ArtsWatch: Less Gain, Less Pain For TV Ads

Television ads to be put on a decibel diet within a year
December 13, 2010 -- 10:08 am PST
By Philip Merrill /

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 @ and sign up for Advocacy Action E-lerts.

Legislation to prevent blaring television ads passed Congress on Dec. 2 and is expected to be signed into law shortly by President Barack Obama. The Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation Act, S. 2847, gives the Federal Communications Commission up to one year to mandate adoption of an advertisement volume standard issued by the Advanced Television Systems Committee and automatically includes any successor to the standard. Bill sponsor Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) said, "Most Americans experience the frustration of abrasively loud television commercials, with advertisers grabbing for our attention through this intrusive practice. While this is far from the biggest issue we face, it will mean one less daily annoyance in our lives."

On Dec. 3 the White House issued a statement that said, "President Obama today announced the successful resolution of the outstanding issues with the U.S.-Korea trade agreement, setting the stage for consideration of the agreement by Congress in the coming months." Two sticking points — automobile tariffs and U.S. beef exports — received special treatment so they would not impede the other areas in which negotiators reached agreement. These included a host of copyright-friendly provisions that drew enthusiastic endorsements from the Entertainment Industry Coalition For Free Trade, the International Intellectual Property Alliance, MPAA, and RIAA. EIC Executive Director Elizabeth Frazee said, "We will work hard as a coalition to educate the U.S. Congress about the benefits of the agreement and urge its rapid consideration...."

Encouraging kudos came quickly after Google's Dec. 2 announcement of several new steps to crack down on infringement, including comments from IFPI, MPAA, RIAA, and several British organizations. Consumer advocates Public Knowledge commended Google's intention to improve notices to users whose content is taken down or deleted from Google. Digital Music News had the most colorful reaction with the headline: "Let's Face It: Google's Still A Piracy Whorehouse. It's Just Getting Cleaned Up A Little." A more definitive development was the company's announcement the following day regarding its acquisition of Widevine Technologies, a digital video company with digital rights management technology that is well regarded by major motion picture studios and belongs to the UltraViolet secure-delivery consortium.

On Dec. 6 the law firm behind dropped 4,400 defendants from one of its mass-infringement lawsuits in Washington, D.C., federal court because the judge did not want thousands of distant defendants lumped together in one lawsuit. The attorneys are hoping to partner with a network of local law firms around the United States in order to refile. The practice of suing thousands of infringers at the same time drew attention when it was revealed by The Hollywood Reporter in March of this year — the strong opposition and intense press coverage were probably anticipated before the attorneys committed to their strategy. Opponents of the lawsuits hope this geographical fragmentation will be a death blow, destroying the potential for such litigation to be profitably pursued. On the other hand, suing consumer infringers on behalf of indie filmmakers is now a franchise opportunity. If local law firms get up to speed, there is likely to be no shortage of nearby online copyright infringers to sue.

Steve Gibson's Righthaven law firm has been aggressively suing defendants who posted material online from its single client — a Nevada newspaper. The good news for the firm is that it now boasts The Denver Post as a new, additional client. The bad news is that Righthaven's suit against Democratic Underground is being vigorously contested and the defendant protests it deserves to be compensated for its legal fees as a condition for Righthaven's request to drop this lawsuit. Opponents of this kind of aggressive copyright litigation complain that the plaintiffs' business model is to shake down defendants for thousands of dollars in settlements as a way to avoid appearing in court. The eventual outcomes for such infringement suits remain a big unknown that will likely take years to be resolved through judicial appeals.

The major television networks are suing two different Internet companies — FilmOn and Ivi TV — for copyright infringement before the same New York U.S. District Court judge. Although both companies claim to be allowed to retransmit network broadcasts under the rules that apply to cable systems, the cases are meaningfully different, especially because FilmOn exposed itself to liability by offering programming over the Internet for free during what it claims was a promotional window.

On Dec. 5 The New York Times reported that Microsoft had succeeded in its efforts to encourage Russian prosecutors to drop a software piracy case against an environmental group — a prosecution that seemed politically motivated. In September Microsoft commenced a new free license for international activist groups to help prevent government accusations of copyright infringement from being misused as a tool for political suppression.

Berklee College of Music's Career Development Center released a comprehensive survey of salaries in the music industry on Dec. 6. CDC Director Peter Spellman said, "Music students and their parents need to see the options available to music creators. This provides a bird's eye view of the music landscape and the many paths within it." The first-of-its-kind survey's usefulness is not confined to its educational context.

On Dec. 6 Britain's prestigious and controversial Turner Prize for art was awarded to artist Susan Philipsz, the first time a sound installation won the award. Penelope Curtis, chairman of the judges, said, "The way she's managed to make you look at things differently by hearing things differently is really quite exceptional."


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