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SGA Warns That FCC Net Neutrality Proposal Could Enshrine Music Piracy And Devastate Creators January 18, 2010

Posted by David W. King in Uncategorized.
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Warning of potential devastation to music creators, the Songwriters Guild of America (SGA) Thursday filed comments with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) expressing its grave concern about a new proposed rule that could result in continued widespread music piracy and further loss of income to songwriters.

The FCC’s rulemaking proceeding deals with the controversial issue of ‘Net Neutrality,’ and the Commission’s proposed rule would codify six principles in an attempt to “preserve the free and open Internet.” In its comments, the SGA stated that while it shares the Commission’s overall goal, it strongly objects to the proposed fifth, ‘nondiscrimination’ principle. That proposal states that, subject to reasonable network management, a provider of broadband Internet access service would be required to treat lawful content applications and services in a nondiscriminatory manner.

“While the nondiscrimination principle seems harmless on its surface, we believe it will seriously impact songwriters and copyright owners, and we’re asking the FCC to revise or delete it,” said Rick Carnes, president of the SGA.

The SGA argued that the nondiscrimination principle addresses problems that are largely hypothetical and would enshrine actual practices that have led to the decimation of the music industry and the impending demise of the profession of American songwriting. The SGA urged the FCC to focus instead on the real issues — copyright piracy and bandwidth congestion.

The principal concerns of SGA are that the proposed nondiscrimination rule would lock the Internet into its current form — where continuous access to stolen works is the norm – and that it would prevent Internet service providers (ISPs) from developing technology to effectively combat piracy.

Technology that could discern lawful from unlawful content (including electronic fingerprinting and watermarking applications, central registry databases and commercial technologies such as Audible Magic and SNOCAP) is essential for a robust and safe Internet marketplace, but needs further refinement to ensure that it is reliable and does not frustrate the large number of Internet users who do not engage in digital piracy, the SGA noted. Adoption of the proposed nondiscrimination rule, however, would discourage further private investment in these technologies, stopping anti-piracy progress in its tracks.

SGA argued that it is unreasonable to ask ISPs or other private parties to innovate in an environment of legal ambiguity, not to mention one that may actually result in legal liability.

“Who would be willing to invest in a technology that seems to constitute ‘reasonable network management’ when the FCC or a federal court could decides it doesn’t? The answer is, no one. So, creators will continue to lose their livelihood to piracy — and the songwriting profession in this country will continue its downward spiral,” said Carnes.

Further, according to the SGA, the vague language of the rule would allow pirating of content to continue unabated. Under the proposed rule, copyright pirates could transmit small amounts of legal works in the public domain alongside massive amounts of illegal, infringed works, and an ISP network operator would be prevented from ‘discriminating’ against this lawbreaker.

Internet piracy of music, according to the SGA, has almost completely destroyed the profession of songwriting, and is slowly destroying the music industry. For example,

* According to the International Federation of Phonographic Industries (IFPI), in 2000, global recorded music sales were $30 billion. By 2008, these same global sales had fallen to $18.4 billion. This eight-year period coincides with the rapid expansion of unlawful file sharing.
* According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, songwriter income dropped 32% between 2003 and 2006 alone.

The entire text of the SGA response to the FCC can be read at http://www.songwritersguild.com/fcc.html.

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