(Following is a guest column from Rich Bengloff, president of American Association of Independent Music ("A2IM"). Billboard.biz welcomes guest commentary--please contact Billboard.biz editor Jem Aswad at firstname.lastname@example.org for information.)
As the President of the American Association of Independent Music ("A2IM"), I note with skepticism the views of certain technology companies like Google, who criticize members of the creator community, including music, about how we do not embrace technology or the internet. Given that Google reported quarterly earnings that were more than the revenue of the entire U.S. recorded music industry, and that our music content and that of other creators drives the traffic that creates Google's revenues, I find Google's perspective extremely self- serving and ludicrous. The music industry has many constituencies; A2IM label members are over 290 small and medium sized independent music labels nationwide located in towns and cities across our country from Hawaii to Florida, representing musical genres as diverse as our membership -- with between one and under 100 employees -- and are not major corporations. They have one thing in common; they are small businesses that are run by people who invest in the creation of the music they love and who are trying to make a living, as hardly anyone has become rich running an independent record label.
We care deeply about the copyright protections afforded to us by the U.S. Constitution. We care deeply about public policy proposals that would either undermine or strengthen those core rights, which are the legal and business backbone of our ability to earn a return on the investment we make in music and our artists.
There's a vigorous debate underway about proposals on Capitol Hill to curb the proliferation of so-called rogue websites, frequently based overseas and outside the jurisdiction of U.S. laws. We support these bills. The independent music community is impacted by the effect of illegal downloading, in fact, because margins are so thin for independent labels -- because we are not part of larger corporations which might be able to offset losses during leaner years -- that we often feel the impact of lost revenues attributable to downloading music without payment more acutely than most. Websites are intentionally setting up shop overseas, seeking to escape the reach of U.S. laws, but offering U.S. music, movies, games and other copyright works illegally and for free. Our ability to simply enforce our rights needs to keep pace with the changing face of piracy.
Music, Internet Industries React Strongly to 'Protect IP' Bill
Technology-company behemoths like Google have charged that these bipartisan bills will "break the Internet." Let's put that to rest. Numerous independent analyses, as recently as one conducted last week by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, have concluded that that argument has no merit. According to the group's report: "the claims by opponents of the legislation that the bills would 'break the Internet' or lead to censorship are unfounded." This too: "Finding a reasonable solution to the problem of online piracy and counterfeiting is too important to let hysterical, ideological posturing and threats influence public policy. It is time for policymakers to take a deep breath and consider this issue on the basis of facts and rational argumentation."
Independent music labels embrace the Internet as the Internet has been the great equalizer. Terrestrial FM radio no longer has a chokehold, reserved only for major record labels, on the ability to market, promote and introduce new music. The Internet has opened up countless opportunities for us. Why would we do anything to jeopardize that?
We're also told that the DMCA is working perfectly, that it's the appropriate remedy and panacea for an evolving piracy threat. It's a nice sound bite, but it doesn't conform with today's reality, nor, increasingly, the reality for a small business. The time and capital investment required for our community of like-minded, but proudly independent, small business people to monitor the web for infringement and take subsequent legal action simply does not exist. A2IM member music labels simply do not have the financial means or resources to house a stable of systems people and lawyers to monitor the Internet and bombard sites with DMCA takedown notices for millions of illegal links to our music. We do not have the financial means to bankroll field offices in far-flung countries abroad with weak copyright laws. We do not have the means to trek to Washington, D.C. every week to stand before some commission with limited expertise on copyright issues, as proposed by some of the bills' critics. Our companies have limited budgets, and whatever living they can eke out is often promptly reinvested back into finding the next new artist or the marketing campaign of an artist already on their roster.
The proposed House and Senate bills may not perfectly address this failing in current law but they incentivize so-called intermediaries in the Internet ecosystem - credit card companies, search engines, domain name registries, advertisers - to play a role in helping steer fans to legitimate, licensed sites. They allow us to focus on specific rogue sites, rather than an endless game of whack-a-mole where songs appear repeatedly on the same site despite numerous take down notices sent. That would make a huge difference in the lives and livelihoods of our independent label community.
If there are ways to strengthen these bills and ensure they are narrowly focused to target rogue sites, I am for that. No legislation is perfect, and improvements should be made where appropriate. But let's have a debate that genuinely acknowledges that the voices within our entertainment family are deep, broad and diverse. And let's all agree that doing nothing is not an option any Intellectual Property creators can live with.
American Association of Independent Music ("A2IM")