Wired News reports that the Senate Commerce Committee held a hearing yesterday in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s MGM v. Grokster decision. The upshot was:
…lawmakers warned P2P industry leaders to do more about piracy on their networks or face potential legislation that could restrict P2P usage.
There’s nothing so ridiculous as a U.S. Senator getting him or herself all in a lather about some “deeply disturbing moral issue.” And Barbara Boxer, carrying water for Hollywood (one of her money “players”) and Ted Stevens (the old blowhard) didn’t disappoint their patrons.
Boxer: “I want everybody to come out of this in good shape, but there’s a right and wrong here.
She skewered the P2P industry for failing to keep pornography from finding its way to children who enter innocent search terms into P2P software and “get something horrific” instead. “If you don’t do more to protect our children, it’s not going to sit well,” she said.”
Stevens: “If you don’t do it, I’m going to move over and meet with Sen. Boxer on this. We’ve got to find some way to meet this concept of protecting our intellectual property. We can hardly accuse the people abroad of stealing our intellectual property if we can’t protect it at home.”
What you’ll notice is that the greedy entertainment industry and their Congressional lapdogs are using children and pornography as a fig leaf for their real desire: to smash the P2P industry so that filesharing dies a horrible death. As a parent myself, I’m sick and tired of politicians who play on people’s heartstrings with manipulative slogans like Boxer’s (“protect our children”). Leave the kids out of it, Senator Boxer. If you want to destroy filesharing come out and say it. But she needs the cover of child pornography because filesharing is a relatively popular phenomenon. All this goes to show the danger inherent in ill-informed politicians attempting to legislate morality (filesharing is “stealing” after all, isn’t it?) and social policy.
Wired News reports that Rep. Rick Boucher (D, VA) has a much more level-headed and reasonable approach to this problem:
I am going to fight, tooth and nail, any effort to hobble file sharing. I mean, if the attack that the industry makes is against file sharing per se, I’m going to fight that, because there are very legitimate uses of file sharing.
Boucher also supports the voluntary licensing proposal outlined below. We need more like Rick Boucher though of course as a minority Democrat, his ideas will gain as much currency in Congress as a Lincoln penny.
But my main reason for this post is to highlight a remarkable idea proposed by Adam Eisgrau, executive director of P2P United, during his Committee testimony. He proposed (and I don’t believe the idea is original to him) a voluntary licensing system by which those who download files would pay a monthly licensing fee which would entitle them to unlimited downloads. The fee would be paid to the appropriate rightholders (record companies and musicians and composers who make the music).
What would be extraordinary about this proposal would be that in one stroke it would decriminalize the personal behavior of millions of Americans who break the law every day by downloading. It would also reward artists based on the “professionally measured popularity of their music” rather than on some lucrative record deal negotiated with high priced agents and entertainment lawyers. What could be more democratic and capitalistic at the same time?
Eisgrau explains that the voluntary licensing fee has strong precedent in our society:
In the face of a seemingly intractable impasse between [the] then-new technology [or radio] and copyright owners, ASCAP and BMI were [created] by songwriters to bring broadcast radio in from the copyright cold in the first half of the twentieth century. Songwriters originally viewed radio exactly the way the music industry today views P2P users — as “pirates.” After trying to sue radio out of existence, songwriters ultimately formed ASCAP (and later BMI and SESAC). Radio stations interested in broadcasting music stepped up, paid a fee, and in return got to play whatever music they liked, using whatever equipment worked best.
And if it can happen once a century, why not resolve the filesharing conflict in a similar way in the 21st century?
And just think, if 5-million Americans participated in this program at $10 per month that would mean $600-million per year would be enriching the artists who make the music. That’s money that not going to them now.
In addition, independent artists will truly have a wide open path to fame, stardom and success–a path that doesn’t need to pass through the office of a record company. Legal P2P filesharing will further decentralize and democratize music by providing a revolutionary, cheap, and now legal means of distribution: the download.
The entertainment industry flacks of course dismiss the idea with an upturned nose though their arguments seem haphazard and frivolous:
“There is no need to bring the parties [P2P and the music industry] together in the wake of this decision,” said Fritz Attaway, executive vice president of the Motion Picture Association of America. “The legitimate content distributors and content creators are talking…. What was needed was to get the free riders out of the way.”
Mitch Bainwol, chairman and CEO of the Recording Industry Association of America, said the music industry is unlikely to make nice with companies deemed to have enabled piracy in the past.
“They take our property and then say they want to be licensed,” he said. “There are legitimate players out in the marketplace. They are doing fine with licenses.”
You’ll notice that Attaway and Bainwol make no mention whatsoever of consumers. Their strategy is to blame P2P for the problem and sue them out of existence. I’ve got news for them. P2P exists only because it’s providing a service that millions of people want. If people didn’t want this stuff then there’d be no P2P. Wouldn’t it make much more sense to attempt to channel people’s desire for music downloads into a course that would legitimize and legalize this activity?
In reality, entertainment industry opposition to this idea lies in the fact that they believe they can make so much more money if they can force people to pay for every song they download (rather than the flat montly fee proposed by Eisgrau). Does the word “greed” ring a bell?
Thanks to Public Knowledge for alerting me to this story.
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