RIAA Demands DMCA Reforms That No Longer Protect YouTube

For years, YouTube has been a major portal for new talent to share their creations with the world. While more artists and more genre’s of music are finally able to break out into a wider audience, the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America), along with other major corporations, are petitioning the US government to choke off this platform through legal reform.

For many observers, it seems like a broken record. The major music corporations are complaining that a new innovation is killing the music industry. Unless said innovation is outlawed, music will die out. These arguments have been leveled against the Public Domain, the pianola, the gramophone/vinyl, the cassette tape, the MP3, Napster, the CD, Gnutella network clients, the iPod, BitTorrent, and one-click hosters to name a few. The arguments are very rarely changing and the ensuing debates are old hat. The industry just needs to adapt to a changing landscape. The industry refuses and, instead, prefers to litigate and/or lobby their way out of the problem. Years later, said innovation doesn’t kill the industry, music is still being produced, and life eventually goes on.

Unfortunately, the industry seems to have found a new target: YouTube. Numerous sources have reported that over 180 artists have signed an open letter demanding reforms to the DMCA. Specifically, they want the DMCA safe harbor provisions to no longer protect sites like YouTube. While the full list wasn’t published by numerous sources, Music Business World has. While there is a large list of artists, the businesses behind the letter is more of a line-up of the usual suspects who have fought innovation for decades. This includes the RIAA, their respective members, ASCAP (who became notorious for declaring war on Creative Commons in 2010, and even a few members of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA). These powerhouses can make the 180 artists seem more insignificant by comparison and only there to make them sound like the little guys.

Still, some of the artists that signed on in the first place are rather eye-popping. Deadmau5, for instance, has his own YouTube channel which has been used to promote some of his music. Yet, he, along with others, are demanding the following letter in full):


As songwriters and artists who are a vital contributing force to the U.S. and to American exports around the world, we are writing to express our concern about the ability of the next generation of creators to earn a living. The existing laws threaten the continued viability of songwriters and recording artists to survive from the creation of music. Aspiring creators shouldn’t have to decide between making music and making a living. Please protect them.

One of the biggest problems confronting songwriters and recording artists today is the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. This law was written and passed in an era that is technologically out-of-date compared to the era in which we live. It has allowed major tech companies to grow and generate huge profits by creating ease of use for consumers to carry almost every recorded song in history in their pocket via a smartphone, while songwriters’ and artists’ earnings continue to diminish. Music consumption has skyrocketed, but the monies earned by individual writers and artists for that consumption has plummeted.

The DMCA simply doesn’t work. It’s impossible for tens of thousands of individual songwriters and artists to muster the resources necessary to comply with its application. The tech companies who benefit from the DMCA today were not the intended protectorate when it was signed into law nearly two decades ago. We ask you to enact sensible reform that balances the interests of creators with the interests of the companies who exploit music for their financial enrichment. It’s only then that consumers will truly benefit.

There are plenty of ways people will likely disagree with these assertions. For one, the image of the starving artists has been around long before the Internet was even around. The advent of the Internet has nothing to do with a struggling artist because there always will be struggling artists. For another, the DMCA, and numerous copyright laws and reforms created since, were the direct result of lobbying by the music industry – many of which have been blamed for stifling innovation. Kaleidescape’s DVD Jukebox being one of those examples where DRM is killing innovation. Even after copyright extension after copyright extension, the industry still isn’t happy that the law doesn’t go far enough.

Another argument against these assertions revolves around the argument of music consumption going up while revenue falls. There isn’t any citation or evidence that was provided here. In addition to this, is the comment of “artists’ earnings continue to diminish” referring to a single artists revenue diminishing or the entire revenue pool for artists diminishing? It’s a very important distinction that wasn’t made here. Even if the argument is referring to the latter, tracking such things would be next to impossible thanks to independent labels and artists who post their music online with a “pay-what-you-want” model. One example of this is Bandcamp. Today, the site is boasting, “Fans have paid artists $161 million using Bandcamp, and $4.3 million in the last 30 days alone”. That’s just one website that may or may no be factored into the equation. The bottom line is that increased competition from independent artists may be a factor in the wealth being spread around further rather than being concentrated on a few mega-stars as was the case in years past. One overriding concern one may raise is the fact that there might not even be any shrinking revenue in the first place.

Even if one were to perform logical gymnastics to address these points, there are still problems people can raise with this letter. A lot of the major tech companies pay money to artists in the first place. Websites like YouTube share revenue with content creators. This is a widely known and well established fact. It is also something record labels and online promotional networks live VEVO use. Even if the major record labels contend that the generous revenue split isn’t enough, it is unlikely that copyright reform is the appropriate venue to rectify the situation in the first place. It would be far more sensible to privately negotiate. If not, record labels can always litigate as the DMCA is well known to permit guilt upon accusation as it is. The DMCA is also well known for allowing anyone to fraudulently take down video’s with no repercussions for those issuing the fake notices in the first place. It ultimately raises the question: if being able to censor anyone with no questions asked and no risk, what more could an anti-innovation producer ask for?

As for the reaction to these comments, it would appear that these plea’s from millionaires about lost revenue is falling flat. Many commenters on Slashdot are already blasting this document for many different reasons – including for reasons we’ve highlighted here.

“what needs to be done is stiffer penalties for DMCA takedown abuses” writes desdinova 216.

innocent_white_lamb comments, “There may be less money in this stuff for the creators, but it’s my understanding that there are more creators and more content being created than ever before.”

Fire_Wraith said, “Unfortunately for them, they’re trying to put the genie back in the bottle. It won’t work. The advance of technology is what enabled me to carry around access to virtually every song there is, not something caused by the absence of artificial legal barriers. Barriers which, I might add, will not enable the recording artists and companies to perpetuate the old model indefinitely – it’ll just move it back to the illegal realm, at best, at which point they’ll get no money.”

It would appear that this latest push isn’t earning these artists any new fans.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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