Isle of Man Offers Free Downloads

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Videos by American Songwriter

For a tiny island off the U.K. coast, self-governed yet under British lordship, when it comes to stemming the tide of music piracy, the Isle of Man has shown itself to be far more forward-thinking than any of its European neighbors.

For a tiny island off the U.K. coast, self-governed yet under British lordship, when it comes to stemming the tide of music piracy, the Isle of Man has shown itself to be far more forward-thinking than any of its European neighbors. At a MidemNet conference – a worldwide music market where nearly 9,000 labels, publishers, etc. gather for business – in Cannes, France, the Isle’s inward investment minister Ron Berry announced the Manx government would soon set in place a compulsory music license, which would require its more than 80,000 citizens to take part in a blanket fee in return for unlimited, legal music downloads. “At the end of the day, we’re not going to stop piracy,” explained Berry. “Embrace it … Had the music industry embraced [the original Napster], we’d have a very different medium today.”

Apparently, the Isle of Man has convinced every local ISP to participate in the program, though how much the fee will be has yet been disclosed, as well as what portion the music industry itself will glean from the program. More important, though, is the controversy this will generate from citizens who have no desire to download music files, but are still forced to pay.

Even so, the Isle’s tactic has set a confident precedent for other European governments. Geoff Taylor, head of the U.K.’s music trade group BPI, said he supported the idea, but expressed doubt that such a program could exist in more diverse populations where not every ISP would defer to such open-armed licensing.

“If all the ISPs across Europe were interested in taking licenses, we’d be in a very interesting position, and we wouldn’t face many of the problems we face today,” said Taylor. “But our doors are not being battered down by ISPs looking for licenses.”

That’s especially unlikely given recent polls by the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry that quotes only 18 percent of Europeans take part in illegal file sharing. Apart from that, such blatant acceptance of peer-to-peer programs would entirely bypass digital retailers such as iTunes or Amazon, while forcing Isle users to resort to less reputable sources.

Perhaps this program will spur other states into adopting similar arrangements, or on the contrary, prompt business to safeguard, if they can, against such government-led policy. Either way, the Isle of Man has shown more groundbreaking gumption than anyone would have expected.


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