ArtsWatch: U.S. Trade Rep's Call To Action
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 May 2 U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk released this year's Special 301 Report listing trading partners with inadequate intellectual property protection. The Priority Watch List features the usual suspects — Canada, China, India, Russia, and eight others — although this year Russia's progress in enacting tougher antipiracy legislation was recognized, as were efforts by Mexico, the Philippines and Spain. In a new development, Kirk called for the listed countries to collaborate on finding a better path ahead — a move made more meaningful in the context of the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement's plan for sharing international IP enforcement information. "This year's Special 301 Report comes with a call to action for our trading partners," said Kirk. "We are ready to work intensively with you to stop intellectual property theft that threatens IP-related jobs in the United States and other countries. Today's report is a springboard for ambitious and collaborative partnerships in the coming year to strengthen protection for the innovation and creativity that drive jobs and exports for the United States and our partners around the world." Leading U.S. content industry groups were swift to praise this year's report. Consumer advocates Public Knowledge were miffed that the USTR did not specifically respond to any of its many objections — primarily that the Special 301 approach is too strict and coercive — but pledged to remain active in the USTR's public engagement activities.
China announced the formation of the State Internet Information Office on May 4 to serve as a unifying agency for online content management, including new Web regulations, their enforcement and coordinating the work of other agencies. Staff and leadership for the SIIO will be drawn from members of the State Council Information Office serving double duty. Although some government censorship will be administered through the new department, this consolidation of responsibility holds promise for regional business development and the online experience of China's more than 450 million Internet users.
On May 3 European Commission VP for the Digital Agenda Neelie Kroes announced the launch of the Future Internet Public-Private Partnership, a five-year, three-phase program combining $430 million of EC investment with matching funds from 158 organizations and industry partners in 23 European countries. Kroes said, "We have to recognize the fact that the design of the future Internet is not dependent just on the [information and communication technology] industry. They are indeed the ones we rely on for our daily communications, but it is imperative that the requirements of real users, such as the transport community, energy providers, content providers, and local authorities, are taken into account for the definition of an open and standardized framework." The first phase will last two years with nearly $130 million in funding, with the largest investment going to the development of core platform tools and code, and smaller sums ramping up eight case projects. One of these — FI-Content — has "assembled a consortium including major content providers, games companies, hardware vendors, network operators, broadcasters, research institutes, and academia to propose a number of novel and inventive scenarios for new forms of content."
MPAA Chairman/CEO Christopher Dodd addressed the Media Institute's Communications Forum luncheon on May 3 in Washington, D.C., sharing early insights gained after his first seven weeks on the job. In order to improve public perception of the movie industry, the former senator emphasized the need to defeat two popular misconceptions: the "dinosaur" myth and the "red-carpet" myth. Having met with industry leaders and innovators, Dodd was impressed that the film business is embracing the future, evolving to take advantage of new technologies, and claimed "nothing could be further from the truth" regarding the image that Hollywood is ruled by dinosaurs refusing to change with the times. He is also determined to tell the story of the "hard-working middle-class people" holding down jobs in an industry he calls far more blue-collar than most people realize. Dodd prefers the term "looting" to piracy or theft and wants average Americans to understand that pirating movie content hurts millions of working Americans — not just wealthy celebrities. Beginning his upbeat conclusion, Dodd said, "Interestingly, what we have found is that the more screens people own, the more content they want. Content is the constant. It's what keeps people coming back.... And that, my friends, is also why we work so hard to protect our content." He finished on movies' ongoing value as emotionally powerful cultural touchstones that continue their tradition of bringing "people together from every background" to the theater.
On May 4 the House Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Intellectual Property, Competition and the Internet held a hearing on the Internet organization ICANN's plans to approve a slew of new generic top-level domains (i.e., .com, .org, etc.). The Recording Academy, the RIAA and many other leading music organizations expressed their concern in January that a multitude of these new Web address suffixes could open the door to malicious conduct by rogue websites and trademark infringers attaching well-known trademarks to new top-level domains.
Richard Franco Montejano, a 29-year-old former member of the Old School Classics "warez" group, pleaded guilty in Los Angeles' U.S. District Court on May 2 to willful copyright infringement. The OSC group engaged in pre-release music piracy from 2002–2007 and two other OSC defendants were sentenced last year to three months in prison followed by two years of supervised release. Montejano will be sentenced in July and faces penalties of up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.