Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Music Industry: Your History Says, 'Say No to SOPA'

I remember as an adjunct instructor in 2007 in the Communications department at Indian River State College discussing with students the obscenity case in 1990 in Fort Lauderdale dealing with Skywalker Records and 2 Live Crew’s album "As Nasty As They Wanna Be.”   Judge Jose Gonzalez ruled the album obscene, and illegal to sell.  He ineffectively used the Miller test of obscenity to determine this.  Though in 1992, the United States Court of Appeals decided to reverse the decision.  The idea of censoring music in such a way was absurd to the 18 and 19-year-old students in my class.

Now, members of the music industry including organizations such as A2IM and the Recording Industry Association of America, an industry that condemns censorship, are in support of the proposed bills Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in the House, and Protect IP Act (PIPA) in the Senate. The purpose of both is to prevent piracy of copyrighted music, television shows and movies by websites hosted or registered outside the U.S.

How can an industry, which has a long history of fighting for its freedom of expression, now support cumbersome legislation to combat piracy, which could then censor the Internet?  That’s a total 180 degree turn in my opinion.

Copyright and trademark infringement online is terrible for industries trying to receive income for their creations; yes.  The Online Copyright Infringement Liability Limitation Act of The Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 already holds Internet providers accountable for copyright infringement.  However, to want the government to ensure and impose now super-sized penalties for Internet service providers and advertisers is not a good strategy.  It's not realistic for the Internet provider to do all of the policing. Under SOPA, if there is a suspicion of piracy, what will most likely happen is the website will be blocked to U.S. users – guilty until proven innocent.  And, if innocent, by the time the site can recover, it will be irrelevant.

In a nod to themes of technological determinism, the Internet is a creative form of technology that has engulfed every aspect of life for advanced societies.  It’s too late to try and put it in a box and control how it evolves.  Of course, blatant online piracy and infringement should be dealt with, legally.  Though, in order to defeat pirates on their own playing field, we must invent solutions to make their pursuits irrelevant.  A lot has been done since the Napster case; the music industry has become proactive, has adapted and has not died.

These are the signs of the time.  Passing legislation such as SOPA and PIPA only puts a used Band-Aid that has lost its adhesiveness, on a matter that requires innovative surgery.

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