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Is it time for Congress to draft a replacement for the 1976 Copyright Law? In point of fact, the law was drafted almost half a decade ago now and its last major amendment came in 1998 with the addition of the DMCA. Many argue that the advent of digital technology, driven of course by the ubiquitous Internet, makes the current iteration of the Progress Clause obsolete.
Recently, in March 2014, the current Register of Copyrights, Maria Pallante, made just such a proposal to Congress, urging them to create “the next great copyright act.” You can read those remarks here. But contrary to that proposal, other advocates of the status quo point out that Congress has amended the current law to keep it up to date. In fact, Pallante acknowledged as much in her remarks when she said “[fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][a]s a general matter, Congress introduces bills, directs studies, conducts hearings and discusses copyright policy on a fairly regular basis and has done so for two centuries.” Her push is a part of a coordinated movement with the House Judiciary Chairman Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va) to leave a mark on copyright law.
While I do not necessarily disagree with the Register of Copyrights that perhaps a consideration of a new consolidated law may be necessary to combine these various amendments, I am bothered by the fact that much of the urgency for a new law is driven by the various interested parties on the Internet who believe that just because a copyright finds its way into digital form, it is no longer protected and should be free for all to use, “mash up” or do whatever the hell they want to with it. These radical thinking individuals, such as The Pirate Bay, Lawrence Lessig, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and others use heated rhetoric and emotional appeals to call for a lessening of the copyright protection that has made America the most idea-rich country in the world. While these illogical and emotional appeals are a good way to drum up support dollars and defeat well-meaning and good legislation such as SOPA, they do very little to advance the philosophical and legal debate and should not be the driving force behind our legislation, good or bad. Good emotional causes make for very bad law.
These dramatic appeals for changing the copyright act are most often done with a lack of understanding as to its philosophical underpinnings, and often demonstrate ignorance of the business realities faced by those who create the arts and sciences, as well as the benefactors who support them.
One of the things that bothered me most about Pallante’s remarks was the total absence of any discussion of these philosophical underpinning of the copyright construct. There was no discussion of Article 1, Section 8, Clause 8 of our Constitution (the Progress Clause) or any reference to some of the chief architects of its current form, James Madison, Thomas Jefferson and Charles Pickney, just to name a few. It also worries me when Pallante suggests that the current term – Life + 75 – “is long and the length has consequences,” thereby questioning the validity of the Supreme Court’s proclamation to the contrary in Eldred v. Ashcroft. The latter, of course, is one of about a half a dozen cases the aforementioned anti-copyright advocates has levied against the law over the years.
Sandra Aistars, executive director of the Copyright Alliance, summed it up well in an opinion piece for The Hill entitled “Protect rights of artist in new copyright law.” She said “Should Congress take on the challenge of updating the Copyright Act, it must do so guided by sound principles, and its deliberations must be based in reality rather than rhetoric.” At least Aistars points out that the principle of copyright law is driven by the fact that “protecting authors in in the public interest” and based on “stable property rights.”
Article 1, Section 8, Clause 8 gives Congress the right “to promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries.” Madison and Jefferson debated the various components of this clause with some degree of fervor in their massive collection of actual correspondence, with Madison defending the idea that if our society gives up a monopoly (copyright) to creators, the value of that monopoly will generate the creation of widespread ideas that would ultimately reward society. There is no doubt that the equitable component that was bestowed upon authors and inventors the day the Congressional Congress approved the Progress Clause has created the America we know and love today through the wealth of new ideas and expressions that have been created in the form of books, music, films, visual arts, scholarly research and inventions. Without that value in the patent or copyright, there would be no Apple, no Microsoft, no IBM, no Ford, no Chevrolet . . . you get the point. This is the reward that Madison envisioned our society would gain by giving individuals control over their creations, a theory that Locke and others disseminated long before the new nation of America was conceived.
As Aistars summarized in her article, “Ensuring that all creators retain the freedom of choice in determining how their creative work is used, disseminated and monetized is vital to protecting freedom of expression. Consent is at the heart of freedom, thus we must judge any proposed update by whether it prioritizes artists’ rights to have meaningful control over their creative work and livelihood.”
The most important thing for Congress to consider if it picks up the gauntlet laid down by Ms. Pallante is this idea that society benefits by giving a monopoly to creators. Given an individual who has created a work of authorship stable property ownership in that work is the foundation of our great Country and is the primary goal of copyright. To take that away takes away one of our inherent and valuable Constitutional rights, even greater perhaps than our Freedom of Speech and Assembly. Any new proposal much cherish the rights of the creators that the current Copyright Act has created and retain the same privileges and advantages. The future of our Nation in the Internet Age depends on it.
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NBC Universal recently hired a company called Envisional to study counterfeiting activity over the Internet. The results of this study – despite the fact that it is industry funded – are literally astonishing: 24% of all global Internet traffic involves digital theft!  Stated another way, one in every four people surfing the Internet are stealing intellectual property, i.e., illegally downloading either copyrighted or trademarked materials.  According to the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, 95% of the music downloaded from the Internet is downloaded illegally!  Imagine how our society would react if one out of every four people in retail malls were carrying out stolen merchandise on a daily basis, or if 95% of the product leaving the mall was stolen.  It would be chaos.

