ArtsWatch: SOPA Goes Into Overtime

House Judiciary Committee just can't quit its Internet antipiracy bill
December 19, 2011 -- 5:42 pm PST
By Philip Merrill / GRAMMY.com

The Recording Academy actively represents the music community on such issues as intellectual property rights, music piracy, archiving and preservation, and censorship concerns. In pursuing its commitment to addressing these and other issues, The Recording Academy undertakes a variety of national initiatives. ArtsWatch is a key part of an agenda aimed at raising public awareness of and support for the rights of artists. To become more involved, visit Advocacy Action @ GRAMMY.com and sign up for Advocacy Action E-lerts.

Friends and foes of H.R. 3261, the Stop Online Piracy Act, were riveted by the House Judiciary Committee action as a marathon Dec. 15 markup session extended to the following day, and is now expected to resume on Dec. 21. The Dec. 15 webcast of this bipartisan battle drew more than 130,000 viewers. MPAA Senior Executive Vice President for Global Policy and External Affairs Michael O'Leary said, "Over the past two days, the committee has carefully considered and defeated dozens of amendments that would have weakened the bill and would have made it more difficult to stop online content theft and counterfeiting. When the committee resumes its work, we believe the bill will be approved. ... " While SOPA's opponents argue the bill's approach to blocking foreign rogue websites would harm the Internet, its proponents on the committee repeatedly expressed frustration that Internet service providers had been unwilling to shoulder the responsibility of coming forward with suitable compromises. The markup session was working with revised language submitted by Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) on Dec. 12. Responding to Internet company complaints on Dec. 14, Smith said, "Lawful companies and websites like Google, Twitter, Yahoo, and Facebook have nothing to worry about under this bill. Unfortunately, that has not stopped some of the bill's critics from spreading lies about the legislation in an attempt to stall efforts by Congress to combat foreign rogue websites. Companies like Google have made billions by working with and promoting foreign rogue websites so they have a vested interest in preventing Congress from stopping rogue sites." Last week's dramatic delays are only the latest example of these industries' willingness to fight. The Recording Academy supports H.R. 3261, the Stop Online Piracy Act.

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers' plan to begin accepting applications on Jan. 12, 2012, for new generic top-level domains has been on the receiving end of significant pushback — on Dec. 8 at a Senate Commerce Committee hearing, on Dec. 14 at a House Commerce Committee hearing, and on Dec. 16 in a letter expressing concern from the Federal Trade Commission. Internet engineers and experts expressed confidence that sufficient safeguards for trademarks are already in place, but a taste of things to come is presented by the commercial debut of registrations for the .xxx gTLD. Despite the fact that the .xxx administrator offered a clearcut trademark protection window, it seems that doubters abound who are buying .xxx domains instead of relying on the procedure, reportedly including leading universities and companies such as Google.

On Dec. 13 the Copyright Office announced that the first round of proposed DMCA exemptions from the prohibition on circumventing access controls have been posted online. The filing deadline for public comments is Feb. 10, 2012.

The Federal Communications Commission adopted rules on Dec. 13 implementing last year's Commercial Advertisement Mitigation Act, which keeps the average loudness of television commercials in line with the loudness of programs. It was Commissioner Michael Copps' final meeting, leaving the FCC with two vacant commissioner slots. On Dec. 8 the Senate Commerce Committee approved nominees Ajit Pai and Jessica Rosenworcel for the positions; however, Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) is expected to place a hold delaying a vote by the full Senate indefinitely.

In recent court action:

  • On Dec. 15 Sony Music Entertainment and Warner Music Group joined the infringement lawsuit that Universal Music Group filed last month against website Grooveshark in the Southern District of New York's U.S. District Court.
  • The Department of Justice ran into some glitches regarding two website domain names it had seized through its Operation In Our Sites program. In the Southern District of New York's U.S. District Court, defendant Rojadirecta's move to dismiss the government's domain forfeiture case was granted on Dec. 7; however, prosecutors have 30 days to replead the complaint. Separately, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement declined to pursue forfeiture against seized website Dajaz1 and returned control of the domain to its previous owners, however the RIAA has expressed interest in pursuing an infringement lawsuit against the site.
  • An all-star video clip promoting the popular Web destination Megaupload appeared on YouTube on Dec. 7. UMG successfully issued a takedown order. Well-known attorney Ira Rothken filed suit against UMG for wrongfully taking down the video on Dec. 12 in Northern California's U.S. District Court, emphasizing that the celebrities' appearances were authorized. UMG asserted that the takedown was based on rights other than objecting to copyright infringement and that it would no longer object to YouTube posting the video. On Dec. 16 Rothken filed a request for a temporary restraining order to prevent UMG from taking down the video from other websites.
  • Bloggers who fought back and won legal costs against aggressive copyright plaintiff Righthaven have reached the point where two judges are now pursuing the law firm's assets, including a Dec. 12 order permitting appointment of a receiver.

Recent corporate acquisitions of note include Web analytics firm BigChampagne, bought by concert giant Live Nation, and music licensing service Rightsflow, bought by YouTube.

Dec. 16 brought three big pieces of news on the international front. Chinese Web video giants Tudou and Youku will be taking advantage of their country's new-and-improved intellectual property laws to sue each other over exclusivity rights to multiple video properties. The World Trade Organization gave final approval for Russia to become a member, based on conditions including improved IP protections. In Spain, Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero confessed he was leaving office without having implemented a new antipiracy law because of the uproar of opposition against it.

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