lock me up in case I decide to become a burglar one day?

    The BPI and their ilk are fundamentally opposed to anything that deviates from the norm of buying a physical product and playing that product on a suitable device. This is, however, 2008 and time has moved on.

    Utterly morally reprehensible, and of course, doesn't stand a chance in hell of happening.

  • Comment number 8.

    When the move from Cassette/Vinyl came we all had to pay full price for the CD even if we had the exact same album on another media. Where is their customer focus? It's clear that the industry wants us to pay for each and every media separately and in full.

  • Comment number 9.

    If the record industry (and if this goes ahead, I’m sure that the film industry will want their share as I have a couple of DVD’s copied to my iPod) wants to charge us for transferring the music from one format to another, surely they are getting into the realms of selling us the rights to the music. Therefore if I have an accident with a CD, they should be required to replace it (at no cost to me) as I have purchased the right to listen to the music, independent of format, and not just brought a CD that I currently have to replace if I gets damaged. Also, if a new format is launched e.g. Blueray I should be able to upgrade at minimal cost as I have already paid for the right to watch/listen to the material. It could be a good thing for the consumer, although I doubt that the industry will go this far.

  • Comment number 10.

    If the record industry wants to survive, then they have to stop treating their customers with contempt. We're not all pirates. In fact, I'd imagine only a fraction of a percent of people who buy music are foolish enough to upload it illegally onto the net. When I copy music from CDs it's for my own personal use to put onto my ipod or my mobile phone or to burn onto an MP3 CD to play in the car. Like everyone else, I only have one pair of ears so can only ever listen to one copy at a time.

  • Comment number 11.

    Do you know what the irony is? Its the fact that if they start taxing the devices for copying music the consumers legally own then the manufacturers will stop including this function with the devices (e.g. itunes, etc.).

    This means people will likely have to either repurchase their music or more likely pirate it.

    this means that they still dont get the money and they are more likely to loose more money over time as people dont want to "own" to copies of the same songs.

    I believe that the music industry should grow up and relaise that in the digital age they will NEVER get full control of everything like its 1984.

  • Comment number 12.

    @ #9 MrJ00LS - spot on - I agree

  • Comment number 13.

    If the BPI want to tax mp3 players so that they get to charge people twice as they are going to "distribute" the monies to the artist then I say fine.

    They will need to put in a mechanism so that we can state which albums we own have been copied onto the device so that they can recompense the actual artist based on the music copied and not some vague distribution method.

    Of course, as people add more music over the ifetime of the device then that will need to distributed as well. I you buy a new device then the cycle will repeat.

    The logistics of this would be such a nightmare that the BPI would give up on the proposition pretty quickly.

    Also, they would need to account for the fact that electronic devices do fail over time so if someone buys a new mp3 player and copies the same music across, as they've already paid to format shift the music, then the BPI will have to refund the "tax".

    Sounds fair to me :)

  • Comment number 14.

    When tapes were given the ability to record and integrated with phono players.....did the BPI ask to levy a tax on the tapes (or recording devices) which allowed us to "media shift"

    When CDs became popular and people began recording those onto tapes to play in the car, or listen on their walkman, did they suddenly decide enough was enough and a tax should be applied to tapes

    Now that I can take that CD and record it into an MP3 (or whatever format) and put it onto a portable media device....why is there a sudden difference?

    We already pay money to the artist in the form of royalties when we purchase their CD or buy their song/album from somewhere like iTunes.

    If we are to be made to pay twice, then the tax should be levied against the PC/MAC as that is what gives you the ability to ipod is useless without one (ok the new touches with wi-fi would be an exception).

    But why should we be made to pay twice....we never were in the past so why the sudden urgency now. The music industry is not losing out because people are buying ipods and then legally buying music to put onto it. They are losing out because people make their copies of the music available for millions to download for free and that has even less of a connection to an ipod.

    Just because they are losing money from one channel, should not give them the ability to charge us twice via another channel.

  • Comment number 15.

    The music and film industry has lost already, these are just desperate measures to keep money coming in for the crusty old label bosses who wouldnt know good music if it was played to them. They need to adapt rather than annoy their customers which will only speed up their demise.

    Music is going to be label free within 10 years, it will all be done independantly by the artists on the net. The only contracts they will have is with companies like google, who will advertise the music. Physical media as a selling medium is dieing fast.

    The movie industry is slightly different, but eventually it will all be distributed in the same way, no physical disk.

  • Comment number 16.