Ring of FrodoNow consider whether these people who so quickly download a song or a movie on the Internet without paying for it would also walk up to an artist selling their painting in the park and steal one of their painting.  I firmly believe the answer to that question is a resounding no!  But why? What is different about the world wide web, i.e. cyberspace, that gives these consumers the feeling that they are entitled to download music and movies through mechanisms like BitTorrent without compensating those who created such product?  What are these people thinking?

I think the answer can be found in the writings of Plato.  In the second book of his Republic, Plato’s student, Glaucon, poses the illustration of the “Ring of Gyges.”  In the story, Gyges is a shepherd who finds a magical ring in a chasm created by a lightning storm.  The ring gives him a cloak of invisibility.  Using his newfound power, Gyges seduces the Queen of Lydia, murders the King, and takes the throne, gaining power, wealth and fame.  In the Republic, Glaucon argues that given a similar opportunity, any person, whether or not they were previously just or unjust, would use the power to commit as many crimes as necessary to get what they want [fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][Book II, 359d].    Glaucon was responding to Socrates’ refutation of arguments put forth by Thrasymachus in Book I of the Repbulic, i.e., that “justice is nothing but the advantage of the stronger”  [Book I, 338c].

I believe Glaucon’s experiment in thought informs us as to why someone who would not normally steal a tangible object in the physical world is nonetheless more than willing to download music or movies, intangible objects, on the Internet for free: because the fear of being punished or getting caught is eliminated in the evanescent world of Cyberspace.  The Internet, like Gyge’s ring, confers upon its users a seeming cloak of indivisibility as it were.  As one astute commentator surmised in response to an interview with Alice in Chain’s lead singer, Sean Kinney, “The real reason people steal music is that they CAN and very easily.”  That this is a truth is evident from the plethora of “how to” guides on the Internet, teaching people “How not to get caught.” There you have it in a nutshell.   All of the commentary about how the record industry has been thieves and how the RIAA unjustly goes after the defenseless people, these are mere justifications for actions people otherwise know in their hearts are wrong.

It’s important to read Plato’s response to his student to understand fully, as Plato did not agree with Glaucon.  Plato’s argument in the remaining portion of the Republic is that the just man would not be tempted by this cloak of invisibility to commit crimes.  Rather, the just man understands that crime itself makes a person unhappy and that he is better off to remain just.   I frequently discuss this issue with my college students at Belmont University when teaching a course on Copyright Law.  One of my students made the following observation, which confirms Plato’s conclusion.  She said:

I do not follow the rules because I am scared of the RIAA busting me for illegal downloading. I follow the rules because I have respect for the people who wrote and recorded the songs, and even more, because I want to work in the music industry.

Another relevant opinion is offered in the excellent blog article found on arbiteronline entitled Illegal downloading: The real cost of ‘free’ music.” In that article, a student at Boise state, Ammon Roberts, is quoted as saying:

“I don’t do it because I don’t feel it’s right.  If I were making the music, I’d be upset if people were downloading it for free.”

For these two students, following the rules is not about whether or not they’ll be caught, it’s about doing the right thing.  It’s about honoring, i.e. compensating, the people who created the music. 03-20-invisible_full_600 This illustrates Plato’s point precisely:  a just person understands that even with a cloak of invisibility, doing the right thing makes a person happy or, in the words of Roberts, makes the person “feel right.”

