The Lead: Don’t drop the SOPA: Musicians weigh in on the controversial legislation

January 23, 2012 by Matthew Colwell

The Lead: Don’t drop the SOPA: Musicians weigh in on the controversial legislation

Have you ever listened to your favorite songs on YouTube? Uploaded a random picture of a cute, fluffy kitten to your Facebook account? Tweeted a link to an MP3 you didn’t write or record? Left a comment with a link to an illegal album download on a forum? If the answer to any of these is yes, a set of laws Congress recently considered could alter the way you find—and consume—music and all other forms of media online.

The Protect-IP Act (PIPA) and Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) are two pieces of anti-piracy legislation recently deliberated on by the Senate and House of Representatives, respectively. After backlash in the form of Internet protests including support from high-profile websites such as Wikipedia and Tumblr, both bills have been put on hold for the time being. Don't breathe easy just yet, however: Less than a week before this current ‘shelving,’ SOPA was originally ‘shelved,’ only to come back within a few days, and postponement doesn’t mean the bill is dead or going away—Congress will wait it out and then try again.

Still, it's smart to be aware of what the legislation entails. What these bills could do is give the federal government and copyright holders the power to take action against websites accused of containing protected content; they also change who is responsible for finding and removing infringing content. The bills are almost exactly alike; the only difference is that SOPA has a provision that makes unauthorized streaming content illegal.

Right now, here’s how things work: If infringing material is uploaded to a website, it’s the responsibility of the copyright owner to contact the website and request it be taken down. If the host doesn’t remove the offending content, they face punitive action. For example, if a YouTube channel has songs on it that the account owner doesn’t own—that means any band who’s covered, say, Adele, and uploaded it to their channel—whoever owns the copyright of the song must contact YouTube to inform them of the infringing content, and then YouTube removes it.

If SOPA were to pass, this process will be reversed: The site that hosts the content will immediately be held responsible for infringing material. The responsible site can be immediately cut off from doing business with advertisers such as Google AdWords or payment processors such as PayPal (the main source of revenue for many websites). Following our previous example, if the same songs were uploaded to YouTube with SOPA in effect, and YouTube didn’t catch them before the copyright holder did, YouTube could be immediately cut off from possible advertising revenue without due process for hosting—or even just allegedly hosting—pirated content. A copyright holder can suspect infringement, and they can order the takedown of a site until it’s cleared.

This is just one example of how these laws could affect high-profile websites. Any website which contains user-submitted content—Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Reddit, Wikipedia—could be forced to monitor their content closely to make sure pirated material isn’t being posted. For a simple explanation of the way SOPA and PIPA work, watch this video.

Copyright law and the use (and misuse) of intellectual property heavily affect the music industry, of course. A musician’s livelihood depends on how they make money in relationship to their art, so SOPA and PIPA have direct effects on the future of the music industry. The opinions on the way the legislation should be handled vary greatly. Buddy Nielsen, Senses Fail frontman and label manager of Mightier Than Sword, finds comfort in SOPA and thinks it will help rejuvenate the music industry. “I think [SOPA’s] great,” he says. “I think that we’re going to get to a point very soon where everything is on the Internet. [Without legislation like SOPA,] you’re going to put entire businesses out of business because there won’t be any money in [music]—an industry based on people’s intellectual property.”

Nielsen says his biggest problem is that “people have devalued music” and that this is causing the business aspect of music to die. He hopes SOPA will help change that and bring sales back to the music industry. “You can sign up for Spotify for $10 per month and get almost every record in the entire world,” he says. “Amazon sells records for 89 cents. You, in turn, teach an entire generation of kids there is no value in music—that it’s not worth paying for. As a place for business, it is then extinct.

“If you can’t get to the free music, you’re not going to download it,” he continues. “I don’t buy into the idea that music isn’t selling because it’s not good now. I think music isn’t selling because it’s so easy to steal it.”

On the opposite side of the coin is Circa Survive guitarist Colin Frangicetto. Admitting that as a proprietor of intellectual property, he understands it may be confusing to be against a bill built to protect his artistic output, he still calls SOPA “a Trojan Horse. It’s a way to give the establishment more control over user-generated content sites,” he says. “The people fighting for this bill obviously say that’s ridiculous, but the main people who have been giving money to the representatives of this bill are in the entertainment industry. It basically comes down to money. It comes down to the fact that these representatives really don’t understand what this bill could do to freedom of speech on the Internet as well as innovation and jobs.”

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