What is this mysterious component of cyberspace?

Many illegalities occur via the Internet: however, they are difficult to end completely, as it is extremely hard to locate the anonymous perpetrators of these online crimes – this is why many question whether it is at all possible to regulate the Internet completely. Thus, I propose a tax on a specific aspect of the Internet which is actually completely legal (and hence has known parties and is as such taxable), and yet still has negative side-effects attached, as well as other physical products associated with it.

The battle against global warming is now imprinted in the minds of many: indeed, it has become one of the defining factors of our generation. The usual scapegoats for global warming include cars, jets and polluting firms. However, according to a recent ICF survey commissioned by the Internet security company McAfee, the carbon footprint of spam is a colossal 33 billion kilowatts per annum, equivalent to the carbon footprint (per annum) of around 3. 1 million cars, a huge amount by any standards. So why, when cars, jets and polluting businesses have been taxed into relative submission, should spammers remain unscathed?

Simple: as with many online activities, the parties involved in spamming are usually anonymous, or exceedingly hard to trace. Nevertheless, the carbon footprint figure for spam highlights yet another, even bigger issue. This gargantuan wastage occurs even with the various forms of protection in place which attempt to prevent spam from being read at all (e. g. the automatic classification of spam as 'Junk' and spam filters). This means that even though much spam is not even read, energy usage is still monumentally high.

What can be inferred from this, then, is that other components of the Internet which are actively sought will have a significantly larger carbon footprint. In many cases, this is unavoidable as the Internet has become vital to the world we live in. However, one aspect of the Internet has huge and highly inelastic demand, has additional negative effects attached, known involved parties and is not a necessity. Yes, that controversial, sordid vice. If spam generates such a huge carbon footprint, imagine that of the online pornography industry.

Furthermore, pornography rakes in huge amounts of money as an industry, pornography has larger revenues than Microsoft, Google, Amazon, eBay, Yahoo, Apple and Netflix combined, amassing around $97. 06 billion in 2006, with the UK being within the 5 biggest producers of pornography in the world, having the 3rd largest number of pornographic web pages behind USA and Germany. This shows that the imposition of even a minute tax upon online subscriptions to UK porn sites and general porn would mean untold increases in governmental revenue, with inelastic demand guarding against huge drops in demand.

Additionally, the negative side-effects of pornography (which include increased rates of sexual crimes – in the words of writer Robin Morgan "Pornography is the theory, and rape is the practice" – adverse psychological effects and, of course, the huge carbon footprint) would also decrease if the right level of tax was introduced: the inelastic nature of demand for pornography (as many become addicted to it) would mean that taxation may be used to ensure businesses in the industry would remain profitable, that the mentioned negative effects would decrease in significance and quantity and that enough revenue would be generated to combat the side-effects and other ills of society. I propose that a small fixed percentage tax should be imposed upon every subscriber to British-produced or hosted online pornography, as well as introducing charges to online pornography which is free where possible, or else removing this free pornography altogether, and taxing physical pornography such as magazines and videos/DVDs.

This works in a two pronged method as those who already pay for it may keep paying for it: however, the negative effects upon those who consume pornography for free will decrease dramatically, improving British society. Working on the same premise as the recent "Robin Hood tax" idea, a small tax on the huge amounts of revenue generated in this huge industry will help to raise correspondingly huge levels of revenue which can contribute towards general government expenditure and national welfare, without encouraging an exodus of producers from the nation, as a relatively large proportion of those willing to pay for pornography in the first place will not be discouraged by a small increase in price.

If an international agreement with the larger still producers of pornography, such as USA and China could be agreed concerning taxation, then potential revenue generated could reach unthinkable levels. Either way, there would be a significant increase in revenue. In terms of problems due to regulation, it is clear that regulation of the Internet is possible, as shown by the Chinese government's imposition of huge Internet restrictions upon its people. Liberty is all well and good, but something like pornography should be controlled by government, because of both the potential revenue they receive and the effects upon society. In times of crisis, luxuries are usually the first to suffer: however, pornography has a stable level of high revenue, as it serves as a distraction of sorts for people during these difficult times.

So why shouldn't the vast wealth derived from something which provides no social benefit be used to help the nation? An industry should feel burdens befitting its effect on society and its stature, and the government should consider tapping this source of revenue in the same way that they have for alcohol and cigarettes (both of them, as pornography often becomes, addictive products), rather than considering an increase in VAT to 20% as they have rumoured to have been; such an influential and powerful industry (as portrayed by its rumoured role in the rise of VHS and the fall of Betamax) should come to the aid of the government which allows it to exist in its time of need. And there can be no doubt that the need at present is dire.