Holland and the iPod tax

The Register reports on a new law enacted in Holland that can charitably only be described as "stupid." In a misguided effort to prop up the ailing music industry, the Netherlands has decided to impose a per megabyte tax on all hard drive-based music players, with the proceeds going to the music industry.

This means, according to the article, that the 60 gigabyte model of the iPod would have a tax of $235! According to the Register, Germany also has a tax on computer hard drives, and as they get bigger, the hard drive tax could exceed the base cost of the computer (that is, the tax will be several thousand dollars).

There are so many things wrong with this approach that it is hard to know where to begin. In the first place, the Holland law assumes that all music stored on portable music players is stolen, when in fact only a very small percentage is. So music lovers have to pay royalties twice--once when they buy the music, and again when they buy the music player. It's a windfall for the music industry, since only a small part of royalties actually go to the artist. It forces the music player retailers to become tax collectors, which is always a bad idea. And it will simply drive the purchase of music players out of the country. Holland is an easy drive from a half dozen other countries, and it's barely an afternoon trip to take the train to France, pick up an iPod, and go home.

The music industry does not have a "right" to make money. As markets and technologies change, businesses have to change too. This business of using laws to protect monopolies hurts communities and whole countries, as innovation and new products are simply driven elsewhere. It's a global economy, and Dutch lawmakers are naive in extreme to believe this law will work. It will only hurt the country's economic development as businesses see their customers go elsewhere, and not just for iPods. While they are across the border, they are likely to shop for other items as well.

We have a similar problem with anti-muni broadband in this country. Making municipal investments in broadband illegal props up old, Manufacturing Economy businesses, drives away innovation and new economic development activity, raises prices, and hurts communities.

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