US Commerce Secretary Sides With RIAA: Warns ISPs To Become Entertainment Industry Cops

It’s no secret that US Commerce Secretary Gary Locke is quite confused over intellectual property issues. There has yet to be a case where he’s actually questioned a highly biased or debunked industry study on the issue, and he seems to enjoy celebrating with the entertainment industry, even as the government has debunked the studies he relies on. But it’s really sad that he doesn’t even seem to consider the other side at all. His latest move is to side with the RIAA and effectively warn ISPs that they need to become copyright cops for the entertainment industry establishment.

As you go through the text of his speech at Belmont College in Nashville (where I once spoke as well), it’s really quite stunning how either uninformed Locke is or how purposely misleading he is. Neither speaks well for him:

Congressman Jim Cooper has made intellectual property protection a top priority of his as a co-sponsor of the pending Performance Rights Act. He is an outstanding senior member of congress who is committed to ensuring that the voices of Nashville are heard in Washington.

Except that the Performance Rights Act is not really about “intellectual property,” at all. It’s about the RIAA trying to squeeze more cash out of radio stations, despite the fact that in an open market, they know damn well that they get so much value out of radio that they constantly feel the need to pay radio stations under the table for the promotion. In other words, the Performance Rights tax is really an attempt to get radio stations to pay the record labels for the right to promote the music the RIAA wants to promote. It’s a huge wealth transfer, and Locke should be ashamed of supporting such a policy that does little to actually help musicians, but plenty to help the middlemen.

Governor Bredesen has been at the forefront of protecting individual property as well in Tennessee. In November 2008, he signed into law a Campus Piracy Bill that requires public and private colleges and universities in the state to ensure that computers connected to their campus network are not being used for illegal file-sharing.

Only problem? An analysis of this law showed that it would actually cost Tennessee taxpayers over $10 million with absolutely no evidence that it would help musicians at all. Gary Locke is apparently all in favor of faith-based legislating on copyright law. That’s scary.

Worldwide and certainly in the United States, consumers are spending less on recorded music in all formats. Recorded music revenues are down by almost half over the last decade.

Note that Locke conveniently ignores the fact that if you look beyond recorded music, overall spending on music and music related products has gone way up and (more importantly), much more of that money goes directly to artists, rather than to the middlemen. After talking about the Nashville floods — which were indeed quite devastating — Locke seems to compare them to file sharing:

But there are other problems that we have within our power to solve. And one of them is the rampant piracy of music, and of intellectual property, that are the lifeblood of this region’s economy.

And I think it’s important to lay down a marker about how the Obama administration views this issue. As Vice President Biden has said on more than one occasion, “Piracy is flat, unadulterated theft,” and it should be dealt with accordingly.

Is it worth reminding people that Biden once was famous for his plagiarism of a law review article while he was in law school? Or is that just a cheap shot. Biden begged off that “mistake” by saying it wasn’t “malevolent,” so it should be forgiven. And yet, oddly, he doesn’t seem to take that same stance towards people sharing the music they love.

This isn’t just an issue of right and wrong. This is a fundamental issue of America’s economic competitiveness.

Which is why you would think that Locke would actually be interested in all of the research showing that there’s greater economic benefit with weaker copyright laws. Wouldn’t you? Odd that he is not.

As the president has said before, America’s “single greatest asset is the innovation and ingenuity and creativity of the American people. It is central to our prosperity and it will only become more so in this century.”

Indeed. But no one should confuse copyright law with innovation, ingenuity and creativity. The two are not the same and, the research has shown, not even correlated.

Our founding fathers understood this as well as anyone, which is why they put in place a set of rules and laws to reward and protect the ideas and inventions of the artists, engineers and scientists who create them.

With clear limitations and statements of concern that such laws might be abused. Locke ignores that copyright law today looks nothing like it did when the founding fathers put it in the Constitution — and that the concerns they raised have been totally ignored.

But this copyright and patent framework needs to evolve to meet the evolving challenges of the 21st century.

Hey, one thing we agree on… though I’m guessing that his form of “change” looks nothing like what it should actually be.

Recently, I’ve had a chance to read letters from award-winning writers and artists whose livelihoods have been destroyed by music piracy. One letter that stuck out for me was a guy who said the songwriting royalties he had depended on to “be a golden parachute to fund his retirement had turned out to be a lead balloon.”

Well, there’s your problem. Copyright was never supposed to be about welfare or a pension. Copyright has always been about providing the incentive to create in order to more freely share works with the world and — eventually — to increase the public domain. That Locke appears to think that copyright is supposed to be a musician’s pension and welfare program is especially troubling. It suggests he doesn’t even know what copyright law is.

To take just one area that I know is important to this group, in our government-wide strategy, we endorsed and affirmatively encouraged the private sector — including content owners and Internet service providers — to work collaboratively to combat intellectual property infringement online.

Especially to combat repeat infringement.

And there it is. Dear ISPs: become copyright cops. Even though the RIAA admits that it’s impossible for them to combat such infringement, we feel that you should magically know how to do so, even though you have no way to know what is infringing and what is not.

None of this is surprising, of course, but it’s too bad that no one calls Locke out when he makes such statements.

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