Tens of thousands of students have signed up to pay for a legal P2P music program in US universities, set to start later this year in experimental form. It’s Choruss, the incubator hatched by Jim Griffin – a long-time advocate of licensing P2P sharing on networks.
Choruss won’t ultimately be in the retail or service business, Griffin told us in Washington DC today – but it may provide an “umbrella” for managed service companies such as Playlouder MSP, the technology partner for the suspended Virgin Unlimited music service. “We’re not in the business of distribution,” he said. Griffin was also on a panel at the biennial World Copyright Summit, organised by CISAC, the global organisation for collective rights management societies.
Griffin says this year’s phase of Choruss is designed to experiment with pricing. Different colleges will get different pricing schemes.
“The plan is to use next school year to run tests and experiments,” he said. Only after the scheme has been running will an assessment be possible – but Griffin told Summit delegates that, “We’ve had students tell us it’s worth $20 a month – to share what they want to share.”
The fact that such large numbers have volunteered to pay for a P2P service defies the conventional music industry wisdom that the only way to compete with the pirates is with free offerings. It also shows how much Choruss has evolved since it first broke the surface last April, when talk was of opting students in automatically, in return for a “coventant not to sue”.
Many of El Reg’s criticisms from last year have been taken on board it seems. So instead of being herded like sheep into a compulsory scheme, Choruss envisages voluntary, paying customers.
“Here’s a market some have written off, and said they’re not willing to pay. People have voted with their own money: The student representatives allocated their own money to pay for music. They don’t want to pay for Music the Product, but Music the Service,” said Griffin.
The most significant aspect of a voluntary, pay-for service is that it spikes the argument that licensing networks need involve is a “music tax”. Griffin said the project should be regarded as an experiment to help gauge pricing.
“As an industry, we don’t do much testing, or experimenting, and learn at what price point someone would choose to participate in this system.
Phase Two of Choruss involves rolling out legal P2P to ISPs across the land.
“We can [soon] approach ISPs with metrics in hand, not speculation.”
“We’re not arriving to Hoover information off the student networks, that would violate their privacy. We need to ensure academic self-administration is respected.”
It’s hard to classify Choruss, and Griffin declined our invitation to stick a label on it. It’s a clearing house, of sorts. But Griffin’s sponsor Warner Music plans to spin it out with joint ownership by stakeholders – something that would need to cross antitrust hurdles.
Playlouder MSP boss Paul Sanders said attitudes had moved forward radically in the last 18 months.
“The rights holding community is now willing to engage with the ISP community. Only two years ago, we’d approach a major label and explain the unlimited model. They’d go, ‘fine but our wholesale price is 55p per track.’ No one’s ever going to start to have a sensible commecial conversation if that’s the premise.”
He predicted the debate would become more sophisticated as paid-for services were better understood.
“ISPs want a proper, professionally managed service that they can hold accountable for it. That’s not the same as a free-for-all. They want the grey area content [eg, mashups, live recordings, and bootlegs], but in a managed environment. A lot of these questions recede as the managed and invested-in services emerge.”
Griffin had one interesting observation that was a side-effect of the Net Neutrality fuss.
“How dare you [ISPs] speed some packets up, slow some down, but claim you didn’t know what was in them. They no longer deserve the Safe Harbour exemption. To claim otherwise would be blind ignorance. ”
“Let’s toss it out.”
Now that will drive the freetards completely nuts.