Taylor Swift, other A-listers want Congress to reform law based on a ‘quaint’ notion about the internet

Taylor Swift, other A-listers want Congress to reform law based on a ‘quaint’ notion about the internet

Some of America’s biggest stars, including Taylor Swift and Paul McCartney, are trying to shame Congress into reforming a digital copyright law that passed all the way back in 1998.

In a new open letter to Congress, roughly 180 musicians including other A-listers like U2 described the Digital Millennium Copyright Law (DMCA) as a “broken” piece of legislation that “no longer works for creators” and diminishes their earnings.

The musicians’ call for reform has been characterized as a war against YouTube (GOOG) which arguably benefits from the DMCA. That law has a so-called safe harbor provision that protects websites like YouTube from monetary damages for infringing content posted by third parties.

To qualify for safe harbor, those sites must remove the offending content through a so-called notice-and-takedown system.

When the DMCA passed back in 1998, most copyrighted works didn’t automatically have a life on the internet. At the time, many artists feared infringers would move their copyrighted works from the physical world to the internet where it could spread widely, professor Bruce Boyden wrote in a 2013 paper for the George Mason School of Law. The safe-harbor provision was supposed to be a quick fix in the rare cases when copyrighted works made it online.

Fifteen years after the DMCA, Boyden writes, “The notion that content might leak onto the internet unless somehow stopped now seems almost quaint. Modern infringement is persistent, ubiquitous, and gargantuan in scale.”

Swift and the other artists who wrote Congress contend that major tech companies have benefitted from an out-of-date law that has allowed this infringement to persist.

“This law was written and passed in an era that is technologically out-of-date compared to the era in which we live,” the letter stated. “It has allowed major tech companies to grow and generate huge profits by creating ease of use for consumers to carry almost every recorded song in history in their pocket via a smartphone, while songwriters’ and artists’ earnings continue to diminish.”

And the Recording Industry Association of America has complained that the DMCA forces “creators to police the entire internet” for these rampant instances of theft.

This was likely not the original intent of the law. When then-President Bill Clinton signed the DMCA in 1998, he touted it as a move to “grant writers, artists, and other creators of copyrighted material global protection from piracy in the digital age.”

Of course, the digital age was different in 1998 — a full seven years before YouTube was even founded. In his 2013 paper on the DMCA, Boyden called its notice-and-takedown system a “Twentieth Century solution to a Twenty-first Century problem.”

Boyden does an excellent job of summing up the concerns about copyright infringement that existed Congress passed the law.

“Section 512 [the notice and takedown system] was originally designed as an emergency stopgap measure, to be used in isolated instances to remove infringing files from the internet just long enough to allow a copyright owner to get into court,” he wrote.

He added: “That design reflected the concerns of its time. In 1998, the dawn of widespread public use of the internet, there was considerable anxiety about how the law would react to the growing problem of online infringement.”

Not everybody opposes the safe harbor provision. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a digital rights groups, says on its website that the safe harbor provisions are imperfect but have been “essential to the growth of the internet as an engine for innovation and free expression.”

Meanwhile, YouTube contends that most of the content on its site makes artists money.

“The overwhelming majority of labels and publishers have licensing agreements in place with YouTube to leave fan videos up on the platform and earn revenue from them,” YouTube said in a statement it released to Rolling Stone. “Today the revenue from fan uploaded content accounts for roughly 50 percent of the music industry’s YouTube revenue. Any assertion that this content is largely unlicensed is false.”

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Source: www.yahoo.com

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