By Jeff Price
As some of you may already know, there are two bills bouncing around Capitol Hill called PIPA and SOPA that are supposed to stop websites and internet services from illegally giving away other people’s music (this also extends to film, books, software, video games etc., but I am only going to focus on the music side of things).
I adamantly believe that when an artist creates and records a song, the artist, and only the artist, should have the right to do with it what they want. If they want to sell it, they should sell it. If they want to give it away, it’s theirs to give away. No one else has the right to make those decisions for them.
As noble as this premise may sound, the reality is that the world is full of good people, bad people, and uneducated people. And, whether we like it or not, all these people have access to technology that makes a lot of my beliefs moot–what good is a belief or law if it is simply unenforceable.
To that end, Congress got lobbied hard by the RIAA to write a new law that allows its label members (note: the RIAA is the trade association for the major labels) to have a new legal weapon to go after “rogue” websites and services that give the middle finger to copyright by allowing people to get music for free from artists that do not want to give it away for free.
The problem is that the bills lobbied for were done so by the RIAA, the organization that no longer represents the music industry.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. Congress needs to wake up to this fact.
Or said more eloquently by the Deputy Director of Future Of Music Coalition Casey Rae Hunter:
“Artists have every right to be wary when powerful entertainment conglomerates push for policies that could undermine free expression, all the while claiming to speak for creators.”
The second problem is that the bill gives the old school players the power to not only protect their copyrights (which I support), but also to kill the new music industry.
Simply stated, if the SOPA bill was signed into law in its original form, TuneCore could have been threatened to be turned off, and thus cut off the choice, freedom, and future revenue from the hundreds of thousands of TuneCore Artists that have earned over a quarter billion dollars. Fortunately, TuneCore would be able to handle the threat, but others with fewer resources may not have the same outcome (not to mention why should TuneCore have to spend its time and money to deal with another entity making frivolous claims).
And before you think I am being hyperbolic, here is a perfect example; the US is already seizing web properties through the Department of Homeland Security’s Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) division. One of their targets was a hip-hop blog called Djaz1.com which they literally shut down, claiming the hip-hop blog was illegally distributing songs it did not have the right to distribute. That’s right, the government just grabbed the domain and shut the thing down.
Turns out the government had it all wrong – and a year later they finally relented, but not before irreparable damage was done.
The article on TechDirt titled: “Feds Falsely Censor Popular Blog For Over A Year, Deny All Due Process, Hide All Details…” provides a great play by play. The author summarizes it well when he says:
The Dajaz1 case became particularly interesting to us, after we saw evidence showing that the songs that ICE used in its affidavit as “evidence” of criminal copyright infringement were songs sent by representatives of the copyright holder with the request that the site publicize the works — in one case, even coming from a VP at a major music label. Even worse, about the only evidence that ICE had that these songs were infringing was the word of the “VP of Anti-Piracy Legal Affairs for the RIAA,” Carlos Linares, who was simply not in a position to know if the songs were infringing or authorized. In fact, one of the songs involved an artist not even represented by an RIAA label, and Linares clearly had absolutely no right to speak on behalf of that artist.
If this doesn’t scare the crap out of you, it should. If the original versions of the SOPA or PIPA bills passed, TuneCore, just like Djaz1.com could have been targeted.
The concept behind the bill is good—protect copyright—but the execution stinks. Congressman and Senators don’t know that the power has shifted, and they need to hear from you.
Seriously, they need to hear from you.
Take action, get involved. Call your Senator and/or Congressman and tell them what you think and why.
Or go here to learn and do more.
UPDATED – 1/20/2012
Based on comments below, we thought it would be best to provide some more context to further communicate our point in this article…
The concern is that the RIAA wrongfully accuses TuneCore of distributing music into iTunes, etc., that TuneCore did not have the right to distribute, thereby violating copyright law. This in turn gets some clueless governmental body trying to shut us down, and we already do get notices from time to time like this
If this bill was in effect, it could then trigger some governmental body coming after us.
This is not a hypothetical – we have been contacted by a major claiming they control the rights to a master recording that one of our customers controls the rights to.
They just flail, slash and burn.
We then have to deal with them (iTunes, etc…) and respond legally, and challenge their claims. When push comes to shove they back down.
Add to this that I already had to hire a litigator to deal with a threatened lawsuit from the RIAA on a different matter.
The passage of SOPA in its original state would have upped the ante and given them even more power to attack both TuneCore and its artists.
If the RIAA or anyone else ever stepped forward and claimed THEY owned the rights to the recordings of our customers’ songs, TuneCore would fight them tooth and nail on behalf of our customers.
And if they did do this (and this has happened numerous times since we launched) the original SOPA bill would give them more power to try to shut TuneCore down.
We automatically become an “infringer” just like the website in this article that did nothing wrong but became a target nevertheless.
If this SOPA bill had been passed in its original form six years ago, TuneCore would most likely not exist today.