ArtsWatch: Blackburn Defends The Creative Economy

Conference keynote presents conservative vision for IP and against Net regulations

GRAMMY.com
Philip Merrill

The Recording Academy actively represents the music community on such issues as intellectual property rights, music piracy, archiving and preservation, and censorship concerns. In pursuing its commitment to addressing these and other issues, The Recording Academy undertakes a variety of national initiatives. ArtsWatch is a key part of an agenda aimed at raising public awareness of and support for the rights of artists. To become more involved, visit Advocacy Action @ GRAMMY.com and sign up for Advocacy Action E-lerts.

The Congressional Internet Caucus Advisory Committee hosted its State of the Net conference in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 18–19. The conference led with an impassioned keynote speech on the "creative economy" by Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.). A 2007 recipient of the GRAMMYs on the Hill Award, Blackburn elaborated a sweeping conservative perspective, expanding on statements made earlier this month when she introduced legislation opposing Internet regulation. Her argument followed three propositions — the creative economy is the U.S. sector with the strongest growth, intellectual property is its primary commodity, and the free marketplace online has allowed the creative economy to prosper. Recognizing this free market has been victimized by content piracy, she said, "Culturally, we all differentiate between material and intellectual property rights. For the creative economy to thrive, we need to dissolve the barrier and ensure intellectual property rights are as strictly enforced as material rights." Beyond this traditional governmental role for law enforcement, Blackburn warns against "the Washington instinct to hyper-regulate all that is new and imperfectly understood." The pro-business and anti-regulatory component of her message is not new, but the comprehensiveness of Blackburn's approach to digital technology policy is innovative and likely to gain influence.

On Jan. 18 the Federal Communications Commission and the Department of Justice announced their approval of the merger between cable/Internet giant Comcast and NBC Universal, subject to extensive conditions. For example, the FCC's many bullet items include expanding Spanish programming including on-demand and online, maintaining or expanding local news coverage, expanding children's programming on-demand as well as expanding rating information, and many restrictions to protect the competitive environment between the new entity and rival multichannel video distributors, online video services, network affiliates, and third-party program producers. Reactions to the announcement covered a wide spectrum. The two Republican FCC commissioners, Meredith Attwell Baxter and Robert M. McDowell, voted to approve the merger but were opposed to the intensity of the deliberative process and the scope of the conditions attached to the deal. Republicans on the House Commerce Committee, including its chairman Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), expressed their determination to examine the FCC's jurisdiction and procedures. Dissenting Democratic commissioner Michael J. Copps and consumer advocates Free Press expressed alarm that the merger was approved and considered the conditions inadequate. Comcast was pleased and announced that the merger should be completed by the end of the month. Incoming NBC Universal CEO Steve Burke said, "Bringing the legendary assets of NBC Universal together with the content assets and technology expertise of Comcast will create many new opportunities for consumers. The combination of these assets will allow us to bring the future of anytime, anywhere media faster to consumers in America and around the globe." Consumer advocates Public Knowledge were pleased the merger conditions went as far as they did and said, "The actual specifics of the conditions probably matter less than the establishment of the precedent that online video matters."

People's Republic of China President Hu Jintao met with President Barack Obama and U.S. business leaders, including Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, on Jan. 19. Obama said, "I appreciate [President Hu's] willingness to take new steps to combat the theft of intellectual property." Aside from many other trade-related announcements as part of the state visit, China revealed plans that state audit authorities will track legal purchases of software used by the government and publish the results. Business Software Alliance President/CEO Robert Holleyman said, "We appreciate the commitments China has made in recent trade negotiations to move government agencies to the use of legal software... The way to systematically address software piracy in government and any large organization is to implement proven, internationally recognized practices that ensure an enterprise is efficiently managing its software, including that the enterprise is not using software beyond what is licensed. It remains to be seen whether the audit process China announced today will do that. It is our understanding that it will merely account for the total value of the government's purchases."

Cnet News reported on a Jan. 18 letter from intellectual property owners to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Assistant Secretary John Morton expressing strong support for the Department of Justice's Operation In Our Sites initiative to crack down on rogue websites and encouraging enactment of the principles behind the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act. The latter bill was introduced last year in the Senate but did not receive a floor vote, in large part due to opposition from Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.). Noting the presence of Nike and Adidas as signatories to the letter — both with corporate offices in Oregon — Cnet requested a comment from the senator. A statement from Wyden's office said, "Unfortunately, the content industry has piggybacked on the legitimate efforts of apparel designers to combat counterfeit goods and now threaten the integrity of the Internet as a means to combat intellectual property infringement. The Internet is too important to our economy and to advancing American values to be inappropriately regulated and censored under the guise of protecting IP, which is why Congress and the administration should be as cautious as it is surgical when it aims its sights on the Internet."

On Jan. 5 RIAA Deputy General Counsel Victoria Sheckler wrote to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers on behalf of 15 leading music organizations objecting to terms governing new types of Web addresses — for example, if an organization received the right to administer domain names for ".music" suffixes that would function the way ".com" or ".org" do. In addition to The Recording Academy, the signatories include ASCAP, BMI, CISAC, IFPI, and NMPA. Recent changes to the draft guidelines that could open the door to malicious conduct include a reduction "in the amount of application material that would be made public" and a more difficult standard for "material detriment to the broader Internet community" that would have to be met for objections to prevent an applicant from controlling one of these new suffixes.

Beginning Feb. 1 in the United Kingdom, Sony Music Entertainment and Universal Music Group will test releasing tracks for sale on the same day the singles are released for radio play. The hope is that piracy will diminish if willing music buyers are not required to wait for commercial release.