Lawmakers Push to Protect Music Industry Online
Monday, November 1st, 2010
On September 21 of this year, Senators Patrick Leahy and Orrin Hatch introduced the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act to the senate. If passed, websites that only exist to either link to or host infringed material would be blocked from public access and shut down. Though many countries are moving toward a harsher attitude toward copyright infringement, COICA is a particularly drastic move to protect the media industry. This and other bills combine the interests of media companies and artists with not only the government but independent Internet Service Providers as well.
Under the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act, ISPs can’t be sued for the illegal activities of their customers as long as they have rules that allow them to terminate the Internet access of a subscriber who violates copyright law. Until countries started to enact laws that joined ISPs more closely with the agenda of copyright owners, this and similar provisions were rarely enforced.
“The point is not to kick people off,” said NBC Senior Counsel Ben Sheffner, who also writes the blog “Copyrights and Campaigns” about entertainment law. Notices are forwarded from the copyright holder through the ISP after first detected infringements. Those who benefit from copyright protection are hoping that these letters will remind people that the Internet, like a movie or music store, is a visible place too.
“The DMCA is not working as well as they’d like it to,” said Terry Hart, lawyer and author of the blog “Copyhype.” Internationally countries are working to find new ways to combat digital infringement. A new draft of the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement would bring participating countries up to the standards of current United States law. But some countries in the European Union are already going above and beyond.
Early this year, France signed the HADOPI bill into law. It’s the litigious equivalent of “three strikes and you’re out” — if an Internet subscriber is caught downloading illegal material more than twice, his access to the entire world wide web can be suspended for up to a year.
The International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, or IFPI, is a strong supporter of these measures. Representing companies and individuals who produce music worldwide, their 2010 study found that in some countries the sales by top local artists have fallen by as much as 65 percent in the last five years due to digital piracy. The copyright owners continue fighting for increased punishment for pirates, but some say that the Internet is a force that requires change in the way we deal with copyright ownership itself.
“The greater enforcement and the greater surveillance, the draconian punishments and the really intrusive surveillance that they want is just not consistent with ideals in a democratic society,” said Bennett Lincoff, intellectual property lawyer and former director of legal affairs for new media at the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers.
While graduated response and HADOPI raise punishments for our current system of copyright law, Lincoff has proposed a change in the system itself. Meeting consumers and the media industry halfway, he sees moving from the sales-based revenue model as the only way to bring copyrights into the digital age. Peer-to-Peer networks would gain the option of purchasing a blanket license that allows them unlimited access to downloads or streams. Instead of paying per song or CD from iTunes, listeners would have the option of purchasing a monthly license to legally pirate the web. Lincoff added, “They can choose to act lawfully or unlawfully but they get to do what they want to do in respect to file sharing.”
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