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Music Industry: Copyright Laws Don't Go Far Enough

Posted by: , 19:09 AEDT, Wed November 9, 2011

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RIAA comes out firing, saying the DMCA gives far too much protection to websites and service providers, while the RIAA's chief defends the controversial SOPA legislation that will give power to rights holders to cut off funding to websites without the need to provide court tested evidence of wrongdoings

Facing a public backlash against the music industry (and Hollywood's) latest attempt to force lawmakers to intervene on their behalf, the RIAA has come out attacking existing laws for being "wrongly interpreted", and says that the newly proposed Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) won't "kill the Internet" as critics have warned.

First up, at the New York Entertainment and Technology Law Conference, RIAA senior VP of litigation Jennifer Pariser attacked the current DMCA legislation as good legislation being "interpreted wrongly" by courts.

Specifically referring to the "Safe Harbor" provision, which gives protection to ISPs and websites such as YouTube against the actions made by its users, Pariser says that too much protection has been given to Internet service providers, and that service providers, and websites, have not acted independently enough to remove infringing content, so called "red flags", and the courts have been complicit in allowing the situation to get out of hand.

Service providers are typically resistant to independently act on possible cases of copyright infringement, as these private companies don't feel they have the legal standing to judge the legal and illegal status of content, especially without the copyright holders providing clues as to just what content belongs to them. In the Viacom vs YouTube trial, YouTube showed examples where Viacom employees uploaded copyrighted content anonymously to promote Viacom content, and Google, YouTube's parent company, argued that without rights holders pointing out acts of infringement, they would have trouble identifying just what should be allowed and what rights holders may allow for promotional purposes (for example, Susan Boyle's original Britain's Got Talent audition video, which may have been uploaded without authorisation, but has ended up benefiting the rights holder tremendously).

But consumer rights critics would argue exactly the opposite, with several high profile cases where the DMCA has been abused to silence opposition and dissenting opinions, to the point where Google at one point revealed that a third of all DMCA complaints sent to the company were invalid, and more than half were cases of companies targeting their competitors.

In a separate op-ed piece on CNET.com, the RIAA's chief Cary Sherman also defended recent efforts by the copyright lobby to enact even harsher copyright laws, specifically SOPA.

SOPA has been criticized for being over-reaching, and being a corporate backed Internet censorship program, whereby the government will be given the rights to seize domain names and websites of any website deemed to be engaged in acts of piracy. Rights holders would be allowed to force financial providers, such as PayPal or ad networks, to cease support for websites that it merely alleges is engaged in infringement activity, even if there is only a single link that may be linking to infringing content on the entire website, or even if the only "evidence" is just a suspicion (the legislation states that if the website is seen as doing things to "avoid confirming a high probability" of piracy, that is if, without real evidence of infringement, a website can still get into trouble if it's acting suspiciously). 

Rights holders can also issue infringement notices to financial service providers to, in effect, kill off a website without the need to present court tested proof of infringement, and by bypassing the courts, the "defendants" are not afforded their due process rights. This effectively kills the "safe harbor" provisions of the DMCA, solving the one problem the RIAA has been at pains to point out.

But the RIAA's argue Sherman says that all of these are necessary, and critics have been using too much "hyperbole" to get their point across. Responding to concerns regarding the focus on a single infringing link, Sherman says that this is deliberate, and that by focussing on a single link or page, as opposed to the entire website, it allows for the "Cutting off funding or access to only the illegal part of the site while leaving the rest of the site intact promotes legitimate expression."

And as for charges that the bill will kill off tech innovation, Sherman concludes by saying that "aspiring songwriters" also need to be protected, just as tech innovators are by "litigious defenders" of patents such as Apple. But the RIAA, the board of which is mainly represented the four major labels, has also been accused of ripping off the very artists that they say they're defending with bills like SOPA, with pitiful royalty rates for real artists, while the labels keep most for themselves.


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