In 2016, the internet has become a place where anyone can easily access media. Whether they’re paying for a digital copy or streaming it for free on YouTube, consumers can find almost any album or song online. Googling Drake or Beyonce’s new album, for instance, will come up with millions of results, many of them unofficial free streams. The process for removing files that infringe on an artist’s copyright is lengthy and often fruitless. Google has fielded over 500 million take down requests, yet most rights holders don’t even have the resources to combat the problem. Even if a rights holder succeeds in having a file or stream taken down, it can easily (and instantaneously) pop up elsewhere with no repercussions for the hosting websites. It’s a system that’s been described as whack-a-mole, and while creators are seeing their incomes plummet, tech giants often enjoy huge profits.
This issue affects both major and independent artists and labels. Along with A-listers Katy Perry and Steven Tyler, hundreds of artists and others across the music industry have signed on for DMCA reform. They argue that the law, written in 1998, is outdated and impedes artist control. “There’s no notice and stay down capability, and that’s what we really want—if you say to a service, ‘I own this thing and you should take it down,’ then that copyright should never go back up,” Richard Burgess, CEO of independent group A2IM, tells us.
Mitch Glazier, RIAA’s Senior Executive Vice President and a lawyer, actually had a hand in drafting the DMCA in 1998. Glazier acknowledges problems with the act—namely that it became obsolete as soon as the infamous file-sharing platform Napster popped up in 1999. “It really wasn’t very long until a brand new way of distributing content… really overtook the legislation,” Glazier says. Despite 17 years of inefficiency, the DMCA still remains an issue, diminishing creators’ already suffering incomes.
Part of the problem is the DMCA’s safe-harbor provision, which protects providers like YouTube, Google and others from being liable for the copyright infringement of their users. Burgess argues that “There’s no real attempt to actually solve the problem… it’s even worse than that… money is being made off of malicious intent.” Not only do these websites have immunity from copyright violations, they often make money from advertising on unauthorized files.
For Glazier, “There really is no reason we shouldn’t be able to sit down with YouTube and Google and others to come up with a system that works for both sides that’s actually effective and protects everybody’s interests—and the public’s interests.” But the safe-harbor provision may be what’s preventing tech companies from joining the discussion. Perry Resnick of SoundExchange and Music Managers Forum sees one reasonable outcome: A system of “take down, stay down, so that when an infringing copyright is found and taken down, it cannot be put back up.”
Glazier also notes that “It’s ironic that over the past 20 years, the label of internet censorship has been slapped on anything that would protect creators, who are the ones who are actually fighting against censorship. They want to get their expression out there to the greatest number of people, and to allow people who do that to actually make a living doing it.” Despite the potentially intensive road to reform, lawyer and musician John Strohm feels that “It’s a really important challenge for Congress to take on—to make sure that the copyright laws that we’re operating under are appropriate for the technology that exists.”
This episode features music by:
Hella: “Biblical Violence”
Xiu Xiu: “I Luv The Valley Oh”
The Punks: “Track 3”