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?