The Internet is also very much the Land of Oz.  In addition to this cloak of invisibility endowed on us by the Internet, it also deceives us with illusions of anonymity – not so much that the user is anonymous, as that’s merely another form of invisibility – but in the sense that it’s difficult to know who’s behind the curtain.   As Trent Reznor said in an interview, “there is a perception that you don’t pay for music when your hear it . . . on MySpace.”  Because of its sheer vastness and its mysteriousness, Cyberspace gives people false perceptions that their actions on the Internet do not affect real people.   This, in turn, creates an illusion that “resistance is futile.”  Everyone is doing it, so I can too.  In other words, Cyberspace alters our reality in that it makes the real people behind the music an amorphous, anonymous entity.  The result is that it’s much easier to steal from an amorphous, anonymous entity – the man behind the curtain – than it is from a struggling songwriter, particularly when all your friends are doing it.

I truly believe that most of the people who are illegally downloading music from the Internet have no idea who they are affecting or how widespread the effect is.  Most of these people would not even think about walking up on stage after a singer/songwriter in a nightclub takes a break and stealing his guitar, but that very same person doesn’t think twice of taking that same singer/songwriter’s song from the Internet.  They wouldn’t steal the filmmaker’s camera, but downloading the movie doesn’t phase their consciousness.  In fact, many who contribute to the  dialog would argue that these two thefts are not analogous.  But one analysis conducted by the Institute for Policy Innovation states otherwise.  The report indicated that music piracy causes $12.5 billion of economic losses every year.  It further concluded that 71,060 U.S. jobs are lost, with a total loss of $2.7 billion in workers’ earnings.  Such reports abound throughout the industry, yet many of the people guilty of illegal download continue to view these reports as industry-driven and, therefore, skewed.  Take this comment by blogger Michael Arrington as an example:

Eventually the reality of the Internet will force the laws to change, too. One way or another the music labels will eventually surrender, and recorded music will be free.  Until it is, I refuse to feel guilty for downloading and sharing music. Every time I listen to a song, or share it with a friend, I’m doing the labels a favor. One that eventually I should be paid for. Until that day comes, don’t even think about trying to tell me that I’m doing something ethically wrong when it’s considered quite legal, with the labels’ blessing, in China.

resistanceBut what this illusion of anonymity, and such misguided opinions, miss is the fact that very real people – not amorphous masses – are being affected.  And the effect is devastating.  I have clients who are songwriters who are no longer creating art because they are forced to take odd jobs to support their families.  The performance royalties they used to receive from ASCAP, BMI or SESAC are down by half or more from a few years ago.  Their mechanical royalty checks are virtually non-existent.  They simply cannot afford to create simply for the sake of creation.  And now, working sometimes two jobs, they don’t have the time to create.  What will become of the art of songwriting if Mr. Arrington has his way and all recorded music is free?  I believe we will not have the quality of music in this country that we have enjoyed throughout the last millennium.  In this instance, I do not believe that resistance is futile.

Now, getting back to Plato and the Ring of Gyges, in answer to Glaucon, Plato would say that the root of all trouble is unlimited desire.   How true is that in this world of Cyberspace, in this world of rampant illegal downloading.  The wheels really fell off the wagon when the RIAA sued Diamond Multimedia, bringing the MP3 into society’s field of view.  Then, Napster exploded and almost everyone found that almost every song they ever loved was available for free.  It’s as if they were Harrison Ford and discovered the treasure room in an unknown, ancient tomb: everything your heart desires is within your grasp.  It’s yours for the taking.  With its cloak of invisibility and its illusion of anonymity, what the Internet has done, in short, is to return the power – i.e., the control – back to the people.  Everyone is now a creater, a publisher, and distributor.  No one needs the conglomerates anymore – the people have the power.  But, as Lord Acton said, beware:  “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”  With power, therefore, comes responsibility.   Unfortunately for the music industry, the power is currently being abused and will, ultimately, mean the end of the recording industry as it existed through the 20th century unless the creators regain that power.

So what does this mean for those of us who have chosen to make our living in the world of creation?  Does it mean the end of our industry?  Does it mean an end to copyright law as it exists?  If we examine the origins of copyright – i.e., the protection of an original idea expressed in a tangible format – as passed down to us from our forefathers, we find a concept on which we can continue to build.  In the now famous Radiohead experiment in which Reznor and crew allowed consumers to pay what and only if they wanted to, 18% of the consumers chose to do so!  That to me, is an encouraging statistic, and one that confirms a believe in the viability of creating art.  At least one in five people, even with the cloak of anonymity provided by the Ring of Gyges of this era, i.e., Cyberspace, chose to pay the creators for their creation.  Take that Glaucon!  Take that Arrington!  What does that say for our society?  It says that there are people who still chose to do the right thing, even when the tide of conformity rises above their heads.

