Despite the debacle of SOPA, the Stop Online Piracy Act, that went down in flames after a host of copyleft organizations and internet companies that owe their livelihood to other people’s content ignited a grassroots firestorm of protest against the legislation in early 2012, ASCAP chairman Paul Williams urged delegates attending CISAC’s Copyright Creative Summit, held in Washington, D.C., June 4-5, to continue to speak out against copyright theft and fight for stronger protection in the upcoming planned congressional review of copyright law. In his keynote address, Williams said that calling the illegal downloading of music “piracy” glamorizes what people are doing. He said its just plain outright theft and that’s how it should be referred to. “When lawmakers in North America and Europe tried to enact legislation that would help enforce laws against online fraud and theft, the technology sector said it would break the internet and they called it censorship,” Williams noted. “They said copyright stifles innovation. That is bullshit: Copyright is the very definition of innovation.” Moreover, they claimed that the the legislature would hurt free speech, but Williams argued that “freedom of speech is about political speech; it is not about protecting fraud or theft. They trivialized what free speech means.”
Instead, he argued that creators are in the business of free expression and he labeled intellectual property rights as a cornerstone of democracy. “As a citizen, a creator and a consumer, I should have a reasonable expectation that I live in a society where thieves and outlaws are not allowed to run rampant, even when they are operating in cyberspace,” Williams said. Yet, “creators are now in the position of having to defend themselves against the insidious erosion of the basic principles of copyright in so many parts of the world,” he added. “Forces that want to control and diminish the value of our work for their own economic benefit are systematically attacking the rights of creators. They are methodically attacking the validity of copyright laws.”
Wikipedia, one of the most verbal opponents of SOPA, shut down for a day as a form of protest. Wikipedia could make their point to millions of people with one keystroke, and shut down for the day in protest of SOPA. In other words, they could say no to people who wanted to use their service, but music rights holders cannot say no to infringing users in any effective and meaningful way.
Williams applauded Metallica, David Lowry and Lily Allen for speaking out on the issue. “It takes courage for the many songwriters and artists who’ve risked the ire of the cyber-bullies when they’ve stood up for their right to be paid, or for their right to decide if and how they want to give their music away,” he said. “All of us have to open our eyes a little wider, and we have to speak the truth a little louder. Whether we are songwriters, authors, photographers or filmmakers, we are part of the same family and we have to have each other’s backs.”
Williams was followed by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) director John Morton who agreed with Williams that the debate surrounding SOPA was distorted.
“The way that debate ended up being defined was extraordinary,” he said. “The arguments used to defeat the legislation was simplistic and distorted the issues in a way that was quite unfair and harmful to copyright protection. To allow the argument to be reduced to [describing SOPA] being about what you can say on the internet is a gross distortion, and yet that’s how it was characterized.”
Moreover, he noted that while the other side centered their debate around the constitution and free expression, a right which is tremendously important. But he pointed out that copyright protection of creators work was written into it before the concept of freedom of speech was put into the document, and he labels both equally important to the document. He said going forward the industry has to be more proactive in making its case. He pointed out that its not just about the hit songwriters and artists. The music industry is also about all the people who work in it, and the companies that have pension funds, and none of that information was wielded by the music industry.
Morton urged the industry to be clear and deliver an understandable message in the upcoming debate that will be spurred by copyright review. “You have to show that you do create jobs and pay healthcare,” he said. “The infringers and counterfeiters don’t,” he said, adding nor do they innovate.
For example, he showed websites that are totally dependent on fraud that depict websites that are almost exact replicas of legitimate businesses like Rosetta Stone and Tiffany’s, yet the fake site area all about duping consumers and ripping them off, and do not contribute to the economy because there is no job creation nor do they make payments to pension funds.
Morton questioned if the film and music industry is less worthy of intellectual property protection than the pharmaceutical or software industries. He asked if job creation in the film and music industry is less appealing than job creation in the electronics or aerospace industry. Is there something about counterfeit CDs that distinguishes them from counterfeit airbags, he added. Should infringement be allowed to occur just because it happens over the internet?
“This is not about free speech on the internet,” he said. “It is about whether we will support innovators and creators over criminal parasites.”