It’s the Same Old Song: Big Content Pushes For Expanded Copyright Powers

No Comments 27 December 2016

It’s the Same Old Song: Big Content Pushes For Expanded Copyright Powers

By: Kerry Sheehan

It’s the Same Old Song: Big Content Pushes For Expanded Copyright Powers

Hoping once again to rewrite copyright law in its own interest, the copyright establishment - specifically music and publishing - is calling on President-elect Donald Trump to support “strong protections for intellectual property rights,” and to push search engines, hosting companies, and domain name registrars and registries to become copyright cops.

Traditional music companies opened the bidding, sending a letter to Mr. Trump that paints the familiar misleading picture of an industry as suffering under current copyright rules and desperately in need of support from the federal government. They hope that support will come in the form of a substantial rewrite of one of the cornerstones of Internet law: the safe harbors in Section 512 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). Those safe harbors limit the circumstances under which Internet intermediaries can be held liable for copyright infringement by their users and have allowed the Internet to grow and flourish, enabling services like search, user-generated content platforms, and cloud computing to develop. Each of these services would be impossible in a world where intermediaries faced cripplingly high damages anytime their users ran afoul of copyright law.

Rewriting those rules is a bad idea for everyone, including musicians. The music industry has benefitted enormously from the Internet’s growth. Not only are there more opportunities for musicians to share their music with a global audience, but the industry itself is profiting handsomely. 2015 was a record-breaking year for both music and movie industry profits. Global revenue for recorded music seems to have grown to $15 billion in 2015 in reportedly the “biggest increase over the past two decades,” largely due to digital music streaming services. BMI, an agency that licenses musical compositions for radio, television, streaming services, and physical venues, reached record-breaking revenues in 2015, topping $1 billion. These gains aren’t limited to the music industry—the movie industry earned a record-breaking $11.13 billion from American box offices in 2015 and pulled in the highest annual earnings worldwide ever.

But the traditional music industry is never satisfied. It wants tougher rules on Internet platforms that, it hopes, will push users away from ad-supported sites towards paid subscription services. This strategy (incorrectly) assumes: (1) that stronger copyrights (or more enforcement) would decrease people’s consumption of free or infringing content online, despite evidence to the contrary, and (2) that the music industry derives no benefit (in access to audiences, publicity or marketing, for example) when users have a panoply of options to access and share music.

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