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Tedisco Wants Wealthy Inmates to Pay Their Own Way

Monday, July 20, 2009
Jim Tedisco, the New York State assembleyman whose premature decision to bolt Albany for a Congressional position he would never win drew the ire of left-leaning commentators, has recently introduced a bill designed to charge wealthy criminals for their state-provided room and board. The so-called "Madoff Bill" proposes a "sliding scale [to] determine how much convicts would have to pay, based on their assets," with those on the lower end of the spectrum (those folks with net worths below forty grand) paying nothing while the Martha Stewarts and Michael Vicks of the world would be responsible for their respective tabs in their entirety.

I wonder how penologists will take the suggestion.

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"Pull My Strings And . . ."

Thursday, July 16, 2009
In one of the more thought-provoking articles I've come across lately, Time Magazine's Steven Gray discusses a nascent trend in academic circles: the selling of sponsorships to support classes for which sufficient funding does not exist. As an academic myself, I have seen first-hand the ways in which dwindling enrollment and budget restrictions can adversely affect both students and instructors, so I was not quite as appalled by the prospect of "TD Waterhouse Marketing 101" as I feel I should have been when I first heard the suggestion. I mean, libraries are often named after donors and sports stadiums frequently bear the names of various corporate sponsors, right?

Then again . . .

Any such move brings with it the threat of sponsors affecting the content of the courses on which their names appear. After all, if Daddy Warbucks knows his coffers keep a particular course breathing, he has a certain degree of power over what is covered (or covered up) in that class. Likewise, instructors may feel pressure not to rock the boat or otherwise upset a sponsor for fear of losing a coveted sponsorship for his or her department, which could result in detrimental self-censorship and other equally negative behaviors.

This is not to say that instructors are not already aware of how their conduct in a classroom may affect their job security or their standing within their respective departments, but it does add another, potentially sinister layer of possibilities. One need look no further than our elected officials whose campaigns were financed by special interests to see the reality of the threat. Few gifts are truly free and money almost always comes with strings attached. . .

In the most ideal scenario, naming rights could be a boon to schools, enabling them to keep intellectually valuable courses in their catalogues without much compromise. I mean, ironists could potentially have a field day with naming rights, too: having Frito-Lay sponsor a nutrition class or Halliburton sponsor a course in Middle Eastern studies, for instance. In most other scenarios, however, a sense of humor will not be enough to undo the potential threat to academic integrity.

So, here's a suggestion: sentence corporate criminals to pay for classes as part of their punishments. Drop the whole sponsorship thing and earmark fines for education. That could help a bit, no?

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Music Industry Seeks 'Piracy Tax'

Monday, March 17, 2008
From Wired.com:

"In recent months, some of the major labels have warmed to a pitch by Jim Griffin...to seek an extra fee on broadband connections and to use the money to compensate rights holders for music that's shared online...Griffin's idea is to collect a fee from internet service providers -- something like $5 per user per month -- and put it into a pool that would be used to compensate songwriters, performers, publishers and music labels. A collecting agency would divvy up the money according to artists' popularity on P2P sites, just as ASCAP and BMI pay songwriters for broadcasts and live performances of their work."
[Full story]

Like most people, I share Mr. Griffin's concern for musicians and other creative artists receiving financial recompense for their work. However, his "pitch" strikes me as an extraordinarily bad idea. Ostensibly, as internet users, we would not be punished for our misdeeds in such a scenario. Instead, ISPs will be charged a few dollars each month for not preventing us from downloading music (and, I would assume, other media) illegally. Now ISPs, as money-making enterprises, would have to find a way to minimize the fiscal blow such a fee would entail. So far, so good. The next logical step, of course, would be for the ISPs in question to increase advertising rates and/or our monthly subscription costs.

Assuming that ISPs pass at least some of the monthly charges onto internet users via increased subscription rates, I would imagine that we will see several different reactions among consumers, including: A) people who dismiss the fee as "nominal"; B) people who, having spent money downloading music through iTunes and similar services, will resent paying "extra" for music they have already purchased; C) people who will view the charge as license to download music with impunity; and D) people who have no interest in downloading music and feel "punished" for the behavior of total strangers, folks who feel adding such a fee would almost be like asking someone buying a blank audio cassette to record his or her newborn's first words to pay extra for someone dubbing a Sheila E. record.

There is the very real possibility that people falling into groups B and D would respond to added fees by canceling their internet service (an admittedly unlikely scenario) or, at the very least, ceasing to purchase music (and other media) through established, legitimate channels. Whether or not such concerns will affect the choices record companies make regarding the dissemination of music and the payment of royalties, a surcharge will undoubtedly alienate consumers already skeptical about the business practices of companies widely considered avaricious. The way I see it, quite a few people willingly pay a dollar or two for a song download through companies like iTunes or Amazon. I, for instance, often spend several times the proposed "piracy surcharge" each month purchasing legitimate downloads--and I know of many, many other people who do the same. That five dollar add-on, I suspect, will push many of us away from "legal" channels, thereby weakening the cash flow record companies currently enjoy.

Of course, I am not an economist. I do suspect, however, that if such a surcharge is universally adopted by ISPs, record companies would earn more money than if we all kept buying music. Otherwise, why would anyone want to risk angering consumers? I mean, seriously, if record companies really want to go in that direction, they had better be certain that five bucks per internet user per month will bring more revenue than all other modes of music distribution combined because, once the "pirate tax" is implemented, they can kiss all that other revenue goodbye. After all, who would willingly give money to someone taking it against our will?

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