(Following is a guest column from David Israelite, President and CEO of the National Music Publishers' Association. Billboard.biz welcomes guest commentary - please contact Billboard.biz editor Jem Aswad (firstname.lastname@example.org) for information.)
A lot has evolved for the music industry in the online world in the last 10 years. Much of it has been hard-fought both through legislative and regulatory means, and in the federal court system. The result is a framework of domestic laws and legal precedent that, though imperfect, has paved the way for a thriving online marketplace.
This framework has enabled popular music services like Pandora and Spotify, and licensing opportunities like the recent historic resolution with YouTube that will for the first time enable independent music publishers and their songwriters to share in ad revenue from that service.
These kinds of digital revenue streams are key components of our industry's future.
Yet even as this progress is being made, it is threatened by overseas criminal activity. It is often noted that the Internet has no borders, and that reality means the domestic laws and rules of the road we have worked so hard to achieve are threatened by websites based offshore, out of reach of U.S. laws, U.S. law enforcement, and U.S. courts.
Operators of these sites have no reason to comply with or respond to takedown notices from U.S. copyright holders or court summons from our judiciary system. Meanwhile, they are marketing to U.S. consumers with ads, payment processors, even logos and "seals of approval" from U.S.-based consumer groups that give these sites a false cloak of legitimacy.
Because of the enormous traffic to these sites, operators are lining their pockets with millions in ad revenues, and by selling subscription fees for unlimited access to American-made content they have not paid for.
It is not only the music and broader creative industries that are struggling with how to fight back against these sites.
U.S. manufacturers of pharmaceuticals, auto parts, clothing - even military supplies - are confronted with offshore sites trafficking unregulated counterfeit knock-offs of their products, with millions of American consumer dollars going to these illegal foreign site operators.
U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse recently put it starkly: "What I am seeing is America on the losing end of the biggest transfer of wealth in human history."
This is an alarming development not only for America's economy and the jobs that depend on meaningful intellectual property enforcement, but for American consumers who are unwittingly purchasing services and products that come with consequences ranging from malware, spyware and identity theft, to receiving unsafe, even life-threatening counterfeit items.
The music industry has been a leader in sounding the alarm in Washington. Many Congressional leaders - Democrats and Republicans, House and Senate - have responded to this concern with meaningful bills that would give rights holders and law enforcement more tools to deal with offshore sites.
The bills, the PROTECT-IP Act in the U.S. Senate, and the Stop Online Piracy Act in the U.S. House, both have strong bipartisan support. These bills offer a targeted, reasonable approach to this problem by cutting off funding and access from these sites, choking off their ability to profit from American workers and with no regard for Americans' safety.
Opponents of this legislation - primarily those who profit from online ad placement regardless of whether the websites are legal or not - have launched one of the more disingenuous scare campaigns in recent memory. They have tried to paint these bills as threatening everything from free speech to national defense to the existence of the Internet. This is the same crowd who claimed a Supreme Court ruling in favor of copyright holders in the Grokster case would also lead to the Internet's demise. We know better.
The music industry and our partners in legitimate distribution have come too far and fought too hard for a legal online marketplace to let it devolve into a black market. I urge our community - living and working in every state in America - to take a moment this week and contact your representatives in Washington in support of these efforts.