    "In the States, they are still paying a levy on every blank tape that's sold... because people MIGHT make an illegal copy. How about the Police lock me up in case I decide to become a burglar one day?"

    Guilty until proven innocent. Typical of the way our society has evolved.

    It's these stupid idea's that drive people to the actions of illegal downloading/copying.

  • Comment number 17.

    I think the BPI are entitled to question whether the way we interpret or implement copyright needs a re-think in the light of technology developments. The problem is they need to show a little more imagination about how to give more value to the consumer and more income to the artists, and a little less imagination about how to boost the profits made from an outmoded business model, if they want to be taken seriously.

  • Comment number 18.

    I run a small digital record label. When i contacted the BPI about some sample clearance, for a limited physical run of products, i can get a reduced cost clearance to cover me (about £75). If i wanted a limited MP3 release, it would cost me £300, because there is no legislation to cover this.
    Tlak about behind the times!

    This trying to charge customers as many times as possible is just the industry clutching at straws. If they stopped prosecuting 15 year olds and teachers and just put out some decent music..........

  • Comment number 19.

    The issue of whether this is morally acceptable or not asside. This measure is clearly far, far too late and totally inpractical.

    Modern Mp3 players do so much more than play music, I honestly rarely use my ipod touch for that function. In fact, the touch is clearly more scaled down computer than Mp3 player. Are they then suggesting a tax on all computers?

    Furthurmore I store and listen to music on any of my three computers and two ipods. I also store music on an external hard drive and my mobile phone. Are they going to tax me for those as well? My mobile has a slot for a mini SD card to expand the memory which I use to put all my music on and keep the phone memory clear surely then this would need a tax.

    Will the tax vary depending on memory size?

    This is clearly an unworkable concept and only goes to show just how little a grasp the record industry has on modern - and future - music sales.

    Essentially the problem is; if this were bought in it would be a tax on the possibility I might use a device to listen to music - which I have legally purchased.

    There is also a possibility if I buy a guitar I might copy someone else's song and perfrom it publicly, I see no such tax on guitar sales!

  • Comment number 20.

    The iPod is not a device that allows us to shift formats, the iPod is merely a receptacle for the music once its format has been shifted. The iPod itself is a portable storage device with a little software to facilitate playing media files.

    In order to put music onto your iPod, you have to put the CD into your computer and it's the computer that shifts the format. The music file is not changed in any way when it is transferred from the computer to the iPod.

    Since this facility, i.e. to copy a file from a disk to a computer, has been available since the before CD was invented, the BPI are decades late in coming with this hair-brained scheme.

  • Comment number 21.

    Its seems pointless anyway. How much would this tax have to be in order to be effective? Say the tax was 5%, well you can buy players for £50, so thats £2.50 tax, how many songs does that buy? 3 or 4 in MP3 and one in physical disc format. How many can the player hold? Probably many hundreds. Why bother?

    What about devices not sold as mp3 players like mobiles. Mine can hold 8GB worth, thats thousands of songs. These phones are given away free on contract, so no one really suffers and no one will be put off, its just a money making scheme by the BPI and no doubt the government (who rarely miss an opportunity to levy a pointless tax)

  • Comment number 22.

    Wow! Obviously a last ditch attempt to secure revenue streams for failing record companies. They have found themselves unable to create new music that people are willing to pay for, so now they're after your back catalogue!
    They've spent so much money publicising mediocre talent, that people feel that they have to have it (along with the smell of usher), but it isn't 'worth' anything, so they just copy it. If the music connected with people, they'd be much more likely to buy it.

    This is my plea to the powers that be,
    free music from the stranglehold of celebrity,
    where money begets popularity,
    and 'talent' is only seen on IDs,
    A tax on ipods? yeah that's the solution,
    spend the money on more MTV promotions,
    Get the image out there and make it shine,
    and leave musical integrity behind,
    Wot? Got no money? now there's a surprise,
    spent it all on that P-Diddly squat franchise,
    Try spending the dough on artistic innovation,
    Don't deafen the world with your media creations

    Well if you're going to solicit comments from musicians, your bound to get some dodgy lyrics ;-)

  • Comment number 23.

    on the cd [or whatever] it says around the edge, "This Audio CD is the properties of [label] and [artists] and may not be reproduced, copied [.....] and is only for PERSONAL use."
    We listen to it within our rights, and transferring the data to our mp3 player is not a crime. Other wise places like and other music download sites will shut down.

