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RIAA: Artist friend or artist foe?

January 28th, 2010   News  


 After Live! Music Review closed, editor Bill Glahn wrote a series of articles for Counterpunch called RIAA Watch.

Now, “For purposes of relevance, I’ll defer to one of those articles for this edition of The Best of Live! Music Review,” he says in a bigOzine special.

“Many updates follow which should be of interest to any in the p2p community who value fair use and developing artists who value the freedom to establish their audience without industry interference,” he says, going on >>>

RIAA Watch [July 1, 2003]

No, No Bono

When Hilary Rosen announced in January that she would be stepping down as head honcho of the RIAA at the end of the year, the spin was that she wanted to spend more time with her children. Since then she has announced a new career with CNBC in which she will appear on no less than three political talk shows and provide coverage of the 2004 elections. That’s a taxing schedule by any measure. So much for the kids.

Ah, but let’s be fair. Rosen’s recent profile has been low key by her normal standards, leaving a bevy of underlings to handle the press’ questions regarding the RIAA’s recent announcements that they intend to alienate music fans on a massive scale. Maybe she is easing into the role of proud papa, at least until she gets her TV gig going.

The speculation over Rosen’s replacement at the RIAA got a fresh injection recently when a spokeswoman for Republican Congresswoman Mary Bono told the Associated Press that the CEO job at the RIAA would be the “perfect job” for Bono. No doubt. A couple of years ago the Human Rights Campaign gave Bono a dismal nine percent positive vote rating. Nothing about her voting record has changed since. Rosen’s assessment of Bono? “I think she’s great.”

Judging by Rosen’s attempts to stifle culture, not only in the U.S. arena, but throughout the globe, that assessment is not surprising. On another level, however, it is. Part of Mary Bono’s voting record includes a vote against same sex partnerships and a vote against gay adoptions. Rosen’s family incorporates both. Rosen has earned a reputation as a team player, but apparently that doesn’t include the “home” team.

Bono has since denied any serious pursuit of the RIAA job. Not that they would hire her anyway. She’s too valuable to them right where she is. She’s already bought. The entertainment industry is her single largest campaign contributor. It’s already paying dividends.

Bono has a reputation as being a follower, not a leader. While she frequently votes as a staunch conservative, she rarely initiates legislation. That could be changing. She has recently formed a Congressional caucus on intellectual property rights which, considering her close ties to the industry (her personal income is largely dependent on royalties from late husband Sonny Bono’s compositions and recordings) will probably end up introducing legislation giving the death penalty for unauthorized downloads. Or maybe extending copyrights to 5 millenniums before they enter the public domain.

Considering the RIAA’s top priority, Internet “piracy”, a more logical candidate for the job of CEO might be Frank Creighton, the head of the organization’s anti-piracy division and a loyal policeman for that organization since 1985. But Creighton has shown little in the way of political savvy and mainly serves as the organization’s media face (a handsome and accomplished speaker when the cameras are on).

My money is on lobbyist Mitch Glazier, who has experience at getting the RIAA’s agenda turned into law under cover of darkness. He comes from the same cesspool that launched Rosen’s career. He’s an accomplished bagman. But for now, the RIAA aren’t giving any clues.

[2010 update]

Mitch Glazier did, in fact, inherit Hilary Rosen’s seat at the RIAA where he remains to this day and oversaw the disastrous “sue ‘em all” campaign. Mary Bono has headed the Congressional Caucus on Intellectual Property for the last six-plus years and a supporter of far right conservative policies. Hilary Rosen is currently an editor at The Huffington Post and a CNN commentator and a supporter of status quo liberal politics. On issues like intellectual property, they march in lockstep.

When the Whip Comes Down

With CEO Glazier and RIAA president Cary “Sue” Sherman’s alienation of music fans proving to be something far less than a productive strategy, they came up with another one. If the whip isn’t working, get a bigger whip.

In 2007, under lobbying from the RIAA and the MPAA, Mary Bono announced negotiations for a new trade agreement called the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA). From a Bono press release; “…”I am encouraged by this agreement because it indicates the countries involved in the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement acknowledge the importance of strong intellectual property rights protections.

“Hopefully the days of turning a blind eye to the criminal interests involved in piracy and counterfeiting are becoming less acceptable. If this agreement is able to strengthen property rights, it will be seen as an important turning point in the global struggle for stronger intellectual property rights protections.”

President Bush kept the negotiations secret under the cloak of “national security.” President Obama has chosen to follow Bush’s lead.

So now we have the head of the Congressional Caucus on Intellectual Property, a person who refers to the Fair Use Doctrine as “unfair takings,” a person who also benefits economically from extended copyright, steering an international agreement that for all intents and purposes is self-serving.

Bono uses the same “protect the creator” strategies as the RIAA in her quest to protect her largest contributors and an important income source.

