Fee plan to combat net piracy

Music industry heads say New Zealand should look into charging internet users a fee to download music which will help tackle illegal file-sharing.

Their comments follow plans in Britain that would enable millions of broadband users to pay an annual levy of up to 30 ($80), which would allow them to copy as much previously illegal music from the internet as they wanted.

The money would be channelled back to the rights-holders, with artists responsible for the most popular songs receiving most of the cash.

Anthony Healey, executive director of the Australasian Performing Right Association, which collects royalties on behalf of New Zealand songwriters, said there had been talk of setting up a similar system here but no one had gone as far as to draw up a proposal.

"It certainly would provide copyright owners and copyright users with some sort of surety that the rights-holders and the creators of the works are being paid.

"Without question, it's a proposal that needs investigation and I think that the public would quite readily add a monthly or an annual charge on to their internet account to gain access to a vast majority to copyright works that are out there."

However, if the system was in place, legal services, where people had to pay for material such as iTunes, would become useless, Mr Healey said. New Zealand Music Commission spokesman Steve Newall said it would be difficult for the music industry to reach an agreement on the value of music.

"The difficult part is, what value do you place on the music being downloaded, whether that's per song or coming up with a blanket amount, and the second part is how you're going to split it up between artists."

In Britain, John Hutton, the Business Secretary, and Andy Burnham, the Culture Secretary, will unveil a package of proposals today, beginning with thousands of prolific downloaders receiving letters warning them they are breaking the law.

In the longer term, Mr Burnham is supporting calls from sections of the music industry for a yearly levy to be imposed by ISPs on customers who want to share music.

Veteran music industry figure Peter Jenner, manager of the singer Billy Bragg, who has championed the plan for an annual charge, said the idea was attracting growing support.

The British Government will also announce consultation on other ways of combating internet piracy, with a view to final decisions later in the year after studying the impact of the warning letters.

Legislation could be in place by the next northern spring.

As well as an annual levy set by ISPs, the Government will also float the idea of a "three strikes and you're out" policy adopted in France under which people who illicitly download or share music are disconnected after ignoring two warnings.

additional reporting: INDEPENDENT

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