May 30, 2024

Online Symposium: Voluntary Collective Licensing of Music

Today we’re kicking off an online symposium on voluntary collective licensing of music, over at the Center for InfoTech Policy site.

The symposium is motivated by recent movement in the music industry toward the possibility of licensing large music catalogs to consumers for a fixed monthly fee. For example, Warner Music, one of the major record companies, just hired Jim Griffin to explore such a system, in which Internet Service Providers would pay a per-user fee to record companies in exchange for allowing the ISPs’ customers to access music freely online. The industry had previously opposed collective licenses, making them politically non-viable, but the policy logjam may be about to break, making this a perfect time to discuss the pros and cons of various policy options.

It’s an issue that evokes strong feelings – just look at the comments on David’s recent post.

We have a strong group of panelists:

  • Matt Earp is a graduate student in the i-school at UC Berkeley, studying the design and implementation of voluntary collective licensing systems.
  • Ari Feldman is a Ph.D. candidate in computer science at Princeton, studying computer security and information policy.
  • Ed Felten is a Professor of Computer Science and Public Affairs at Princeton.
  • Jon Healey is an editorial writer at the Los Angeles Times and writes the paper’s Bit Player blog, which focuses on how technology is changing the entertainment industry’s business models.
  • Samantha Murphy is an independent singer/songwriter and Founder of
  • David Robinson is Associate Director of the Center for InfoTech Policy at Princeton.
  • Fred von Lohmann is a Senior Staff Attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, specializing in intellectual property matters.
  • Harlan Yu is a Ph.D. candidate in computer science at Princeton, working at the intersection of computer science and public policy.

Check it out!


  1. If I were an independent artist, I might be bothered slightly today by the fact that some people downloaded must without paying for it (though I might take some considerable consolation in that fact that some people who would never otherwise have heard my music might discover it that way and subsequently buy it). I would be much more bothered if a scheme like the one proposed here were introduced, whereby people who downloaded my music would pay the record cartel for it and thus consider it paid for, even though none of the money actually came to me.

    I can certainly understand why the record cartel might like getting paid for music that isn’t theirs, but I see no reason those outside the cartel should favor it, nor do I see any moral justification for such a concept.

  2. It seems that this could be a partial solution to the issue of music downloading, but that entirely depends how it is administered. Since the pitfalls seem worse than the benefits, I am skeptical (at present)

    First, realize that many people only have one or two ISP’s they can chose from, so there should be a way for individuals to “opt out” of this system.

    Second, this has every potential to case stagnation in the music industry if the amounts paid out aren’t continually adjusted for the popularity of any given song. It would be wrong to just provide a hand-out to a large corporation just because it used to earn a profit, and blames technology for it failing to adopt its business model.

    Third, the possibility of these payouts to become a kind of corporate welfare is very real, and most programs like this have stifled innovation and protected market incumbents. Maybe the recorded music industry really is the buggy whip makers of our time, and they deserve to be consigned to the dustbin of history.

  3. Govt Skeptic says

    I love this idea, if it’s what I think. If each label sets up its own deal, with an individual fee to the user, then that’s great. Of course, their technical details must be in order (good tags, anywhere access, etc) but that’s expected.
    If the music houses wish to act as individuals rather than a collective, then let them fight each other, based on the merits of their bulk service and the quality of their artists. After all, that’s the premise of the free market.
    Somehow, though, I have my doubts. I can’t imagine why I’d have a bad feeling about this, given their previous actions.

  4. I’m confused
    If the congestion problems ISP’s are having right now is due to the unlimited “all you can eat” downloading that the “pirates” are already doing, how are their networks going to handle EVERYONE downloading whatever they want? Right now only the the “pirates” are downloading whatever they want. What happens to the networks when the pirates AND the non-pirates are downloading?

  5. Don’t! Just don’t go down this alley.
    Just when these thugs finally met some resistance in court, they look for other ways to evade their inevitable demise.

    This is just another extortion fee.

  6. This will be interesting. I expect that the music-distributors’ version of collective licensing will be something like the insurance companies’ idea of universal health care (the government ponies up full retail to buy everyone an insurance policy, complete with the current set of exclusions and rescissions) but it would be interesting to see the rest of the gamut laid out in more detail.

    In some possible worlds with collective licensing, music distributors might be much more like agents for artists (they get paid more when they artists do) than like publishers or studios (whose interest typically involves maximizing their own revenue at artists’ expense).

  7. “Error establishing a database connection” – having server issues? It was fine earlier this morning…

  8. I am tired of the entertainment MAFIAA.

  9. Richard Johnson says

    Hmm, so I should pay again for access to music I’ve already purchased? And I’ll only have access to lossy compressed versions with inaccurate file names/tags? And my access could be terminated without my permission, without the police taking my report of theft as seriously as they do when my car is broken into and my CDs stolen?

    Enh, forget that. Hopefully I’ll be able to (or be allowed to!) find an ISP that will not participate in this seriously stupid recast of the ‘blank media levy’ idea. After all, that’s worked out so well for all us music listeners…

  10. Did you invite Jim Griffin?