Says Bono, “Everyone who knows me understands that I am a strong supporter of technological innovation, but I believe that the only way an electronic marketplace can continue to sustain growth is if copyrights are protected. After all, the latest and greatest High-Definition television sets and endless amounts of bandwidth are useless if no one is creating content.”

This begs a couple of questions. “Were there no creators before copyright existed?” And “How many songs has Mary Bono been induced to write as a result of her IP holdings?”

But it’s not only Fair Use that Bono is willing to sacrifice in her quest to protect the money streams for her corporate clients. Next up? Due process.

The Whipping Post

Despite the secret nature of the ACTA negotiations, there have been leaks. On November 30, 2009, Dr. Michael Geist posted the following on his blog. “The European Commission analysis of ACTA’s Internet chapter has leaked, indicating that the U.S. is seeking to push laws that extend beyond the WIPO [the United Nation’s World Intellectual Property Organization] Internet treaties and beyond current European Union law.

“The document contains detailed comments on the U.S. proposal, confirming the U.S. desire to promote a three-strikes and you’re out policy, a Global DMCA [the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act which went a long way in stripping Fair Use Doctrine], harmonized contributory copyright infringement rules, and the establishment of an international notice-and-takedown policy.”

Dr. Geist is a law professor at the University of Ottawa where he holds the Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-commerce Law. Speaking in this capacity, he goes on…

“ACTA would render current Canadian copyright law virtually unrecognizable as the required changes go far beyond our current rules (and even those contemplated in prior reform bills).”

Under Big Music pressure the governments of Great Britain and France (so far) have proposed three-strikes legislation… Say good-bye to YouTube as we now know it. Watch out for the disappearing blog. Don’t dare e-mail that song lyric to your sweetie that best exemplifies your affection for her/him. Say hello to mandated snooping by your ISP…

It is not only in ACTA negotiations where the MAFIAA, in its various international configurations, is actively pursuing three-strikes legislation – the removal of Internet service to anyone deemed guilty of transporting, uploading, or downloading copyrighted content. Under Big Music pressure the governments of Great Britain and France (so far) have proposed three-strikes legislation.

Say good-bye to YouTube as we now know it. Watch out for the disappearing blog. Don’t dare e-mail that song lyric to your sweetie that best exemplifies your affection for her/him. Say hello to mandated snooping by your ISP – the proposed policeman in this draconian scheme. Say good-bye to privacy. Say good-bye to due process. And don’t think for a minute that because you have already been handed down a punishment (loss of Internet service), that you cannot be sued in civil court or criminally charged. Say hello to double jeopardy.

Tell It to the Judge on Sunday

“How could such a plan pass Constitutional muster?” an American basking in the notion of guaranteed liberties might ask. Well it could if there was a Supreme Court that is stacked with judges pre-disposed to protecting corporate interests rather than individual liberties. The 1985 version of the Supremes clearly stated that copyright infringement is not theft. The 2010 version, however, seems more sided with Mary Bono’s interpretation. And then here’s the Department of Justice.

As reported by p2pnet

Thomas Perrelli, nominated as Associate Attorney General on January 5, confirmed March 12. Perrelli’s position is second-in-command in the DoJ, behind Attorney General Eric Holder. He was one of the leading RIAA lawyers on file-sharing DMCA cases. In one case, he argued for the release of ISP customer information without a subpoena.

Donald Verrilli, nominated as Associated Deputy Attorney General on Feburary 4. Verrilli’s position is third-in-command in the DoJ, behind Perrelli. He was the chief RIAA attorney in Jammie Thomas case of last year, which was won by the RIAA before being declared a mistrial.

Brian Hauck, appointed as Counsel to the AAG in February 4. Hauck’s position is to serve as Perrelli’s lawyer. He represented the RIAA in the historic Supreme Court case MGM Studios v. Grokster in 2005, won by the industry. He also donated a combined US$1,500 to the Obama campaign in 2007 and 2008.

Ginger Anders, appointed as Assistant to Solicitor General Elena Kagan in March. The Solicitor General represents the government in Supreme Court cases. Anders was one of the litigators in last year’s Cablevision case, which the content industry intended to block the cable company from allowing it to store customers’ recorded programs on its servers.

Ian Gershengorn, appointed Deputy Assistant Attorney of the Civil Division of the DoJ on April 13. Gershengorn’s position entails overseeing the Federal Programs Branch, which recently announced support for $150,000 monetary damages for pirated files during a copyright case. He also represented the RIAA in the MGM Studios v. Grokster case.

The Public Knowledge website states “Either Jenner and Block lawyers are looking for something to do in this economic downturn, or the RIAA has a direct pipeline to the Justice Department” when reporting the Gershengorn hiring.

The New York Law Journal adds another Jenner and Block name to the mix, Samual Hirsh, “who joined as deputy associate attorney general.”

