Moses Avalon is one of the nation’s leading music-business consultants and artists’-rights advocates and is the author of a top-selling music business reference, Confessions of a Record Producer. More of his articles can be found at www.mosesavalon.com.
Here’s one story you won’t see going viral on a geek blog near you: the Obama administration is going to make torrent streaming, also known as P2P (peer-to-peer) sharing of music, a felony. A felony. This means, according to the administration’s White Paper, recommending an upgrade to the act of illegal streaming of music to one of “financial espionage,” carrying prison time of up to 20 years.
This would apply to sites and people using, promoting (carrying ad links), and hosting services like The Pirate Bay, Utorrent, Bittorrent, and Limewire derivatives. But what about the sites that just side with P2P and its lifestyle, like Pirate Party, Zeropaid, TechDirt, and Boycott-RIAA? Are they in danger too?
The White Paper, which makes the recommendations to Congress, includes as part of its focus websites that “provide access to infringing products” and would give local authorities “wiretap rights” in order to gather evidence. In other words, sites promoting the P2P lifestyle would be investigated the in same way as street gangs, terrorists, and the Mafia.
In theory, copyright laws have always provided that infringement is a federal crime for which you could go to jail, but so far, no one has, unless they were running a factory that made thousands of bootleg CDs. As for the casual infringement by students or grandmothers or even semi-pro infringements, our government has always given the taxpayer a rest, allowing copyright laws to be sorted out in civil court.
But thanks to the Obama administration, we are seeing “change you can believe in” in spades. In a review of the current state of intellectual property, the administration is recommending that Congress upgrade existing laws to make illegal streaming of content and providing access to “infringing products” a felony.
Tech and torrent sites have remained silent on this major development for obvious reasons, but most in the legal community are already seeing the ramifications. The law firm of Fletcher, Heald & Hildreth wrote in its blog, “Its real target is something along the lines of the illegal file sharing…”
This move is no shock to anyone who has been watching this space since the beginning of the ISP/content wars. Intellectual property is the nation’s number-four export, responsible for almost a quarter of the US’ eroding GNP. At the turn of the 1900s, it was steel that made America “great,” then automobiles, then computers, and in the past 10 years, it has been Internet technology.
During the Internet’s formative years (1997 – present), the Fed had been lazily semi-enforcing the DMCA to allow America’s newest industry to flourish unfettered. But Internet Service Providing has grown to a space worth hundreds of billions a year, dwarfing the music trade, and the Fed is now leveling the playing field between America’s newest industry (IT) and one of its oldest — copyrights.
As for the “community” and all who promote illegal streaming through blogs, are they also guilty of a crime covered under this policy? Let’s see.
First Amendment: Meh, Who Needs It?
Twenty-somethings being hauled away in handcuffs and the destruction of computers? Yeah, we’ll see some of that. But frankly, that kinda bores and saddens me, since many of the P2P users are themselves victims of the Web-propaganda machine that encourages them to “share music” in the first place.
These lifestyle sites are the real culprits: everyone from websites issuing disinformation about the music space to the servers that host services related to the torrent-sharing of music files. But unless you’re a criminal lawyer, you probably did not know that coaxing someone to commit a crime is a crime itself. This is why major magazines and newspapers stopped carrying the lucrative advertising for cigarettes: fear of being caught in the web of lawsuits and indictments levied at tobacco companies.
Freedom of the press is not absolute because illegal activity is not “protected free speech.” You cannot yell “fire” in a theater if there is none, and you cannot tell, coax, or imply to people that it’s okay to steal/share music either. In the past, there has been some ambiguity about the illegality of streaming, and this allowed for “open debate.” No more. Now it will clearly be a crime and no different, legally, than a site that hosts “open debate” about the moral ambiguity of pedophilia.
Now, think of all the blogs that rally against the RIAA and the MPAA for “stretching the limits of copyright.” These sites promote an incorrect interpretation of copyright law, thus fostering a lifestyle where readers commit an ongoing crime. Not only do you start to get the picture of how widely federal authorities can stretch, but also of the litany of civil lawsuits by parents against these sites for inciting their child to break the law.
What to Expect
My guess is that no one is really going to jail for 20 years, but you’ll start seeing less and less positive spin on P2P almost immediately. Blogs that play fast and loose with copyright “facts” — and assert that P2P is okay because soon the music biz will be dead anyway — are going to get strangely quiet on the subject. (See list here)
What will they write about next? Who knows, and frankly, who cares? These guys are no different in my view than racist blogs inciting gay-bashing and anti-Semitism or “freedom” blogs that are vestibules for homegrown terrorism.
Think I’m stretching it a bit? We’ll see. Even Google is adapting its policies. Now that it has been identified as the largest torrent site on the planet in the isoHunt torrent lawsuit, Google will begin ranking pro P2P lifestyle sites lower and lower until they just flat-out refuse to list them at all.
But what do they know?
To everything, turn, turn, turn.