Wednesday, July 13, 2011


This article first appeared in the 7.14.11 issue of Metroland.

First, the dates of this year’s Future of Music Coalition Policy Summit have been announced. It’s gonna held October 2-3 at Georgetown University in Washington DC. Panelists and topics have not yet been listed yet but rest assured that there will be heavyweights galore from the new media / alternative music industry talking about what happens next. And there are always great parties. This is the only professional conference I attend, and I always come home informed and inspired. If you’re serious about this music thing all the kids are crazy about you really should make it your business to attend. There are musician scholarships, there are volunteer opportunities, and it’s cheap to begin with (early-bird tix are $199). Info and registration at

Moving on. Last week the RIAA and MPAA and all the major internet service companies (including Time-Warner, Verizon, and AT&T) announced a big new program they say is designed to “curb piracy” by internet users. It is the kind grandly stupid, innocuous, convoluted and ineffective initiative that could only come from months of negotiations among a bunch of $500-an hour corporate lawyers who are out of touch with reality and lack even a smidgen of common sense.

In a nutshell, it goes like this. Investigators from the media companies will continue to monitor suspected “illegal” file sharing over the internet and will send offending internet addresses to the ISPs. The ISPs will then contact their customers corresponding to those internet addresses, telling the users that they’ve been observed sharing files and to stop doing such an awful thing. There are six levels of warnings that will go in sequence, with increasingly dire messages and user requirements. Users “caught” file sharing will variously have to respond to the ISP via email or telephone, will be forced to look at a hideously misleading copyright re-education website, and the like. The unlucky users who reach the sixth level of doom risk being subjected to “mitigation measures”, which could include having their internet slowed down or, at least hypothetically, shut off entirely.

There’s going to be a procedure where one can protest these warnings, some sort of arbitration board to which a user can try to show that the offending file-sharing was actually legal, but users will be charged $35 for the pleasure of doing so.

Have you ever heard of anything so ridiculous in your life? Me neither. Apparently, this is going to replace the RIAA’s and MPAA’s disastrous campaign of suing their own customers for file-sharing, although there is nothing stopping them from continuing to do that. And, of course, this doesn’t impact the rash of nasty mass file-sharing suits brought by movie producers that started popping up last year. The press releases stress that the emphasis here is on education and not punishment, and the ISPs are saying that the “mitigation measures” won’t leave any customers without “essential” services like email or internet phone service.

Reaction to this from the Big Media toadies (which includes the Obama administration) has been predictably rapturous, like this is the coolest thing ever. Advocacy groups (like EFF, the Future of Music Coalition, and Public Knowledge) and reality-based news and commentary sites (like Ars Technica and Techdirt) have been skeptical, although some have been surprisingly lukewarm and even supportive of the program. I suppose the positive reaction stems from several factors including: the ISPs’ assurances that any kind of punishment will be an absolute last resort; that this silly program is much less onerous than most of the alternatives that have been floating out there, like France’s draconian “three-strikes” program that reportedly has people getting bounced off the net droite et gauche; and the fact that anyone getting caught downloading movies and music six times is a freakin’ moron we shouldn’t feel too sorry for in the first place.

But it is as troubling as it is absurd. It leaves customers with unprotected wireless networks and businesses offering free wifi vulnerable to harassment and punishment. All of these promises of “measured responses” made by all of these mega-corporations could well mean just the opposite. The “education” programs that offenders will be exposed to will consist of copyright maximalist tripe that will ignore the realities of fair use and the fact that the copying of copyrighted works is often perfectly legal, not to mention that Big Media has been digging its own grave with bone-headed policies for years now. And if this bizarre program does get off the ground, it will succeed only in driving users to file-sharing sites that are undetectable by the industry’s investigators.

In other words, the hopelessly banal game of copyright whack-a-mole keeps on rollin’.


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