Isle of Man Mulls All-You-Can-Eat File-Sharing Fees

Music fans and record labels have long fought over the rights and wrongs of file-sharing, but now an island tax haven in the Irish Sea says it has come up with a way to keep the peace.

The Isle of Man's e-business adviser, Ron Berry, said Tuesday that the self-governing territory between England and Ireland is considering charging a nominal monthly fee to legalize file-swapping for personal use.

Although industry groups expressed skepticism, Berry said the plan was a way of replacing piracy with principle.

"Anybody can go on to the Internet and access anything," he said. "What we're trying to do is legalize it and monetize it. Why would you bother to pirate anything if you could do it with the blessing of the rights holders?"

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But securing the blessing of those rights-holders — major record labels, many of whom are still fighting file-sharers in court — could be difficult.

"A blanket file-sharing deal akin to a broadband tax imposed by government, as has been suggested, is not something we'd welcome — and is some way wide of the mark," the BPI — Britain's main record industry lobbying group — said in a statement Tuesday.

Berry argued that the Isle of Man, with a population of 78,000, was the ideal place for an experiment that could calm some of the industry's doubts.

The 221-square-mile territory is dependent on the British crown but is not technically part of the United Kingdom and has its own parliament. Its rock-bottom taxes have turned it into an important financial center, but the island also is trying to market itself as an e-commerce hub.

The island's inhabitants, known as Manx residents, all have broadband Internet access, and would pay about a dollar a month for the right to swap music, Berry said.

As to how the money would be distributed to rights-holders, Berry said that has yet to be negotiated with the record industry. But the experiment could go ahead even without a negotiated deal, Berry said, explaining that the money could be held in escrow.

The IFPI, which represents the record industry worldwide, said that in principle it supported deals to provide unlimited music through Internet service or cell phone providers.

The IFPI said that while "an experiment in a small territory such as the Isle of Man might be quite interesting from an academic point of view," it did not believe the model could be applied elsewhere.