Share a Song, Go to Jail?
The war over digital content is hitting the airwaves in search of new troops. Both Hollywood and a digital civil liberties group are vying for public support through aggressive marketing campaigns.
Following fast onto TV and movie screens are a series of public service announcements featuring entertainment industry workers ranging from famous actors to behind-the scenes technicians. The spots show them all talking about how piracy could affect their livelihood.
These are not the first ads in the digital rights debate. PC maker Gateway launched a
For example, after years of taking the Napsters and Kazaas of the world to court, the
The EFF says that shift prompted its advertising campaign.
"We've noticed the game changing. The music industry is not only going after the technologists; now they're going after the users themselves," says Shari Steele, EFF's executive director. "We decided it's important to let users know it doesn't have to be this way."
The EFF says that file-sharing shouldn't be illegal and that the more than 60 million users of peer-to-peer file-swapping services shouldn't be treated like criminals. The organization has filed supporting briefs and even helped defend file-sharing sites challenged in court by copyright-holders in Hollywood and the music industry.
Now, Steele says the EFF wants to facilitate discussion.
"We shouldn't be talking about how to punish users," Steele says. "We should be talking about how to fix the copyright laws, how to compensate artists."
But the battle lines as drawn leave little room for negotiation.
"We are happy to have a debate with anyone about music piracy and how it impacts artists, songwriters, and everyone else who works to bring music to the public," says Cary Sherman, RIAA's president. But, he adds, "Proposals to 'legalize file-sharing' are not the solution."
The entertainment industry's ads are spearheaded by the
The ads aired in prime time one day this week and will be shown in movie theaters. They're also available online at
The effort is endorsed by a number of entertainment industry unions, including the Directors Guild of America, International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, and Screen Actors Guild.
The ads also reflect the entertainment industry's stance that current copyright laws are appropriate and applicable to new media, a view challenged by the EFF.
"Before we jeopardize the most creative and vibrant creative community in the world for the sake of some theoretical, unproven scheme, let's give the marketplace and the copyright laws on the books a chance to work," says the RIAA's Sherman.
Several solutions have been proposed to solve the dilemma of how to compensate artists while allowing users to trade files on peer-to-peer networks. One proposal calls for a virtual tip jar on sites. Another model follows the example of
EFF's Steele emphasizes that none of these solutions is the perfect answer, and that EFF does not endorse any one proposal. She charges that the RIAA is not open to any of them.
"They want us to make it clear that this behavior is criminal, and that file sharing systems should all be shut down," Steele says.
The RIAA has no complaint with Apple's iTunes, which lets Macintosh users download and burn tunes for 99 cents each. A comparable site for Windows users, BuyMusic.com,
Nevertheless, Sherman says the only way the music industry can support file-sharing is by imposing compulsory licensing. But he contends that approach opens the door to government regulation, which would probably extend further than any party would like.
Conceivably, the government could set prices for music, Sherman says. "To date, the government has avoided regulating the Internet, and it shouldn't start now. When was the last time that government-dictated pricing worked better than the free market?" he concludes.