Inspired by my earlier rant on Twitter.
On November 18th, a bill was passed by the Senate called COICA (Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act) that, unbeknownst to many of us (read: blog readers and writers), would cause some sudden tumult. It was only introduced to the Senate on September 20th of this year, meaning it took just shy of two months to be unanimously passed. The MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) and RIAA (Recording Industry Assocation of America) were two notable lobbyists for the final passing of this bill.
Thanksgiving Day, less than one week from the passing of COICA, is when I learned via Twitter of all places, that notable sites OnSmash, RapGodfathers, and Dajaz had been seized by ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) and Homeland Security.
I thought it was a hoax. What, do tell, does a department of the federal government dealing with immigration and customs have to do with music blogs? I know that whole “Fuck the Police” and “Stop Snitching” shit doesn’t sit well with law enforcement, but since when was that a serious threat to national security?
By November 29th, aka Cyber Monday, the biggest online shopping day of the year, the government revealed to the press that it had seized 82 website domains.
“The protection of intellectual property is a top priority for Homeland Security Investigations and the National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center. We are dedicated to protecting the jobs, the income and the tax revenue that disappear when counterfeit goods are trafficked.”
There is so much to say about just that statement alone. You could take it in the sense that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security wasn’t formed until 2003, and we all know that its main purpose was counter-terrorism efforts. Last I checked, we still haven’t caught Bin Laden, there’s still a war in the Middle East, and Al Qaeda still hates us. Christmas tree lighting bomb threats, anyone? So since when is the protection of intellectual property a “top priority”? They must have that confused with infringement upon civil liberties as imposed by the Patriot Act, that we instinctively associate with ICE and Homeland Security.
They then claim that they’re dedicated to protecting jobs, income, etc. OK, you want to talk capitalism and Economics? Let’s speak that free market talk, then. COICA presents one large loophole: jurisdiction. The internet is somewhat like the ocean in the sense that geographically speaking, it’s very hard to govern. There are no country lines in oceans. Instead there is a certain mileage off of a coastline that can be governed by a country. It’s why you hear “the waters off of the coast of Mexico” rather than “Mexico’s waters” on news reports and such. A quick Google search on “oceanic jurisdiction” or “governing water” will reveal the extensive debate on the matter, if one is so inclined to investigate it. The internet is like an international stomping ground. I can instantly get information straight from another continent without leaving my bedroom. I can buy goods directly from Chinese manufacturers without having to fly across borders and declare them personally at Customs.
And you know what is a good you can buy overseas, and online? Digital space. There are just as many foreign web hosts and domain services as there are American ones. Pirate Bay seems to dangle the fact that the U.S. can’t touch them in front of its naysayers, much like tying a chunk of steak to a tree branch and affixing it to a dogs collar in such a manner that the dog puts all its effort into reaching the steak, only for its attempts to continuously fail. This means that the simple solution for owners of the domains seized by the federal government is to simply transfer their website to different domains and hosts that aren’t based in America. There goes that capitalist logic. In the process of protecting jobs and money in our own land, you’re driving another market’s customer base to the international marketplace.
Perhaps most frightening about this situation is the fact that I’m sure many of us, and by us I mean the users of this digital community known as the internet, didn’t know that COICA even existed prior to a site we visit being taken down. There were articles warning us of these things. Where were we when these were getting published? Are we so affixed to our Google Alerts that we have forgotten to visit news sites? As a member of the media myself, who works within an industry constantly under attack when it comes to intellectual property debates, I’m ashamed of not only the publications that I read and work for, but of myself for not knowing about this, relaying the information, and spotlighting the implications this bill would have before it got passed.
Now, it passed by under the radar, and it will be much more challenging to fight its effects now that it has been implemented than it would have been to fight the bill’s passing in the first place.
But wait. There is no mention of COICA in the above image posted on the seized domains. What gives? I don’t really want to get into too much legal mumbo jumbo, as I have no formal law background and I don’t want to write a book, but in case you’d like to look into this further, here are links to the full texts of the United States Code of the laws cited in their message.
In other words, COICA doesn’t change their basis for targeting these sites, it really just changes the means they can go about doing so. Eff.org laid this out beautifully:
This act would allow the Attorney General to censor sites even when no court has found they have infringed copyright or any other law.
Even beyond the music industry, this is incredibly alarming. Threatened by governmental misinterpretation are sites like YouTube, Usershare, Mediafire, and as we’ve seen, blogs such as OnSmash.
In the music world, this is a severe detriment to the revolution that has occurred in the digital marketing realm, as well as a loss to the consumer and the artist. Once upon a time, corporate sponsorship of the OnSmashes of the internet didn’t exist. It was just some people with good intentions doing what they could to spotlight what they viewed as talent. It gave new hope to the artists with immense levels of talent that may have ever been told, “well, this is hot, but you’re too fat, you don’t fit the image we’re looking for.” “You can sing, but you need to work on that look.” “I don’t know about your marketability.” “You sound amazing, but let’s talk about your content.” “This is great music, but how it may or may not translate into sales is too risky.” The blogs proved that labels were out of touch not only with technology, but the consumer as well. Certain artists’ careers have been fueled by the internet, specifically by the blogs, and they don’t deny that. In fact they are grateful.
In fact, it is the artists and labels that provide many of these sites the content that the government is now questioning. Where is the logic? With the record labels and the government consistently a few years behind on technological trends (there’s a reason why technological and industrial government contracts are a multi-billion dollar industry…they don’t know what the hell is going on so they have to outsource the work), their enforcement of laws is behind as well. The proper solution isn’t to shut down blogs, which is obviously a movement the government hasn’t come to a full understanding of yet, but rather to learn how to work with them to still maximize the benefits they can reap from a business perspective.
Instead, there is now chatter of boycotting major label artists on blogs. Labels are being called rats and snitches. There is hostility where there should be cooperation. What, Cease and Desist orders weren’t powerful enough? Last I checked, most everyone adhered to them. And now, the consumer and artists are done a disservice because the remaining blogs are probably walking on eggshells about what they should, and shouldn’t, post. Certain artists have realized how to use the blogs and inevitable album leakage to their advantage. Kanye West is a great example. This is what the marketing teams hired by record labels need to be focusing on.
As a member of a so-called capitalist society which prides itself on the civil liberties provided to its citizens, I’m deeply disturbed by the legal issues that have come about in the last couple of weeks. As a supporter of what OnSmash has done for many artists, as well as all of the sites that share the same goal and method of execution as OnSmash, I only hope my words help to incite discussion about what we can do to solve this problem and help these sites overcome this setback. The people behind these blogs started out doing this for the love of music, to counter the corporate-imposed rules and standards that plague the FM airwaves, the magazines, and the minds of A&R’s. For some this desire to help the independent artist flourished into a full-time, rather lucrative living, that is now on the line.
As a journalist in the music industry, I apologize to OnSmash for being blind to the fact this was happening until it was too late. As an avid music enthusiast and supporter of true talent whether it goes against mainstream trends or not, I now recognize the importance of stopping this madness.