THE BLOG

Public Knowledge at Odds with Songwriters

May 24, 2010 | Updated May 25, 2011

In a recent article in The Hill Public Knowledge's Gigi Sohn questioned why I have taken a position on Net Neutrality "so at odds with individual artists and so in line with Big Media".

I would simply reply that my record in fighting for songwriters and artists is, pardon the expression, public knowledge. I have fought in every major battle for creators' rights since joining the board of the Songwriters Guild of America (SGA) back in 1985.

As SGA vice president I fought alongside the Writers Guild of America, the Directors Guild, Screen Actors Guild, American Federation of Television and Radio Artists and the American Federation of Musicians to get the Bono Copyright extension passed. Public Knowledge opposed us.

As President of SGA I stood with these five unions representing the overwhelming majority of the "individual artists" Ms. Sohn claims I'm at odds with to fight illegal filesharing in the Grokster Case. Again, Public Knowledge opposed us. Where was Public knowledge during the 25 years I fought against the record labels on controlled composition clauses that insure that recording artists receive only 3/4's of their royalties on their own songs? Where was Public Knowledge when I was the lead witness to boost royalty rates for artists at the hearings before the Copyright rate board?

It is not surprising that Ms. Sohn doesn't get it. She has not spent her life as a creator or as an advocate for songwriters as I have. She has not watched as her friends and co-writers lost their jobs, their homes, and even their families, due to Internet piracy. She claims I ignore independent filmmakers. I guess she doesn't know that my daughter is a student Oscar winning independent filmmaker (A Leg Up) or that my wife is a recording artist? (Hoagy N' Me). Believe me, I'm intimately aware of what artists and filmmakers think.

Ms. Sohn is completely out of touch when she dismisses as "unfortunate that some in the music industry have fallen on hard times." We haven't simply 'fallen on hard times,' we've been pushed -- robbed blind and driven out of business by a mob of anonymous looters. And it's not just anonymous looters. Even the original owners of YouTube were apparently advocating stealing movies to drive traffic to their site before its acquisition by Google in 2006. When even hugely popular video sharing websites like YouTube start getting in on the looting game, is it any wonder that individual creators are struggling to survive?

Ms. Sohn states, "What we believe strongly is this: online copyright enforcement should not violate Internet users' privacy, limit lawful speech or chill innovation." So let me address each of her concerns.

The right to privacy always has to be balanced against the right to own and protect private property. No one gets to walk into a bank with a ski mask on without facing some hard questions from the security guard at a bare minimum. Ms. Sohn is a very effective advocate for Internet "rights", but is virtually silent on the corresponding responsibilities.

Ms. Sohn erroneously claims, without citing any examples, "that many of the remedies [I favor] are harmful and possibly illegal." Let me make this really clear: I haven't advocated specific remedies at all. I haven't asked for the FCC or anyone else to mandate filtering the Internet; In fact, the SGA, in our comments filed with the FCC has asked the agency not to mandate any rules regarding piracy, but simply not to bar technical innovation and strategies so that they can address the issue in the marketplace.

With regards to free speech, Ms. Sohn seems to conflate free speech with free bootlegging. As stated by the US Supreme Court," copyright is the engine of free speech".

The SGA has fought for freedom of expression since our founding in 1931. The unfettered freedom to create art is our core ethic Ms. Sohn knows full well that I fought alongside Public Knowledge against media consolidation at the FCC hearing in Nashville (Big Radio is Bad Radio). Like her, I was concerned about the effect of further consolidation on freedom of expression. I understood why Public Knowledge was against media consolidation, but what part of stealing a song or movie online constitutes freedom of speech?

To say that any anti-piracy efforts would 'chill innovation' is just so 2005... It appears Ms. Sohn still thinks that P2P file swapping is cutting edge innovation and must be protected even at the cost of throwing musicians, actors and writers under the bus. A lot of innovation has happened in the six years since Public Knowledge's failed attempt to defend Grokster. Music subscription services; Netflix, Hulu, and Pandora; ad supported and premium applications like Livestream which broadcast Internet television anywhere on the web, and which by the way have a zero tolerance policy for piracy.

Given the chance to deliver music and movies in better, safer, faster ways we will always innovate, as long we have a chance to make a creative buck in the process. Otherwise we will very shortly be selling shoes instead of selling songs. Copyright is specifically about innovation. To say that we cannot protect copyrighted content on the Internet because it will stifle innovation is frankly absurd.