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Through the Glass Darkly
By Jon Newton, p2pnet.net
(more articles from this author)
2003-08-12
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The Recording Industry Association of America's efforts to scare peer-to-peer users who violate copyright laws began with a promising start exactly one year ago, says CNET's Declan McCullagh in The future of a scare campaign.

He goes on, "a federal court in Washington, D.C., to force Verizon Communications to divulge the identity of a Kazaa user, kicking off a legal tussle that ended with the RIAA winning a stunning victory."

Further down he says, "But the most daunting obstacle to the recording industry's dogged efforts to rid the Internet of music piracy is a lawsuit that Pacific Bell Internet Services (also known as SBC Communications) filed against the RIAA last week. It is carefully crafted to portray the RIAA and its contractors who scour P2P networks for infringers as out-of-control juggernauts who care precious little about due process, the rules of the federal court system, Americans' privacy rights and the U.S. Constitution."

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Promising start? Stunning victory? Dogged efforts? Rid the Internet of music piracy? Carefully crafted?

These phrases and their general context seem to imply the RIAA's ugly Jihad against file sharers is somehow justified, somehow OK.

Perhaps they're an attempt at irony, but that's not how they come across, especially when one considers McCullagh's closing comment: "Sure, it's tempting to beat up on the recording industry, but keep in mind that they're not the ones who enacted the DMCA back in 1998. Congress did. Elected representatives chose the interests of well-connected copyright holders over individual rights to privacy. The Senate approved the DMCA unanimously in October 1998, and the U.S. House of Representatives followed suit by a similar margin a few days later."

He adds that if the labels win their "legal skirmish with SBC, and the DMCA remains intact," the fight will return to Capitol Hill and, "Let's hope the outcome will be different this time."

The trouble is, it wasn't elected representatives who "chose the interests of well-connected copyright holders over individual rights to privacy." Hollywood was, and still is, the principal driving force and the "elected representatives" were all too frequently its devoted friends and admirers, for example Hollywood Howard Berman, Billy Tauzin, Fritz Hollings and Howard Coble.

Not that the entertainment industry fails to acknowledge the help.

"We are grateful to Congress for supporting the DMCA and for recognizing the need to protect copyright," McCullagh quotes MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) boss Jack Valenti as saying in The DMCA Is the Toast of D.C.

He's echoed by Hilary Rosen, at the time the RIAA's chief, who said, "Since 1998, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act has given us essential tools to assist us in fighting the growing music piracy problem. We are grateful to Congress for supporting American creators in this critical way."

Which isn't to say that getting congress' help isn't expensive.

Between April 1, 2001 and March 31, 2002, the RIAA spent $1.7 million on 'governmental relations projects,' $1.3 million in 'federal legislative support,' and $480,000 in 'state legislative support'. It also has a separate PAC (political action committee) which dished out more than $630,000 to 'federal candidates' and a further $535,000 of 'soft money' into the coffers of the Republican and Democratic parties, up from $392,000 it gave to both parties in 2001.

And that was for only one financial period. Nor does it take into account similar expenditures on the part of the MPAA.

But it's only part of the story ...

Getting the DMCA passed cost Hollywood a lot of money, and it was definitely well spent.

However, "The crackdown by the music industry on illegal downloading tells just part of the story," as Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, and Steven Rosenfeld, a commentary editor and audio producer for TomPaine.com, say in Stealing The Internet.

They go on, "the thousands of lawsuits are not just about ensuring record companies and artists get the royalties they deserve. They're part of a larger plan to fundamentally change the way the Internet works.

"From Congress to Silicon Valley, the nation's largest communication and entertainment conglomerates - and software firms that want their business - are seeking to restructure the Internet, to charge people for high-speed uses that are now free and to monitor content in an unprecedented manner.

"This is not just to see if users are swapping copyrighted CDs or DVDs, but to create digital dossiers for their own marketing purposes."

And as I said in Meet muzikfreek and fylshrr, "Pre-Napster, 'consumers' on the World Wide Web were for the most part easily identifiable - ordinary people who bought software and voluntarily registered it because it was the thing to do or, as frequently happened, they were duped into it. Either way, millions of precious names, phone and credit card numbers, locations, and so on, ended up on central databases, ready to be exploited. The Dark Side had its hackers, crackers, anarchists and phreaks who ignored all that. But who cared about them?

"P2P changed that. Before Napster was taken offline by the labels, who wanted it for their own, it was used by 70 million music lovers around the world from moms and pops to the deepest, darkest hacker. And no-one knew who all these file-sharers or downloaders were - or anything else about them.

