NASHVILLE SKYLINE: Are They Coming to Take You Away?

New Senate "Induce" Bill Takes Fresh Aim at Evils of Copyright Infringement

(NASHVILLE SKYLINE is a column by CMT/CMT.com Editorial Director Chet Flippo.)

One of these days, mark my words, the government may come around knocking on your door to seize your iPod. Or anything else hi-tech that you own that has music on it. And then they may lock you up for it. Don’t laugh: the handwriting is on the wall.

Consider current legislation before Congress. The bill S. 2560, “The Inducing Infringement of Copyrights Act,” was introduced before the Senate on June 22. Better known by its nickname “The Induce Bill,” its primary stated aim is to fight copyright infringement.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, a songwriter who is a frequent visitor to Nashville, introduced the bill (with co-sponsor Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.) and says it’s directed at “corporations [that] now seem to think that they can legally profit by inducing children to steal; that they can legally lure children and others with false promises of ‘free music.’” (An early version of the bill was called the “Inducement Devolves into Unlawful Child Exploitation Act, or Induce Act”). It had its origins in a reaction to an April 2003 ruling by a federal judge in Los Angeles that file-swapping services StreamCast Networks and Grokster were legal. Why Hatch thinks this should be cast as a children’s issue is a very curious thing. Hatch has previously suggested publicly that computers belonging to music downloaders should be destroyed by remote control from whatever shadowy agency he wants to regulate these things.

Simply stated, this bill’s provisions allow lawsuits against and civil and criminal prosecution of any peer-to-peer (P2P) companies that allow or encourage transfer or downloading of any copyrighted materials. This is obviously a well-intentioned bill that seeks to protect artists’ rights first and foremost.

In its broader powers, however, the bill extends to include prosecution of any person or any object that “induces” copyright infringement. Critics of the bill say that its broad language can apply to VCRs, DVD recorders, TiVo and similar devices, iPODs, MP3 players and the like, as well as to the owners of those devices.

It’s no surprise that the RIAA — which has strenuously maintained for years that all of the ills of the recording industry are caused by illegal downloading and are not caused by releases of bad music or are not due to incompetent record labels – is a very vocal cheerleader for The Induce Bill. RIAA’s major claim is that the Bill is mainly aimed at illegal P2P activity. The movie industry (which originally opposed and fought against the very existence of the VCR) also supports the Bill, as part of its ongoing fight against movie piracy.

It’s also no surprise that the organized opposition to The Induce Bill comes mainly from electronic manufacturers, Internet service providers and software vendors. They cite as a major fear the fact that this bill might reverse a major court ruling that effectively endorsed and allowed home taping for personal use. In the 1984 Sony v. Universal City Studios case, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that VCRs were legal, since such recording devices are “capable of substantial noninfringing uses.” The Supreme Court said that taping for personal use is legal. Industry critics also point out that the Bill will have a chilling effect on the development and advancement of technology.

So what can you or I do? Well, as for me, I can only tend my own garden. Meaning that I can listen to and tape and download and share music and media — legally — in a reasonable manner without personally costing the recording industry the billions of dollars that they claim you and I steal every day. And I can suggest that we carefully examine and publicly discuss any and all bills and legislation that will exert control over music and media. You’re the people buying and paying for this media stuff, after all. Shouldn’t you have some say in this matter? We know that downloading is not going to go away. Apple’s iTunes has proven that it can be done legally and profitably.