Don’t be looking for the Department of Justice to pursue price-fixing charges against the MAFIAA with any type of vigor. Do look for them to go after file-sharers and ISPs.

Joseph Goebbels, Step Forward

Any campaign designed to take away human rights needs a clever minister of propaganda. Big Music has apparently found one in a Bono of a different gender. Paul O’Neil’s buddy, in a Jan. 2, 2010 guest editorial column for the New York Times, claims, “A decade’s worth of music file-sharing and swiping has made clear that the people it hurts are the creators.” [U2’s] Bono uses a false premise to criminalize vast segments of the population. And to give the green light for snooping… “it’s perfectly possible to track content.”

OK – so it’s possible. But is it moral? Perhaps Bono is looking to keep the music industry as “sexy” as he finds Africa – where intellectual property agreements continue to keep the price of AIDS medicine artificially high and the people dependent on the mercy of Bono and his IP cronies.

Apparently, the man who believes Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in the morning has as little grasp on Irish history as he does on American history. From wikipedia’s biography on Turlough Carolan – “the last great Irish harper-composer and is considered by many to be Ireland’s national composer”:

“At the age of twenty-one, being given a horse and a guide, he set out to travel Ireland and compose songs for patrons. For almost fifty years, Carolan journeyed from one end of the country to the other, composing and performing his tunes.” Imagine that – a fifty-year career pre-copyright.

But Jesus Bono isn’t the only label-affiliated musician looking to preserve copyright privilege. In Great Britain, FAC (Featured Artists Coalition) was formed in March 2009 stating a desire to “give artists a collective voice to campaign for effective laws and regulations, as well as transparent and equitable business practices.” That is label-affiliated artists.

In this Billboard magazine article they also stated “concern about any legal body taking action against fans who were involved in file-sharing and preventing them getting broadband access to be informed about the activities of their favorite acts.” Then FAC did a turnaround and overwhelmingly supported measures in Britain’s proposed Digital Economy bill to include three-strikes measures and a 20-year copyright extension. P2p proponents felt betrayed.

P2pnet’s Jon Newton summarizes the situation in an open letter to FAC board member Ed O’Brien (of Radiohead). States Newton, “Well, Ed, it’s not only the recording industry that’s dragging its feet. You and your fellow FAC board members are doing the same thing and while you prevaricate, the corporate music industry is driving its wedge ever more deeply between you and the fans you admit you can’t do without. You, (Billy) Bragg, (Blur drummer Dave) Rowntree, (Pink Floyd’s Nick) Mason, and anyone else on the FAC board (Soul II Soul’s Jazzie B, Kate Nash, Marillion’s Mark Kelly and rapper Master Shortie) MUST convince it and other members to revert to the coalition’s original position.”

In October 2009, Billy Bragg, a member of FAC’s board of directors, and Newton initiated a2f2a.com, a website intended to connect artists with fans. In his initial posting to artists Bragg stated “My participation in this initiative is based on my understanding of two principles that are central to the beliefs of the p2p community. Firstly, that there is no technological solution to the problems that artists face as a result of the digitisation of music and, secondly, that p2p users are willing to pay for music if they can be sure that the money is going to the artists whose work they enjoy.”

In Newton’s initial posting referring to fans: “On a2f2a, they’ll be able to do something that’s never been possible before, on- or offline. They’ll talk directly with artists to cut through the lies and disinformation perpetuated by the corporate music industry.”

While encouraging, things didn’t work out as originally envisioned. Bragg stood steadfastly that a 20-year copyright extension (beyond the 50 years past death privilege now granted in British law) was needed. FAC continues to support three-strikes. Bragg has disappeared from the discussion after issuing an “either or” ultimatum.

Indiana Gregg, an artist without label affiliation, has been the most active artist participant in recent months. Gregg seems to have shifting and seemingly contradictory alliances. Gregg initiated Kerchoonz in 2008, a social networking site that shares advertising revenue with artists that contribute free downloads. Probably the most beneficial aspect of a2f2a has been the highlighting of new artists who’s careers have been advanced by exploring new business models not dependent on copyright or for-pay downloads.

It is these artists that consistently disprove the dire predictions of Mary Bono, the other Bono, the RIAA, the MPAA, and Billy Bragg. Creators will continue to create. Fans will continue to support them. Three-strikes will fail when the results become apparent to those even outside of the artist and fan contingencies. The only question is how much damage will be done to both emerging artists and their fans before that failure is complete.

+ + + + +

Download of the Week
Free – compliments of the Drive-by Truckers: This Fucking Job
Official release date for their new album, The Big To-Do, is March 16, 2010.

[Note: Bill Glahn wrote, edited and published Live! Music Review, a magazine devoted to bootleg recordings when bootlegs were not so common. And they are still not so common today.]

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