The internet has become a common marketplace of information, ideas, and other intellectual property in recent years. While we may have reaped the benefits of increasing our knowledge base from using this information marketplace, there has been a recent problem with the internet’s governing body (or lack thereof) and the ability to protect intellectual property holders’ rights. Most of us have become aware of recent debate surrounding new anti-piracy legislation, named the “Stop Online Piracy Act” or SOPA and the “Protect Intellectual Property Act” or PIPA. We also should be aware of what these acts are supposed to be targeting; a cyber black market of “borrowing” songs from file-sharing sites and streaming TV shows from places like the now-defunct MegaVideo. While these are supposed to be the targets of the anti-piracy acts, exactly how far will this legislation reach and who will be affected if it passes?

One blogger saw exactly how improper execution of anti-piracy legislation can tread on the rights that it was created to protect; the ability of rights holders to control and share their intellectual property. The Pop Cop, a UK blog, is a member of a blogging coalition in over 35 countries that focuses on spreading new music once a month via their sites and a file-sharing service called MediaFire. The coalition, called the Music Alliance Pact (MAP), goes to each artist that they are interested in and asks for permission from each artist to share their song on their sites. After receiving all of the rights to the songs, MAP uploads the mixtape to MediaFire for their viewers to download. So, since MAP got the permission to use all of the songs, there was no issue on file-sharing through MediaFire, right? Well, actually MAP received three takedown notices for their compilations from a watered-down version of SOPA and PIPA called the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). Did the compilation accidentally add songs without permission then? As it turns the takedown notices were mistaken for reasons unrelated to the content of the compilations, but rather the names of the bands themselves. Apparently, DMCA uses a computer program, or an algorithm as Pop Cop calls it, to scour the internet for illegal file sharing. When it came across MAP’s files, it saw band names like Why Don’t We Love Lucy and McGyver Knife and mistook them for the TV shows I love Lucy and McGyver. If basic anti-piracy acts end up trampling on the rights of perfectly legal online transactions rather than protecting them, can we expect stricter legislation to do any better?

One of The Pop Cop’s readers jokingly comments about being fined for singing in the shower. But is that really so far off? We may unwittingly be infringing on copyright law every day. For example, the song “Happy Birthday” is a copyright protected song and it is unlawful to sing the song “at a place open to the public or at any place where a substantial number of persons outside of a normal circle of a family and its social acquaintances is gathered.” Ever notice that restaurants sing a cute “Happy Birthday” variation that is slightly different from the original? That’s because Warner Music Group owns the rights to the song and it can cost anywhere from $5000 to $30,000 to use the song, generating WMG around $2 million in revenue each year.

There is obviously a problem with intellectual property theft today. The RIAA, a governing body over publishing a distribution rights, estimates that $12.5 billion in economic losses is tallied each year from piracy. But who exactly is this legislation meant to protect? On average, the actual creators of the music, the artists themselves, make $0.94 for every $9.99 album sold on iTunes and 30 cents to a dollar for every album sold in retail. It appears as though the artist’s gains are minimal, and gains are really in the hands of the multi-million dollar labels that get their 90% because they control the channels and distribution that the artists need to be heard. If these acts are really trying to “protect intellectual property”, shouldn’t we start focusing on giving more earnings and royalties back to the artists themselves, instead of making the rich richer? Does file-sharing actually help artists by giving them a wider audience, even at the cost of the 10 cents they receive for every dollar they earn their labels?

The battle over intellectual property rights don’t just affect the musical realm. Sites like Google and Wikipedia blacked out in protest of censorship laws to show just what the effects of this legislation might be. The benefits of acts like SOPA and PIPA are fairly obvious. People will no longer be able to abuse the rights to property that they don’t own. But one answer still remains to be seen. What will be the costs?

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7 responses »

  1. KCasty says:

    Another questions to be asked in addition to how far the legislation will reach is how effective it will ultimately be. Every time an illegal video or music site is shut down, another one pops up somewhere else. People are becoming so tech/internet savvy and learning all of the “tricks” to getting around the rules when it comes to the internet… do you think everyone will follow the legislation, and will law enforcement bodies have any way to enforcing this??

