By George Howard
(follow George on Twitter)
In a recent editorial, Cary Sherman (Chief Executive of the Recording Industry Association of America, which represents music labels) makes the argument that in order to stop SOPA, websites like Google and Wikipedia are presenting lies in order to advance an agenda:
The hyperbolic mistruths, presented on the home pages of some of the world’s most popular Web sites, amounted to an abuse of trust and a misuse of power. When Wikipedia and Google purport to be neutral sources of information, but then exploit their stature to present information that is not only not neutral but affirmatively incomplete and misleading, they are duping their users into accepting as truth what are merely self-serving political declarations.
It is deeply troubling to read comments from the head of the RIAA accusing others of attempting to use their positions in order to advance an agenda that maintains a status quo.
Those who fear and have the most to lose with respect to technological innovation are the ones who will cling hardest to the models that support their livelihood. The RIAA—with their historic, ongoing and insistent reluctance to embrace any type of technological innovation that they deem a threat to their business model—is the poster child for this type of behavior.
Mr. Sherman states, for instance, that policy makers:
…knew that music sales in the United States are less than half of what they were in 1999, when the file-sharing site Napster emerged, and that direct employment in the industry had fallen by more than half since then, to less than 10,000.
One can only surmise from this statement that Mr. Sherman desires to go back to 1999 when technological developments did not have such an impact on the industry he represents, as they do today. Of course, he doesn’t mention the VAST amount of jobs created because of these technological innovations. Nor does he mention, as my colleague and TuneCore Founder/CEO, Jeff Price did in his article on SOPA, that the RIAA’s calculation of music sales is far from accurate or comprehensively complete:
The problem is that the bills lobbied for were done so by the RIAA, the organization that no longer represents the music industry. The majority of today’s music is being created, distributed, bought, streamed and shared from artists outside of the RIAA label member system. The RIAA and its members are no longer the voice of the industry; they are the voice of what was, and an ever-shrinking part of what is.
As Venture Capitalist (and noted music fan) Bijan Sabet recently pointed out on his blog, with respect to another entity trying to cling to an outmoded business model:
Now Hollywood wants the nuclear option. They want to turn off sites that they don’t like or because of a few rogue users. They don’t want to give a take down notice and live with the rules of the DMCA—they just want to erase the site from the web along with data from the vast majority of users that don’t infringe.
Mr. Sabet does a nice job of presenting a counter-argument to Mr. Sherman’s seeming point of view that rejecting SOPA is illegal (“We all share the goal of a safe and legal Internet”), by referencing the current governing law, the DMCA:
I’m over simplifying things greatly but the basic DMCA deal was the following
1. Users take responsibility for content they upload
2. Content owners notify website owners of infringing material
3. Website owners receive the notice, review the notice and then take down any infringing content.
That is how the web operates.
The DMCA is, of course, not an easily-understood document, however it is the dispositive document when it comes to governing this ever-evolving technological world we find ourselves in.
The proponents of SOPA (essentially the RIAA and the MPAA) want to change the laws. Fair enough. There is a process to do this. What they didn’t rely upon, and what Mr. Sherman apparently rails against (Would they have cast their clicks?” he asks — who is “they?”) is an ever-increasingly vocal constituent who — because of the very same technology that Mr. Sherman seems so opposed to — is now better connected, informed, and able to make his or her voice heard than ever before. It is very possible, therefore, that Mr. Sherman not only desires to go back in time to an era where the industry he seeks to protect had a monopoly on what records were made, distributed, and promoted, but also a time when it was far easier to get legislation like SOPA passed without the type of public outcry that he must deal with today. In both cases, unfortunately for Mr. Sherman and others, he can no longer silence the voices.
Update 3/2: Watch George Howard discuss this article in a live webchat.
George Howard is the former president of Rykodisc. He currently advises numerous entertainment and non-entertainment firms and individuals. Additionally, he is the Executive Editor of Artists House Music and is an Associate Professor of Music Business/Management at Berklee. He is most easily found on Twitter at: twitter.com/gah650