The bottom line is that it really doesn’t matter what laws are passed by society, there will always be a certain percentage of people who will chose to steal, take and plunder, whether it be because they are more powerful or because they are cloaked with invisibility or shielded by anonymity.  But – and here is the important thing – there will also always be a segment of society that recognizes the idea that Thomas Hobbes first advanced hundreds of years ago, i.e., the idea of “giving to every man his own.”    If a man bakes a loaf of bread, is it not his right to trade that to the artist for whose painting he wishes to barter?  This idea was later incorporated by our Forefathers into Article I, Section 8, Clause 8 of the U.S. Constitution, which gives Congress the authority “[to] promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive rights to their respective Writings and Discoveries.”  Without this Constitutional right, a creator has no hope of protecting his or her property against plunder.  And as long as a segment of society believes this proposition to be beneficial to society as a whole, it will hopefully continue to motivate creators to create, and so profit from their creations, despite the efforts of those who choose to destroy it under a cloak of invisibility and unjustly take for themselves the kingdom of Lydia.

Quotations from Republic are taken from the W.H.D. Rouse translation, Great Dialogues of Plato, Mentor Books, 1956, a quoted in this fine article on the topic.

 


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My friend and client, Dr. Jimmy Eugene Pollard, performed a sampling of his music in front of a sold-out crowd, performing as the opening act for Gary Allan’s immensely successful Get Off On the Pain tour.  The Pavillion at  the Coushatta Casino Resort welcomed over 4000 people for the February 19th event.  Allan’s tour has earned a spot on the New York Times Top 10 year end list and earned rave reviews in People, USA Today, Country Weekly, American Songwriter, Billboard, Associated Press among others.

Jimmy Eugene is most known for his interesting life story captured in his book, On the Journey Back.  Jimmy was a teenage runaway, joining the military after lying about his age at 17.  After service to his country, Jimmy returned to complete a degree in dentistry.  He serve another stint in the Navy, achieving officer status, and then retired.  Later, he entered medical school and became a maxillofacial surgeon, building a huge practice in Lake Charles, Louisiana (and another in Texas).  It was almost twenty years later that Jimmy started writing music.  He was in a severe automobile accident, injuring his spine.  While in traction, Jimmy had a dream and began hearing music for the first time in his life.  He learned to play the guitar and begin to write song.  Through a series of connection with Nashville, Jimmy became a client.

Saturday night’s performance was only Jimmy’s third time on stage.  “I was a little disoriented when the lights hit me up there,” Jimmy told me in his back stage motor coach.  Jimmy performed songs from his new album, Joy of the Journey. He was backed by a team of A-List players from Nashville, hand selected by Steve Tveit of Omnisound and veterans Pat McCrath on guitar, Dug Grieves on electric,  Dow Tomlin on bass, Dennis Wage on keyboard, and Steve Hinson on steel guitar, among others.  The Louisiana fans seemed to enjoy the performance.   A special thank you goes out to our musicians, and to Randy, Jay and all of the other fine staff members at Coushatta for making our visit there extremely enjoyable.  Loved the crawfish étouffèe!

Visit Jimmy’s website for more information.

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The Senate Judiciary Committee is holding a high-profile hearing  today on the subject of imposing additional performance royalties on so-called “over-the-air” or “terrestrial” radio stations (I’ll just call them OTA’s in this article).  Investigative hearings such as these are usually precursors to legislation being introduced on the subject.  898993_antenna_4Grammy winner, Lyle Lovett and Chicago-based singer-songwriter Alice Peacock testified before the Committee this morning at 9:30 ET.  Their testimony was broadcast live at C-SPAN.

So, what is the issue.  OTA’s and the music industry are currently engaged in one of the biggest industry and lobbying battles to hit Washington in quite some time.  The OTA’s fired a recent shot when a concurrent resolution was passed by Congress.  Now, the music industry is firing back. 