  • Comment number 24.

    on 18 Apr 2008, Rovex33 wrote:
    its just a money making scheme by the BPI and no doubt the government (who rarely miss an opportunity to levy a pointless tax)

    Something tells me the only people to receive any of the proposed 'tax' revenue would be considerably wealthier than most members of the government ;-)

  • Comment number 25.

    It is nigh-on impossible to draft legislation which can cover all aspects of the artistic spectrum since the ways that art is projected, performed, stored and duplicated change almost daily.

    The challenge will be either to find multi-format copyright law (which will end up with something far too general) or copyright law with separate sections for different formats. Then you need to work out how those formats interact. IP lawyers will obviously benefit.

    As for an iPod tax - reminds me of the CBS/Amstrad tape-to-tape court case in the 80s. ie starting from a point where it is assumed all users are going to break the law. Hopeless.

  • Comment number 26.

    Desperate actions of a dying dinosaur. Too many mediocre acts at rip off prices. I wouldn't pay more than 5 quid for a plastic disk with a bit of music on it.

  • Comment number 27.

    If the musicians and artists actually got most of the money from the sales, there might be a point to this.

    But they don't - see the Appendix of "A Year With Swollen Appendices: The Diary of Brian Eno" for details.

    At least the telly tax (sorry, License Fee) gets used by the BBC to pay said artists, performers and writers.

    And iPod tax would go to those private corporations shareholders.

  • Comment number 28.

    Interestingly, something broadly similar to this already exists: the Recordable Audio CD. Largely overshadowed by CD-R drives in computers, these discs are for standalone "consumer" audio CD recording decks. Almost identical to a standard CD-R disc, they have a 3% tax on them to compensate the music industry, but the standalone decks will refuse to record to a normal CD-R. They're not as widely available as normal CD-Rs, and therefore end up costing over 3% more than normal media.

    In other non-news, NBC Universal want developers of media players like iTunes to have the software detect and possibly delete content that looks like it's pirated. Exactly how a pirated track can be reliably distinguished from a track ripped from a CD that you own is beyond me. Especially since I imagine that pirated tracks *are* ripped from a CD in the first place...


  • Comment number 29.

    Its frankly absolutely ridiculous. You can put restrictions on mp3 players as much as you like, but the public know how to rip music from a CD, and programmers know how to program it.

    If they just want to drive the software that is legally my right to own and use underground, passed between people on cd, dvd and usb drives, then they're going the right way about it.

  • Comment number 30.

    "UK creators and rights owners are legally entitled to share in this value - as they hold the exclusive right to reproduce their music - but are currently excluded from the value chain."

    If that were the case then you're implying that their they have created a method to add value to a medium. This sounds very much closer to a patent to me.

    Perhaps the duration of the exclusive monopoly on reproduction should be limited to 15 years - as it is with patents. As opposed to the ~60 year limit under copyright.

    I'm certain the manufacturers would disagree that value of their patents should be decreased by essentially giving a cut to the BMI.

    This is the sort of desperate language that seeps out of organisations which are desperately struggling to demonstrate their own value to their subscribers.

    This isn't the first crazy idea they came up with recently... I detect a hint of desperation. Maybe their time is nigh? They've been wholly ineffective and impotent for so long now... surely if the record industry needs to consolidate further and cut its funding.

  • Comment number 31.

    While this is a joke ... you do have to agree with Gurubear somewhat with the

    "Except where expressly stated otherwise, you are not permitted to copy, broadcast, download, store (in any medium), transmit, show or play in public, adapt or change in any way the content of these BBC web pages for any other purpose whatsoever without the prior written permission of the BBC."

    as it's also quite laughable that the BBC team seemingly complain about user rights on the one hand and then take with the other.

  • Comment number 32.

    I am a member of the Music Business group that put forward the idea of a license on hard drives that facilitate format shifting.
    Unlike Darren Waters I know that the BPI is a trade association representing record companies large and small. It does NOT represent artists and songwriters.
    All the organisations that represent artists, songwriters, musicians, labels and publishers and the societies that collect money for those people have signed up to this initiative.
    Thats 40,000 people who play on recordings in the case of PPL and 50,000+ songwriters in the case of the PRS.
    A similar system that we are proposing already exists in 25 European countries and has done for years. I doubt any consumers notice and it goes a very small way to compensate all of the people mentioned above who have lost significant parts of their income with the advent of digital.
    The BBC seem to forget that when a programme is retransmitted on the I-Plyaer or listen again that preceeded it they paid more money to creators. Which means that you, all the members of the public , did as well through the license fee.
    Personally I think it fair that creators are rewarded for their efforts and that not everything is obtained for free.
    Jon Webster

  • Comment number 33.

