Dodgy doings in defence of copyright
Music rightsholders have shown a remarkable willingness to indulge in questionable tactics to preserve and extend their control of digital content.
First we had Lord Peter Mandelson’s Corfu lunch with Hollywood oligarch David Geffen that led to the sudden and unexpected inclusion of “three strikes and out” provisions in the Digital Economy Act.
Now TorrentFreak, a website that watches the battle between rights holders, copyright pirates and other interested parties, is following the saga of how Universal Music got YouTube to take down a promotional video for Megaupload, a free online file storage service, that was going viral.
The catchy Mega Song, which features music artists like Blackeyed Pea will.i.am , P. Diddy and Alicia Keys, has been up and down and up again on YouTube as the legal arguments have flowed.
The takedown seemed possible thanks to a side deal between YouTube (owned by Google) and Universal that allows Universal to get YouTube to take down material to which it does not own the copyright.
This goes beyond the ambit of the Digital Copyright Millennium Act (DCMA), many of whose provisions are written into the Anticounterfeit Trade Agreement (Acta), which is now in the European Parliament for a vote. Acta is a rightsholder-sponsored multilateral deal that activists claim would not pass public scrutiny.
Taken together, Acta and the Mega Song case sheds an interesting light on the motives of music rights holders. They would make rightsholders key gatekeepers in the emerging digital economy as broadband access to digital content expands.
The UK government is fighting back, somewhat, with its consultation on a new copyright regime in the light of the Hargreaves Commission report. This would allow private copying eg from a CD you own to an MP3 player, greater access to “orphan works” i.e. work for whom ownership cannot be established, and non-commercial data mining of academic works.
Perhaps most interestingly, it has already asked Richard Hooper to do a feasibility study to test a key Hargreaves recommendation, a digital rights exchange, to reduce the friction and cost of buying online rights.
On the face of it, this would be a good or better deal for artists. According to the Bemuso blog, artists might earn five pence from a 79p digital download, and rightholders 46p. The exchange would allow them to sell rights directly, and possible earn more than what they can earn via the rightholders, without having to sign away their copyright to record labels.
If government has been slow to change the status quo and seem to be siding with rightsholders, Bemuso shows why: after the rightsholder, the next biggest beneficiary is the government.