Through technological advancement, there are now a number of more efficient ways in which a songwriter can now register their works with the Library of Congress. Later in my music business career, I was employed by Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI) a performing rights licensing organization that acts as a non-exclusive intermediary between those that create and own musical copyrighted material and the venues that publicly perform that material. The creators/owners are songwriters and their publishers.
The venues are television, radio, Internet, night clubs, bowling alleys, skating rinks, department stores, restaurants, etc. BMI was founded by the National Association of Broadcasters when it failed to reach an agreement with the American Society of Composers Authors and Publishers in 1939. In 1941, BMI and the Department of Justice agreed to a consent decree under which BMI continues to operate today. My formal education about the power of Copyright came under the tutelage of well-known, brilliant copyright attorney, Theodora Zavin, at that time the Senior Vice President of the organization. The value of copyright protection, copyrights, patents and trademarks are near and dear to my heart, which is why I can totally I am sympathetic to the intent of the legislation that was working its way through Congress recently.
However, in the immortal, yet clichéd words of Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, ‘The road to hell is paved with good intention,” so the architects of SOPA and PIPA erred in their pursuit of protecting the property of its creators. It’s possible that some vestige of recent changes in patent law that has permitted the likes of Archer Daniels Midland to patent certain plant genomes, which theretofore had been unlawful, led to the thought that draconian measures should be taken against those who publish material on the Internet before due process of law has been undertaken.
I am not a fan of, nor enamored by the actions of Napster, Megaupload, or others that permit, encourage and proliferate file sharing of copyright-protected material. From a purely commercial perspective, sites and services like those undermine the entire artistic community that creates intellectual property. If there no longer exists any way to be compensated for one’s product, then why would one want to create and distribute such product in the first place? From a philosophical perspective, this irreparably damages our entire global culture. My position may sound contradictory, but in reality it is not. The things I don’t like about SOPA and PIPA hinge on the over-reaching power that it gives to government.
Under the (formerly) proposed legislation, the Department of Justice would be permitted to take down any Web sites after merely obtaining a court order. There’s no due process needed. If there’s a suspicion of wrong doing or infringement, the site is down, gone, evaporated. That flies in the face of the spirit of the Constitution and should never be allowed. Moreover, how does this legislation protect legitimate sites that may have mistakenly posted copyrighted content? I’m not ready to give in to pirates that wantonly offer copyrighted material, but by the same token, we need to use legal means to put them out of business. We should also look to interrupt the actions from the other side of the coin, the demand side. A company named, Genufi (www.genufi.com), has built a business of protecting intellectual property.
It has developed sophisticated software that searches the web for pirated versions of its clients’ products. It builds an interface, so that when buyers try to purchase fraudulent goods, the buyers are redirected to the Genufi site, where they are offered the same products and a financial incentive or gift for purchasing the genuine articles. Their business is becoming based on the idea of offering a carrot rather than a stick.
A few closing words about SOPA… Once enacted, I believe that it would be extremely difficult to repeal and further revisions would likely overly complicate the verbiage creating further ambiguities. Finally, the constraints that this legislation would place on existing web sites and new businesses on the Internet would be devastating. For all of these reasons, I’m glad that these bills have been stalled. At least there will be some time for those responsible to reconsider the intent and their actions.