One of my recent blog entitled New concurrent resolution, H.Con.Res 244, introduced to combat performance royalties for record labels gives some background on the issue, which is basically this:  Currently, OTA’s pay performance royalties to ASCAP, BMI and SESAC in the U.S. for airplay performances of the musical composition copyright.  They do not, however, pay a performance royalty to the owners of the sound recording copyright for over the air performances of the copyright.  The sound recording copyright is distinct from the musical composition copyright.

This is because when Congress introduced new legislation in the mid-90’s to grant sound recording copyright owners a right to performance royalties, it specifically excluded OTA’s from the legislation on the basis that the artists and record labels who owned the sound recording copyrights benefited from the publicity of over the air performances, which offset the need for payment of a performance royalty.    Keep in mind, again, that this does not apply to the performance royalties paid to songwriters and music publishers.

The effect of the Digital Performance Royalty in Sound Recordings Act of 1995 is that only digital performances of the sound recording copyrights are entitled to compensation.  This applies only to Internet webcasters, Cable Radio and Satellite radio stations.  These types of services — Pandora, Sirius, XM Radio, Last.fm, for example — pay performance royalties to both the owners of the musical composition copyright and the sound recording copyright.  Many industry groups are rallying to rectify what is viewed as an unfair advantage for OTA’s.

One such group is musicFIRST, which stands for “fairness in radio starting today.”  This organization is made up of a large and impressive group of recording industry groups and well-known artists.  Unfortunately, the RIAA’s involvement in this organization has diminished its reputation on many blogs, such as this article entitled Lovett goes to bat for radio royalties, the credibility of which is call into doubt by the fact that the writer is ostensibly unaware of Lyle Lovett’s reputation and notoriety.  But don’t make the mistake of slanting your opinion against musicFIRST based on that organization’s involvement.  Check out the website and seriously consider the issues and you’ll probably understand their perspective.

There is tremendous validity to the argument that radio broadcasts no longer hold the same sway over consumers that they did in 1995.  One research study conducted by Dr. Stan Leibowitz, an economics professor at the University of Texas, compared record sales and music radio listening habits in nearly 100 cities across the United States and found that exposure for a song on the radio was a substitute for purchasing the music and, therefore, actually had a negative impact on sales of music.  Critics point out that the study was funded, at least in part, by the musicFIRST coalition and say that there are studies which indicate the opposite, that is that radio airplay stimulates interests in new music and therefore encourages sales.  Think about your own habits – when was the last time you heard a song on the car radio and rushed to buy it?

Another argument propounded by the OTA’s in opposition to payment of royalties to the owners of sound recording copyrights is that it would put them out of business.  They simply can’t afford to pay more royalties for the music they use.  Of course, Internet webcasters and Satellite and Cable radio providers are saying “talk to the hand . . . call waiting!”   But the truth is that OTA’s get the bulk of their revenue from advertisers and their revenue increases if they attract larger audience by playing the latest music.  Furthermore, stock analysts are predicting that advertising revenues, in general, are on the increase for the foreseeable future.  One researcher, George Williams, reportedly found that the annual growth of radio advertising rates from 1996 to March 2007 was 10% a year, outpacing the Consumer Price Index by more than three times its 3% a year rate.  It is very doubtful that OTA’s revenues would be seriously altered by this legislation, in fact, the OTA’s would more than likely simply pass the additional costs on to advertisers.

The bottom line, in my view, is that the legislation, when it is finally proposed, will create a level playing field for the broadcasting industry, providing that both digital and OTA’s pay the same royalties.  This seems fair, doesn’t it?  Now, whether the powerful OTA lobby will prevent the passage of such legislation is a blog for another day. 

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Because of its settlements with the four major music publishers involved in the Napster case -estimated at over $400 million- the German media conglomerate Bertelsmann AG (FRA: BTG4) reported a first-half net loss of shareholder profit of €51 million ($69.4 million), compared to earnings to shareholder of €258 million euros ($351.2 million) in the previous fiscal year.  The last of the pending Napster cases was settled the in August.  The BMG division posted a net operating EBIT loss of €3 which was said to reflect the sell off of its BMG Music Publishing division, the market declining by 12 percent and exchange rate effects.  Bertelsmann’s announcement also stated that although it saw a strong growth in the sell of digital formats, this effect proved unable to compensate for the decline in physical sales, which equaled a drop of roughly 20 percent. Sony BMG expects to counter this trend by expanding its digital business,