On Tues., Jan. 10, the Mike Curb College of Entertainment & Music Business in association with the Nashville Songwriters Association International presented the third installment of the Copyright Forum at Belmont University. This well attended panel discussion offered insightful dialogue on the pros and cons of House Bill 3261 ‘Stop Online Piracy Act’ (SOPA). Panelists included Congressman Howard Berman (CA), Mitch Glazier (senior executive vice president, Recording Industry Association of America), Fred von Lohmann (senior copyright counsel, Google, Inc.) and Mark Montgomery (serial entrepreneur and founder of FLO thinkery). Several Belmont faculty, staff, and students attended the event, which was video recorded and will be utilized in classes this semester as well.
Sarah Cates, senior director of Curb College Initiatives, said, “Belmont is excited to host the Copyright Forum to start a new narrative joining together the music community and growing tech community in Nashville. In an evolving industry, discussions like this one help keep our students and faculty, as well as local music and tech professionals, current on legislative developments that affect us all. We are proud to provide a venue for dissemination of such cutting edge information.”
Moderator Ken Paulson (CEO of the First Amendment Center) kicked off the conversation with a reminder that the U.S. Constitution, which ensures protection of creative works, and the Bill of Rights, which provides for freedom of speech, can conflict when people claim the right to free speech while “speaking” the words or ideas of others who deserve to be rewarded for their creative output.
Glazier followed with a recap of the legislative background prompting SOPA, beginning with the 2006 Protect IP Act, a domain name centric Senate version of the bill allowing the Justice Department to seize websites dedicated to theft. Glazier maintained that this U.S. Law encourages rogue sites to leave the country only to continue their illegal practices through foreign domains. SOPA, a site centric piece of legislation, responds to this trend by allowing for private individuals to pursue litigation against ad sites and ISPS supporting foreign rogue sites they claim have infringed on their intellectual property rights.
In response, Google’s von Lohman clarified that SOPA offers four “remedies” to online piracy: 1) site blocking, 2) search removal of entire sites instead of just infringing portions, and preventing 3) ad networks and 4) payment processors from doing business with foreign, infringing sites. Google, von Lohman asserts, supports the latter two remedies which cut off revenue streams for the rogue sites (and also for Google) but adamantly opposes utilizing the “censorship tool” represented in the first two remedies as a first choice. He also noted that Google already blocks some search results as prescribed by the 1996 file specific Digital Millennium Copyright Act, citing five million removals last year.
Congressman Berman began by addressing the assertion of opposition parties like the Heritage Foundation that SOPA reinforces a “slippery slope” of government intervention. Berman called it an “undeniable fact” that a massive amount of Internet use is about distributing infringed materials and asserted that government cannot ignore such a big problem. He also noted that SOPA is not about making companies involved with creative output immune to consumer demand for new modes of delivery, as some opponents suggest.
Mark Montgomery then explained that since today’s consumers are more empowered than ever and clearly asking for new ways to obtain creative content, “We need to provide a compelling alternative to free.” For Montgomery, balance is key, and since creators distrust the content industries behind the bill, he believes the way out is through innovation, not legislation or litigation. Incumbents, he asserts, fight attempts to introduce alternative ways of obtaining compensation for creators.
Discussion then turned to the topic of responsibility for determining which sites are legitimate innovations and which are solely theft. Glazier asserted that only judges should make that call and called on ISPs and search engines to take a more proactive stance on not working with sites involving infringed materials. Von Lohman said Google does accept responsibility and proactively takes steps to eject those using Google for illegal purposes but admits that many illegal sites look legitimate. With their current system, Google relies primarily on creators to report infringements.
For von Lohman, the bigger issue with SOPA primarily has to do with the impact censorship of foreign sites could have on the global economy, since the internet has opened global markets that might be negatively affected by the legislation. Another major concern with both SOPA and the Pro IP Act is that blocking sites entails blocking domain names, which could encourage people to use non-secure domain name services.
In response to one audience member’s question about what evidence the government might present that SOPA would actually bring back lost dollars to content creators, Congressman Berman replied that in cases like this, where legislators can’t see the future, “common sense is a good substitute for quantitative evidence. Free has to be less accessible to promote viable alternatives to free.”