Both bills would give the attorney general the power to compel Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to stop “resolving” website names as a means of preventing access to the allegedly infringing sites. Not only does this approach have serious implications for cybersecurity and the functionality of the internet, it is ridiculously easy to get around. The underlying content remains right where it is — any user seeking the material could simply enter the site’s numeric I.P. address to reach it. (There are numerous browser plug-ins that can do this automatically.)
The digital marketplace is still growing. In fact, digital revenues have increased by more than 1000 percent in the last six years. There are several services through which independent artists can make their works available in online stores like iTunes, Amazon and Spotify. YouTube continues to be a leader in video, and is partnering with individual creators and content companies alike on potentially rewarding new business models. Increased consumer interest in legal, licensed services is something to be proud of in an entertainment industry that has had a difficult time transitioning. It is this very ecosystem that current policy proposals threaten.
The definitions in SOPA, for example, are so overly broad as to include sites and services that musicians, filmmakers, writers and millions of other Americans use every day. We’re not doing artists — and fans — any favors by forcing sites that serve up user-generated content to police their networks for fear of liability. Had currently proposed enforcement policies been in place a decade ago, many powerhouse platforms now crucial to the creative sector would never have gotten off the ground.
Some argue that these bills simply extend the powers already available to domestic law enforcement to make it easier to go after “rogue” sites based overseas. While it’s true that the US is already seizing web properties through the Department of Homeland Security’s Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) division, this program is hardly an unqualified success. When law enforcement censored popular hip-hop blog Dajaz1.com, it took a year to return property that ICE itself admitted was improperly seized. Turns out, a major label’s promotions team had been providing MP3s to the site. Guess who ordered the takedown the first place? The RIAA.
Today’s dynamic music marketplace often involves pre-releasing music as a key promotional strategy. Which is why due process becomes even more important when government undertakes enforcement efforts. Lawmakers may be trying to solve a problem without a clear understanding of how creators actually do business in an evolving digital ecosystem. It is incumbent on artists to tell them.
There are alternatives that could provide rightsholders with relief without the risk of collateral damage. By taking a follow-the-money approach (with due process provisions), Congress could prevent the internet’s true bad actors from profiting off of American intellectual property.
Rather than rushing through flawed bills of questionable benefit, Congress should do more to promote a legitimate digital marketplace built on access, innovation and equitable compensation for all creators. The future of music depends on it.
Casey Rae-Hunter is deputy director for the Future of Music Coalition, a DC based nonprofit for musicians and composers. He's also a professor of music and technology at Georgetown University.