ArtsWatch: Working The Crowd

Internet activists want to keep public pressure rolling against more targets
January 30, 2012 -- 12:50 am PST
By Philip Merrill / GRAMMY.com

In recent news ...

On Jan. 24 the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press released survey results from Jan. 19–22 finding that coverage of "websites protesting online piracy legislation" was the story followed most closely by those between ages 18–29. Complaining about that coverage on the floor of the Senate on Jan. 23, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) said, "It was disappointing that sites linked to descriptions of this legislation that were misleading and one-sided. The Internet should be a place for discussion, for all to be heard and for different points of view to be expressed. ... Last week, however, many were subjected to false and incendiary charges and sloganeering designed to inflame emotions." Nevertheless, digital rights groups feel justified in building on their success and hope to keep public engagement high.

With a Feb. 10 deadline looming, consumer rights groups Electronic Frontier Foundation and Public Knowledge are rallying the public to submit comments to the Copyright Office, advocating exemptions to the anticircumvention provisions of current copyright law. EFF is supporting exemptions for jailbreaking smart phones and ripping video for remixes. Public Knowledge favors an exemption for ripping DVDs. On its blog, PK wrote, "While this strikes us as an eminently reasonable request, here in [Washington] D.C. that's not always enough to make something happen. We need to convince the Copyright Office that people actually want and need this exemption." These activities are already widespread and supported by readily available software, though the legal issues are often complicated. Public pressure already worked on Congress just this month, so why keep quiet when the Librarian of Congress is going to issue a new round of permissions (lasting three years) and has requested comments? Pro-copyright, antipiracy arguments seem narrow and stodgy in contrast.

On Jan. 26 the European Union and 22 member nations signed the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement. ACTA's language was finalized last October. IFPI CEO Frances Moore said, "The treaty highlights the EU's ongoing support for intellectual property. We urge the European Parliament to complete the adoption process by giving its assent to the treaty." But not if Internet activists can help cause its failure. PC World coverage rounded up dissenting voices, and UK organization Open Rights Group said, "When we find out when the final vote is, there'll be a big push to convince all MEP's that ACTA needs swatting away." Coverage by CNN Money employed the colorful headline "Meet SOPA's evil twin, ACTA." Although ACTA has always been controversial, it basically enlists the rest of the world in adopting the existing U.S. approach to antipiracy. Now that the public is more engaged, the treaty could face a rough road ahead, evidenced by recent street protests in Poland that attracted more than 10,000 demonstrators.

Economist Dean Baker published a blog titled "The Surefire Way To End Online Piracy: End Copyright" on the Huffington Post on Jan. 23. He wrote, "The real lesson from the SOPA debacle is that we need to develop alternatives to copyright to support creative work. The institution of copyright dates back to the late Middle Ages. It may have served a useful function back then, but we will need something better for the Internet Age." While Baker is being somewhat flip, his tone and premise reflect the problematic juncture antipiracy advocates now face.

On Jan. 23 IFPI released its "Digital Music Report 2012." NewsWatch already covered its sales and revenue figures, but the report also included a global summary of antipiracy efforts and suggestions for the road ahead. Cnet News rounded up highlights, including a noteworthy chart quantifying how entering an artist's name and "mp3" in search engines can turn up predominately infringing results. In separate but related news, on Jan. 26 Open Rights Group published UK music and film industry proposals that it obtained under Britain's Freedom of Information Act. The document justifies taking a "comprehensive" approach to rethinking how search engines should function because consumer search results "are directed overwhelmingly to illegal sites and services." The Guardian's headline summed it up as "Google And Bing Accused Of Directing Users To Illegal Copies Of Music." From a music industry perspective, it doesn't seem like it is news nor an accusation, but that it's how search engines do their job of helping people find what they are looking for online. The controversy is created by how activists perceive copyright owners' intentions. For example, Open Rights Group campaigner Peter Bradwell said, "It's another plan to take on far too much power over what we're allowed to look at and do online." On Jan. 25 The Recording Academy's Chief Advocacy & Industry Relations Officer Daryl P. Friedman blogged about how ironic the arguments against antipiracy have become. This idea that content owners have gone power-mad to try to dictate details of search results falls under Friedman's Irony No. 2 — "Trust Us, We're Google."

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Jan. 18 that Congress did not exceed its authority when it increased the duration of copyright terms, causing many works that had fallen into the public domain to be restored to copyright-protected status. Justices Samuel Alito and Stephen Breyer dissented.

On Jan. 24 a Notice of Inquiry from the Copyright Office was published in the Federal Register requesting comments on two issues by Feb. 23 with regards to its upcoming revision of fees. The first is whether a sole author registering a single work that was not made for hire should be provided a more-affordable, reduced registration fee. Secondly, should expedited handling be made routinely available for a higher fee, and are there additional special services that the Copyright Office should add to its regular fee schedule?

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.

Click on the "ArtsWatch" tag below for links to other GRAMMY News stories in this series.

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