    • Marc says:

      I think the point you bring up about the multitude of illegal file-sharing sites and the ease in which people can create them is what started this legislation to be written. As the video at the bottom of the Pop Cop’s blog states, people can still pirate blocked content if they have the IP address of the sites. While I do think that there is going to be trouble catching the wrong-doers, I think that there may be just as big of an issue of punishing perfectly legal sites, just like what happened to the blog above. The big problem with SOPA and PIPA is that a lot of the language is loosely worded and tough to properly enforce, so what can actually end up happening is that access to legal information may end up being banned. For instance, SOPA says that a service provider may take “feasible and reasonable measures” to block sites that violate this act. Basically what is going to happen is that SOPA would force service providers to block only the “illegal parts” of sites that violate the act. But as we saw in the Pop Cop’s case, this could end up blocking an entire perfectly legal site, just because one word may draw a red flag. Could you imagine if Wikipedia were shut down because someone cited a blog or website that has improper links? Or if YouTube got canned because someone posted a video that covered a protected song? It just seems fishy that these bills are supposed to be protecting intellectual property, but the main organizations that are backing the bill are the MPAA, RIAA, and Chamber of Commerce, which are basically institutions who lose money during pirating that they usually gain from controlling other people’s property.

  2. hannahglos says:

    I had no idea that the reason for restaurants creating their own “happy birthday” songs was because they were essentially forced to! I thought they wanted to be witty and creative and distinguish themselves from others by having their own unique song, and I’m shocked to learn that it is only in fact because Warner Music Group owns the rights. I’m all for music labels and corporations protecting their songs and copywriting them, but I not allowing a restaurant to sing such a widely known song as “Happy Birthday” is going too far. Even so, even if the restaurant employees aren’t singing the song, I can guarantee that the customers will be singing it. So does that mean that if a Warner Music Group employee was sitting in a restaurant and they heard a dinner party singing “happy birthday” that they would head over there and fine them? I understand that online piracy is a serious deal, but I think that there are some instances where people cross the line and make a big deal out of nothing.

    • Marc says:

      That was pretty shocking to me too. I can’t say that all restaurants have “Happy Birthday” variations because of the penalties involved in breaking copyright law, but when I was researching this topic there seemed to be enough evidence that this was the case. Your example with the dinner party singing the song is a huge grey area that makes enforcing these laws so tough. What exactly constitutes “a substantial number of persons outside of a normal circle of a family and its social acquaintances” so that it can be enforced? There is an exception to copyright law called “Fair Use” which allows you to use copyrighted songs without permission for non-profit educational purposes, among many other reasons, but I’m not exactly sure if it completely protects against your example, or even singing the song to yourself in a crowded public place.

  3. Jim says:

    This was a really interesting post Marc. I didn’t know that the majority of copyright infringement on the internet is based abroad, but that makes a lot more sense now. What I don’t understand is how a company based in Hong Kong (megaupload) can have its services shut down by the FBI. Are they only shut down in the US? It seems that the shutdown of this company isn’t stopping the illegal downloads, but simply reallocating them, and it makes me wonder if the real solution to this problem isn’t censorship, but international regulation on the protection of intellectual property. I realize that this would likely be very difficult and I may just be being an idealist.

  4. Zach says:

    I have to disagree with your closing statement that the benefits of SOPA and PIPA are clear. Thankfully, these proposed bills were shot down for the time being, but that doesn’t mean that they are gone forever. The main problem with SOPA is that it is going after the wrong person. In a traditional crime, the “good guys” would go after the “bad guys”. The logic behind this is that if you can get the bad guy, the source, then the problem will cease to exist. However, the internet is not a traditional setting for crime, and the “bad guys” are not easily accessible. There servers are offshore in other countries and they do not fall under US jurisdiction. The people behind SOPA instead decided to go after the places that people post this content. That is why the internet was in such an uproar. The bill would give government the power to shutdown Facebook if one of there users posted content to the site, for example. This is taking it too far and I do not see how it will solve the problem. The pirates will always find a way to release content.

    On another note, I would like to see an independent study (read: not sanctioned by the RIAA) that shows that there has been a legitimate decrease in profits due to the piracy movement. I have never seen one, and I’m not sure one exists. Assuming that people that steal content would pay for it if they didn’t have the option to get it for free isn’t necessarily a valid conclusion.

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