ArtsWatch: SOPA Opera?

House antipiracy bill gets some competition
December 12, 2011 -- 6:54 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.

On Dec. 8 Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) released draft language for the Online Protection and Enforcement of Digital Trade Act and launched a website inviting public comment. This preliminary bill builds on the framework the legislators announced on Dec. 2 along with nine other senators and House members. Intended as an alternative to H.R. 3261, the Stop Online Piracy Act, the OPEN Act would task the International Trade Commission with arbitrating whether foreign rogue websites were facilitating illegal digital imports and could result in cease-and-desist orders being issued to payment processors and online advertising networks. Issa said, "Butchering the Internet is not a way forward for America. The OPEN Act empowers owners of intellectual property by targeting overseas infringers while protecting the rights of lawful Internet entrepreneurs and users." By leaving search engines and Internet connectivity providers out of the mix — as opposed to blocking domain names — OPEN's advocates believe they have avoided SOPA opponents' harsh attacks that SOPA would "kill" or "break" the Internet. MPAA Senior Executive VP for Global Policy and External Affairs Michael O'Leary said, "The good news is that Congressman Issa and Senator Wyden recognize that doing nothing to stop foreign criminals who profit from stolen creative content and counterfeit goods on their websites is not an option. ... The bad news is that this draft legislation fails to provide an effective way to target foreign rogue websites and goes easy on online piracy and counterfeiting." The MPAA listed several objections to the OPEN Act including that appeals from ITC proceedings wind up in federal court, so the proposal would add "an additional step to reach federal courts that already decide copyright cases." One thing OPEN does do is clearly respond to the RIAA's Nov. 15 challenge to propose meaningful legislative alternatives to SOPA. As a first counteroffer its half-measures are a nice step forward but the road still leads to the federal courts so that is what SOPA-alternative legislation urgently needs to address.

Telecommunications regulators in India have been grappling with how to crack down on objectionable Internet content, evidenced most recently at a Dec. 5 meeting between acting telecommunications minister Kapil Sibal and executives from Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo. The New York Times reported on the tech companies' efforts and frustrations, quoting one anonymous executive who said, "If there's a law and there's a court order, we can follow up on it." coverage quoted another executive saying, "We asked the government to tell us which content they would like filtered, but they were at a loss." Sibal showed reporters material deemed religiously offensive on Dec. 6 and said, "We have to take care of the sensibilities of our people ... We'll certainly evolve guidelines to ensure that such blasphemous material is not part of content on any platform." The Electronic Frontier Foundation expressed concern that India's government might misuse copyright enforcement as a means to compel regional Internet companies to implement content-blocking technology.

Speaking on behalf of the Australian Content Industry Group, Music Industry Piracy Investigations General Manager Vanessa Hutley expressed dissatisfaction with an antipiracy-notice process that leading Internet service providers in Australia proposed late last month. The Communications Alliance, Internet Industry Association, and ISPs AAPT, Ericsson Australia, iiNet, Internode, iPrimus, Optus, and Telstra Bigpond collaborated to develop the plan and propose giving it an 18-month trial period. When notified by content owners that an Internet subscriber is infringing, the ISPs have agreed to forward educational and warning notices to the customer. The plan does not address streamlining the imposition of any actual sanctions on infringers, other than making them feel self-conscious and possibly vulnerable to some kind of legal action — an approach likely to be effective with some customers but not all. Hutley said the proposal "falls well short of the expectations we had had for an open, balanced and fair solution."

On Dec. 1 the European Commission announced the formation of a 28-company strong "coalition to make the Internet a better place for kids," including Apple, BT, Dailymotion, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Nintendo, Nokia, Research in Motion, Samsung, and Vivendi. Coalition members agreed on a statement of purpose and have committed to take actions to improve reporting tools, privacy settings, content classification schemes, parental controls, and the effective takedown of child abuse material. EC Vice President for the Digital Agenda Neelie Kroes said, "The founding Coalition members are already leaders in children's safety online. Working together we will be setting the pace for the whole industry and have a great basis for fully empowering children online."

ASCAP and the Radio Music License Committee announced a settlement in principle on Dec. 5 covering the years 2010–2016. It extends a revenue-based fee structure to cover radio's new distribution platforms on the Web, smart phones and other wireless devices. The agreement also streamlines the administrative process through electronic filing of reports. Once finalized, the deal will end the parties' ongoing litigation in Federal Rate Court.

On Dec. 1 the Copyright Office debuted "Copyright Matters: Digitization and Public Access," a new blog soliciting public engagement with the process of transforming pre-1978 records into an effective and searchable electronic database. It launched with a post from Register of Copyrights Maria Pallante, and a Dec. 8 post asked, "Who owns the copyright for that book, song or photo you want to use?" As far as songs go, it is worth noting that pre-1972 sound recordings were not covered by federal copyright, but all the same this is a worthy project seeking fresh thoughts and ideas.

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


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