Monday, February 27, 2006

Media Tax

In Finland the state carries a tax on blank media, a fraction of which supposedly goes to the artists. For a write-once DVD this is roughly 60-70% of the disk's street price, or some 21 sn per gigabyte. You pay this tax regardless of whether you use the disk to share art with your friends or whether you back up your own works on it.

But let's take the media tax to the logical extreme, and then a little beyond. First, think about paper. High-quality laser printers claim a 600 dpi resolution, but let's assume only 150 dpi would be recoverable and hence usable to store data reliably. With margins a normal A4 sheet of paper could then hold roughly 250 kilobytes of data. A box of 2000 sheets of copier paper could with double-sided printing hold one gigabyte. That's only 1% of the street price of the paper, but think about the volumes: roughly 300 000 metric tons is produced yearly, or approximately 6.5 billion euros worth of taxes. Worth lobbying, don't you think?

Ok, what about empty space. Waves propagating through space is also a storage medium. Suppose I send a laser beam one km away, where it is reflected back to a point one millimeter right of the origin, where it is reflected back one millimeter left of the first reflection point, etc. turning the beam gradually around. Approximately five seconds and 1.5 million reflections later the laser beam reaches its origin. With 10 ns pulses this device stores 62 megabytes of data. But the fun has just begun, because we can use many laser colors and stack such laser disks (SIC!) on top of each other. Even more efficient would be to construct a sphere instead of a ring of mirrors. The sphere would contain some 3*10^12 mirrors and the laser would reflect through all of them in four months. With, say, fourty different laser colors we could store over 5000 terabytes of data in the sphere. That's worth a million in media taxes!

The German 3G licenses for 20 years cost over 3 billion (10^9) euros each. But the German airspace's volume could easily hold millions of laser spheres, each worth one million in media tax. This sounds the expensive 3G licenses of empty space were actually a bargain. Oh, the lasers can be a little bright, so remember to wear a tin foil hat should you enter the German airspace.

Now, let's resort to my pet peeve, homeopathy. Homeopaths claim that even if you dilute water so far that it no longer contains a single atom of the original remedy, the "memory of the water" will remember what it is supposed to cure. Logically we can extend this not only to vials of water, but also single water atoms. Hahnemann listed 217 remedies, but I don't know whether a water molecule can "remember" only one of them or any combination of these remedies. If the former, a water molecule can store 7.76 bits instead of 217 bits of information. If we assume the former, a litre of water can hold so much information that its media tax is worth 1200 times the whole world's GDP.

Taking off the tin foil hat, empty space is not economic and homeopathy is not possible as a storage medium. But media tax will nevertheless have to be moderated at some point. Otherwise future storage media, such as the HVD will cost nearly 1000 euros per disk.


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