ArtsWatch: Streaming Without A License

Amazon and Time Warner Cable launch controversial media services without new licenses
April 04, 2011 -- 10:38 am PDT
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.

On March 29 Amazon.com launched Amazon Cloud Drive — five free gigabytes of Internet memory storage, with higher capacities available — accompanied by the Amazon Cloud Player music streaming application, with one version available for Web access and another for Android smart phones. Music labels were disappointed the service launched without specific licenses but Amazon Director of Music Craig Pape expressed his company's position that licenses were unnecessary. "The real reason we're doing this... is that we're trying to solve a customer pain point that affects how much people buy digital music," said Pape. By avoiding label negotiations, Cloud Drive was able to launch before highly anticipated music locker services from Apple and Google. Amazon's bold move is also very basic, offering useful storage for all file types and simple streaming playback for music files but little more than that — except for purchasing options. One observer suggested Cloud Drive's strategy could find its greatest success among the growing population of Android smart phone users. Unlike smaller or newer companies faced with potential lawsuits from major labels, Amazon likely knows its corporate strength should buy it time to discover how consumer adoption of its cloud products justifies its handling challenges from content owners.

Time Warner Cable launched a popular iPad app for live streaming on March 15 that at least one television programming network responded to with a cease-and-desist letter. TWC Chief Programming Officer Melinda Witmer said, "We certainly did not anticipate that programmers would be unhappy about this in any way." On March 28 the company launched an app-advocacy website and TWC Director of Digital Communications Jeff Simmermon blogged, "The entire concept of television is melting right now." This rhetoric sounds more like a statement that may have been made by digital advocates, rather than what one would have expected from a Fortune 500 company spokesman in the past. It seems TWC has relied on its contract language with programmers, granting broad leeway to provide screens in homes with content delivered over TWC's digital network infrastructure. While the company also hopes to provide programs over the Internet to customers wherever they are (the TV Everywhere model), TWC believes it is already licensed to stream TV shows over a subscriber's home WiFi network to any kind of device with a viewing screen. Whatever courtroom arguments over contract language or renegotiated licensing terms ensue, both Amazon and TWC have found it advisable to blaze ahead without their content partners' blessings — hopefully these gambits are not the beginning of a trend.

On March 29 MPAA's new Chairman/CEO Christopher Dodd gave his first public speech on behalf of the movie industry to the National Association of Theater Owners' CinemaCon convention in Las Vegas. The former senator emphasized the mutual reliance of theater owners and filmmakers, the unique communal experience of "families and friends settling in for two hours in a darkened theater," and the harms caused by content piracy. Calling on his audience to become antipiracy educators, Dodd said, "After three decades in Congress, I have some idea how to attract the attention of a congressman or senator. When you return to your states, invite your local governor, state legislator, congressman, and senator to your theater and fill it with those who work with you along with video store employees and their families. Tell them about the importance of these issues to you and to your communities. If you become that educator, you will leave a lasting and indelible impression on those who will make decisions about your future." The next day MPAA and NATO joined with major studios and entertainment unions to write a letter to every congressman and senator commending U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Operation In Our Sites antipiracy efforts.

The owners of BlueBeat.com agreed to a $950,000 settlement with EMI in the damages phase of the label's lawsuit on March 25. EMI won by summary judgment in U.S. District Court last December when the judge rejected the website's claim that the Beatles tracks it had sold were non-infringing, "psycho-acoustic" simulations.

The Copyright Office announced that it has scheduled a roundtable for June 2 to assist its inquiry into whether pre-1972 recordings should be covered by federal copyright law. The reply comment phase of the inquiry remains open until April 13. The RIAA opposes the change.

Baidu spokesman Kaiser Kuo has led an antipiracy goodwill offensive for China's leading search engine. On March 24 Reuters quoted Kuo's statement that Baidu's digital library will implement antipiracy technology on May 1 after testing it in April. On March 30 Kuo told Agence France-Presse that the site deleted 3 million infringing works from its book library after a three-day crackdown. Separately, on March 25 recording industry leadership, including IFPI CEO Frances Moore, took the unusual step of writing a letter to the Financial Times. The letter concluded, "Our members welcome the commitment of the Chinese government to improve enforcement of intellectual property rights. It is now time for corporate role models like Baidu to lead this initiative from the front."

On March 25 Canada's parliamentary session came to a close when the government lost a no-confidence vote. Regrettably, Bill C-32, the Copyright Modernization Act, has now died — joining the two previous unsuccessful efforts to reform and update Canada's copyright laws. Hopefully, after a new government is established, a fresh attempt will succeed.

 

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