    OK so in levying a tax on such devices, woudl this then mean that we are allowed to copy music?

    I think it is madness that they think that they can take with both the left and right hand - first in overpriced music and then on the devices themselves.

  • Comment number 34.

    what is over priced about music? exactly how much do you think a track should be then? or an album on Cd format?
    jon webster

  • Comment number 35.

    It doesnt really matter what its worth, the horse has bolted, there is no going back. Unlike with Video (which have also failed) there is no way to prevent copying in the end, so there will always be illegal copies for music on the internet. market forces dictate that music is worth less than people currenly pay. Much of downloaded music is downloaded by those who would never pay for it whether they could get it free or not. Some tracks are worth 10p, some a pound, not all are worth the fee currently paid. The sooner artists and the industry in general realises this the better.

  • Comment number 36.

    "it goes a very small way to compensate all of the people mentioned above who have lost significant parts of their income with the advent of digital"

    Jon Webster makes out that artists are struggling to put food on the table or buy shoes for their kids as a result of people copying a CD they've paid for onto a digitial player for their own personal use. As he calls them, "hard drives that facilitate format shifting."

    (If I've understood you correctly?)

    That's just ridiculous. If I take my Sony Discman out with me, that's fine. But if I listen to the same track off the MP3 player built into my phone, that'll hurt them? C'mon...

    Also... even if we allow copying music left, right and centre - and let's admit that's going on right now - are the musicians really losing out? I don't think so - they are still filthily rich and earn far more money than, say, a firefighter who actually goes out and risks his life to save others.

    I'd love to be a professional musician one day, but not for the money. In today's terms, I think I'd be happy with £30k a year even if I became the most famous musician in the world. Why do they need millions whilst other honest, hardworking folk scrape the barrell just to get by?

    Forget the "iPod tax" - record bosses and rock stars are rich enough already.

  • Comment number 37.

    The point is that 99.9% of musicians are NOT filthy rich. The distribution to PRS members (songwriters) annually is practically all below £10,000 each.
    Yes there are a very few who make a lot of money but they are few and far between. Even acts who have hits do not get rich until that happens consistently. How many acts have long careers?
    Yes of course fireman should be well rewarded but the point is that our society does not generally value music or musicians. Please do not be distracted by the antics of a very few rich stars and think about the guy playing in the pit in a West End theatre, or an orchestra musician with a second job to make ends meet.
    Musicians are losing money drastically as a result of digital as are many others.
    Jon Webster

  • Comment number 38.

    Has this nonsense arisen again? When are the dinasours of the record companies going to wake and smell the proverbial? Bands such as Radiohead and The Charletons have realised that you cannot stop technology. You must adapt or die. Almost evolutionary. A tax on copying devices is ludicrous. Even the ipod lock on copying to another machine can be broken by a widely available piece of software on the web.
    I remember years ago, when you bought an LP, the inner sleeve had a skull and crossbones (the skull being a cassette) and underneath it said, "Home taping is killing music". Well, it didn't, and neither will copying in the digital age.
    It's just damned greed. They have been milking Joe Public for years. Feels a bit like payback to me.

  • Comment number 39.

    I use electricity to run my computer and mp3 player, which plays the lawful music: so perhaps the music industry need to be involved in that value chain.

    Perhaps they want to charge people for the use of the air that transmits the sound waves which allow their music to be played?

    In which case i'm charging rent for the air that they use to play bad music that I didnt want to hear in the first place.

  • Comment number 40.

    Just as an addendum to my previous post and a reply to Joe Webster:

    This isn't a debate about whether music should be paid for or not: Of course it should be - but this is about whether the industry should get extra money because people transfer a cd to a digital format for their own personal use. It doesnt create any extra burden on musicians, and its not a loss because they would not be getting revenue from it before.

    It's like saying you can only play a cd on one cd unit, not in the car - you need to pay again for that. I don't see the rationale why someone needs to pay twice... unless that rationale is 'we need more money' - if thats the case then charge more for the original format - but the market will dictate the price eventually and the industry knows that.

    If you want to go to that kind of control then rent the music, then you are in a position to specify when and where people can use it: but this is a hurculean task to implement, let alone persuade people to do in the first place.

    But ... if people have bought a copy of music and the rights to listen to it then it should be up to them which personal format they use - just like its up to them which volume to use and which set of speakers/headphones.


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