"Hollywood bitches and whines that no-one's buying its members' product and that sales are plummeting, but it really means the movie houses, record labels and hardware and software companies are losing priceless data - the stuff they use to control buyers. That's you. Hence the nasty affairs with Berman & Co who work to get bills passed which will allow Hollywood to develop technology to plug straight into your home to literally remotely control what you're playing and/or viewing and gaining, in the process, hitherto private and confidential information from, and about, you and your habits.

"And if you think they won't share these data with enforcement agencies, dream on."

Back to Chester and Rosenfeld, "All told, this is the business plan of America's handful of telecom giants - the phone, cable, satellite, wireless and entertainment companies that now bring high-speed Internet access to most Americans," they wrote. "Their ability to meter Internet use, monitor Internet content and charge according to those metrics is how they are positioning themselves for the evolving Internet revolution.

"The Internet's early promise as a medium where text, audio, video and data can be freely exchanged and the public interest can be served is increasingly being relegated to history's dustbin. Today, the part of the Net that is public and accessible is shrinking, while the part of the Net tied to round-the-clock billing is poised to grow exponentially.

"One front in the corporate high-tech take over of the Internet can be seen in Congress. On July 21, the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet held a hearing on the 'Regulatory Status of Broadband.' There, a coalition that included Amazon.com, Microsoft, Yahoo, Apple, Disney and others, told Congress that Internet service providers (ISPs) should be able to impose volume-based fee structures, based on bits transmitted per month. This is part of a behind-the-scenes struggle by the Net's content providers and retailers to cut deals with the ISPs so that each sector will have unimpaired access to consumers and can maximize profits.

"The industry coalition spoke of 'tiered' service, where consumers would be charged according to 'gold, silver and bronze' levels of bandwidth use. The days where lawmakers once spoke about eradicating the "Digital Divide" in America has come full circle. Under the scenario presented by the lobbyists, people on fixed incomes would have to accept a stripped-down Internet, full of personally targeted advertising. Other users could get a price break if they receive bundled content - news, music, games -- from one telecom or media company. Anybody interested in other 'non-mainstream' news, software or higher-volume usage, could pay for the privilege. The panel's response was warm, suggesting that the industry should work this out with little federal intrusion. That approach has already been embraced by the industry-friendly Federal Communications Commission.

"Meanwhile, in the courts, there has been a rash of new litigation spurred by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA)'s pursuit of people who have illegally shared copyrighted music. The music industry no doubt hopes to discourage file-swapping piracy, and some big telecom companies, such as SBC Communications, have counter-sued, saying they will protect their clients' privacy. While that's good public relations, there's more to this story as well. Telecoms, like most big corporations, don't want other businesses, let alone the government, interfering in their operations - so there's plenty of reasons to counter-sue - even if the record companies and telecoms have parallel stakes in privatizing the Net."

For now, if you doubt the premise of a "corporate high-tech take over of the Internet," hark back to McCullagh's May 17,2002, The DMCA Is the Toast of D.C..

In it, he stresses that Valenti, et al, were celebrating the DMCA at a party hosted by the IIPA (International Intellectual Property Alliance), "to cheer a global copyright treaty that takes effect on Monday."

As the IIPA brags on its home page, "member associations represent over 1,100 U.S. companies producing and distributing materials protected by copyright laws throughout the world - all types of computer software including business applications software and entertainment software (such as videogame CDs and cartridges, personal computer CD-ROMs and multimedia products); theatrical films, television programs, home videos and digital representations of audiovisual works; music, records, CDs, and audiocassettes; and textbooks, tradebooks, reference and professional publications and journals (in both electronic and print media)."

These 'members' are:

* The Association of American Publishers (AAP), "with some 310 members located throughout the United States," the book publishing industry's principal trade association

* AFMA, "formerly known as the American Film Marketing Association," the trade association for the independent film and television industry whose members include Lions Gate and Miramax

* Business Software Alliance (BSA), "the foremost organization dedicated to promoting a safe and legal digital world." Members include: Adobe, Apple, Autodesk, Avid, Bentley Systems, Borland, CNC Software/Mastercam, Internet Security Systems, Macromedia, Microsoft, Network Associates and Symantec.

* The Entertainment Software Association (ESA) the, "U.S. association exclusively dedicated to serving the business and public affairs needs of companies that publish video and computer games for video game consoles, personal computers, and the Internet." Its members are: Acclaim Entertainment; Activision; Atari; Buena Vista Games; Capcom USA; Crave Entertainment; Eidos Interactive; Electronic Arts; id Software; Konami of America; LucasArts; Microsoft; Midway Games; Namco Hometek; Nintendo of America; NovaLogic; SEGA of America; Sony Computer; Entertainment America; Square Enix USA; Take-Two Interactive Software; THQ; Ubi Soft Entertainment; Vivendi Universal Games; and, Wild Tangent.

* The MPAA

* The RIAA

And while you're thinking about that, also consider this: Palladium.


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